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SD Cityscape Diary

An evening in Paradise.

— I drove south on Euclid Avenue with my family for what seemed like many miles to attend a pre-Christmas party given by friends named Karla and Marco. They live in Paradise Hills, a neighborhood in San Diego I’d never seen.

Some shops on Reo Drive in Paradise Hills, December, 2010.
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Above: Some shops on Reo Drive in Paradise Hills, December, 2010.

Karla has worked with my wife in the San Diego library system. Once, she offered to have Marco paint the east side of our house. I thought we were hiring him, but he thought he was just doing a favor for his wife’s co-worker. When I asked him what he charged, he refused payment and he got a little pissed off when we tried to insist. So coming to their party was the least we could do in return for a big unexpected favor. We came, kids and all. But where were we?

Paradise Hills is about as far south as you can get in San Diego without being on the Mexican border in San Ysidro. It lies in a place where jurisdictions intersect. I stood in Marco’s backyard as he pointed out the distant lights of downtown San Diego on one side and Tijuana on the other. In the more immediate distance, National City was one block west while Chula Vista and Spring Valley were each about half a mile south and east, respectively.

There’s also a land-locked chunk of unincorporated area down there called Lincoln Acres. On a subsequent drive through that district I came upon a small farmer’s camp, right on Euclid Avenue, where a man kept chickens and goats. A smoldering fire was surrounded by tall, grinning wooden statues and a sign on the locked gate said Ayibobo, a Haitian word for Amen.

A stony glare from the human occupant and the snarling of his two huge mastiffs soon drove me back into my car.

The Paradise Valley Sanitarium, Euclid Avenue in National City.
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Above: The Paradise Valley Sanitarium, Euclid Avenue in National City.

Getting back to Paradise Hills – about 10 blocks east – the neighborhood is middle and low-income and racially mixed. SANDAG’s 2010 estimates for Paradise Hills and neighboring Skyline show they are 37 percent Asian and 30 percent Hispanic… just 12 percent white. The Paradise Valley Hospital and Sanitarium are on the way as you drive south on Euclid. A couple blocks of Reo Drive appear to be Paradise Hills' main commercial street.

The party I attended there was populated by adults. Marco tried to entertain my kids by putting a video on his old-fashioned wide-screen TV, an enormous square box that looked like it weighed 500 pounds. Eventually he started a fire in a backyard fireplace so we could roast marshmallows as the lights of Tijuana sparkled in the distance.

Marco and Karlo are from Tijuana. Marco calls it “TJ.” Since moving to San Diego I’ve noticed the gravity the Mexican border seems to have a hold on Mexican Americans, who populate National City, Chula Vista and the Southern neighborhoods of San Diego. That gravity is a function of family, heritage, race and class. You can try to separate those things, but it’s a hard task in our world.

The plaque on a locked gate of a ramshackle farmer's camp in Lincoln Acres.
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Above: The plaque on a locked gate of a ramshackle farmer's camp in Lincoln Acres.

Take some time to take a closer look at our city. And if you live in Paradise Hills or know something about it (or about some place like it) leave a comment below. Thanks.

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