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Arts & Culture

Celebrating Chicano Park's 40th Anniversary

Image of a Chicano Park mural in San Diego's Barrio Logan neighborhood.
Victor Ochoa
Image of a Chicano Park mural in San Diego's Barrio Logan neighborhood.
Celebrating Chicano Park's 40th Anniversary
On April 22, 1970 the people of Logan Heights and other Chicano communities in San Diego protested against the construction of a Highway Patrol station under the Coronado bridge and won the right to build a park. Today, 40 years later, Chicano Park is a vibrant symbol of the Chicano movement. We talk with Victor Ochoa, a muralist and founding member of the Chicano Park Steering Committee about the history of the park and Chicano activism.

San Diego Chicano Movement Archival Film c.1970 (Silent)

The 40th Annual Chicano Park Day will be held on Saturday, April 24, 2010, 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, in historic Chicano Park, located in the Barrio Logan community, south of downtown San Diego. This family event is free and open to the public. The theme for this year's celebration is "40 Años de la Tierra Mia: Aquí Estamos y No Nos Vamos"

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. Chicano Park in Barrio Logan celebrates its 40th anniversary this weekend. The park is known throughout California and the nation for its powerful murals documenting Mexican and Chicano history. This anniversary is sure to be full of music, dancing, food and families. But, on this 40th milestone, some will also be remembering the turbulent times that surrounded the founding of Chicano Park. It was a tense, confrontational and triumphant time for the Barrio Logan community. And many longtime San Diego activists are working to see that it is not forgotten. I’d like to welcome my guest Victor Ochoa. He is an artist, muralist and founding member of the Chicano Park Steering Committee. Victor, welcome to These Days.


VICTOR OCHOA (Artist/Founding Member, Chicano Park Steering Committee): Buenos dias, as we say.

CAVANAUGH: Yes. I want to invite our listeners to join the conversation. Tell us your first memories of Chicano Park. What does Chicano Park mean to the community? Give us a call with your comments, your questions. Our number is 1-888-895-5727, 1-888-895-KPBS. So, Victor, what was going on in Barrio Logan back in 1970, leading up to the founding of Chicano Park?

OCHOA: Well, I think a lot of the civil rights movements were going on, the women’s rights, anti-war, Vietnam things were going on. But I think our neighborhood was really going through a lot of turmoil because of the making of – the building of the Interstate 5 and the bridge, so there was a lot of turmoil and it separated the residential area from the commercial area. So I think it was very – kind of fatal because of the cutting between the two areas.

CAVANAUGH: Now the nickname for Barrio Logan, el ombligo del barrio, is that – did I say it correctly?

OCHOA: Pretty good. Pretty good. Ombligo is bellybutton in the…



OCHOA: And in those times, Barrio Logan was really a center for about 45 to 50 barrios throughout the county so people would come and I remember we would go get tortillas and pan dulce and things like that that were not readily available in other areas.

CAVANAUGH: And what was the development doing to that area?

OCHOA: Well, they rezoned it into this so-called light industry which eventually they made it into junkyards, and that was one of the battles that we had during the seventies. But I think the splitting of the community, the residential area, too, where we used to have two Spanish speaking theaters and we had all these other things was very difficult for people to cross. There was only like three actual physical areas to cross. If you don’t have a car, you have to really like go around what was then 25th Street, now Cesar Chavez Parkway or a pedestrian walk that, you know, if your knee hurts you, it’s…


OCHOA: …it’s pretty difficult to cross.

CAVANAUGH: Now it seems in – because I wasn’t here at that time but it seems that – No, I was here on the planet but I wasn’t…

OCHOA: Yeah, right.

CAVANAUGH: …in San Diego. And I’m – I – Did the area where Chicano Park is, it seems the thing that set things off was the fact that there was a sheriff’s substation that was going to be going in…

OCHOA: Actually, a Highway – a Highway Patrol…

CAVANAUGH: A Highway Patrol…

OCHOA: …was – a parking lot and command center which eventually turned into the Chicano Federation building. Currently, it’s the Cesar Chavez Center, which is kind of like a community college adult center.

CAVANAUGH: And so when there was notice that this Highway Patrol station and parking lot was going to go there, there was an uprising from the community.

OCHOA: I think so. You know, once we found that – we were having a lot of problems with police at the time. I think it’s one of those symptoms of different things that happened in our neighborhoods but when we imagined having black and white units and a asphalt situation, it just was like almost anti-ecological and almost oppressive to have it right in the center of someplace that we had been planning since even before the freeway to have a park. And I remember, I actually worked with Park & Recreation for six years and the director at that time was Pauline DeGrange (sp) and she was very helpful and instrumental to help us try to achieve that park in some ideas of reaching the bay, which we have since then.

CAVANAUGH: Now I know that today is actually the actual anniversary of a confrontation on that spot, on the spot where Chicano Park is today and where people in the community sort of linked hands against bulldozers. That was a real sign of the times back then. Tell us about that.

OCHOA: Yeah, you know, it was amazing. I feel that the movement, which I felt like a surfer in a big tsunami that was just huge, everybody was really together, parents and kids and all that. I was at San Diego State as a student and I got a Gestetner copy, I remember, from Mitch Efron (sp) at City College, and it said, hey, they’re building a Highway Patrol parking lot there where we want a park. And we just zoomed down there and by the time I got there, there was already at least 200 to 300 people there. And I was surprised because most of them were young kids and parents. Mothers in particular were, you know, they already formed human chains around the bulldozers and stopped the bulldozers from going, you know, to continue working.

CAVANAUGH: I’m speaking with Victor Ochoa. He is an artist, muralist for Chicano Park. And we’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727 because this Saturday marks the 40th anniversary of Chicano Park in Barrio Logan. And if you’d like to call and tell us what the park means and what – your memories of the park, we’d really appreciate it, 1-888-895-5727. You know, one of the reasons that the park is so well known, as I say, all over California and in the nation is because of the murals. Tell us how…

OCHOA: It was…

CAVANAUGH: Yeah, go ahead.

OCHOA: Well, in fact, James Prigoff, one of the documenters of public art proclaims it to be one of the top three public art spaces in the United States and recognized internationally. I know it’s been in publications all over Europe and Latin America.

CAVANAUGH: Tell us about the murals. How did that idea start?

OCHOA: Well, I think, myself, I was a silkscreen printer and used to do billboards and things like that. I think murals have a heritage with us and to me I thought that all of the issues that we did, that we were dealing with, were not coming out in the media and the murals kind of accessed us to put that out into the community. So a lot of people say propaganda but to me it was expressing what the community wants to say and then for the rest of the community to kind of educate the people. And so the lack of not having TV and radio stations at that time, even newspapers at that time, was one of those reasons for doing large scale public art.

CAVANAUGH: And tell us about the history of murals and the Chicano movement. They’re very closely linked.

OCHOA: Well, the movement, I think, I recall 1967 with the black muralists of Chicago because they were…


OCHOA: …kind of spearheaded some of that. And so we had a kind of a network. We didn’t have e-mails and text messaging like we do nowadays but we did communicate through magazines and other fliers, newsletters and things like that. And I was impressed by the fact that they were taking that on and I felt pretty proud of being a Chicano and painting, so I felt like my tradition was that and that I had to keep the torch going from all of that – from the Mexican muralists to contemporary times.

CAVANAUGH: And I know that music played a great part in the Chicano movement and in the foundation of Chicano Park. We do have an excerpt from “Chicano Park Samba,” and let’s hear a little bit about it and then you can tell us about the song.

OCHOA: Sure.

(audio of clip from “Chicano Park Samba”)

CAVANAUGH: That kind of tells the whole story, doesn’t it, Victor?

OCHOA: Well, it – One of the first things that it reminds me is that the artists were very instrumental in a lot of the activist movements that were going on, from teachers unions to even, you know – I even remember even police, Hispanic policemen getting together and trying to do things positively in the barrio. I was initially working with artists and in the formation of the Centro Cultural de la Raza that is currently in Balboa Park. We originally had taken over pretty much by force the Aerospace Museum, which was at one time the Ford Building. So the artists were, you know, right there. You know, we took on that kind of role where we would not only express through visually but music, theatre, poetry, all of the disciplines, and so that was a beautiful experience to be brought up during that time.

CAVANAUGH: And I want to let everyone know that the performers of that piece, Chunky Sanchez and Los Alacranes Mojados. And we’re taking your calls about the 40th anniversary of Chicano Park, 1-888-895-5727. My guest in studio is Victor Ochoa, and let’s take a few phone calls. Alise is calling from San Diego. Good morning, Alise, and welcome to These Days.

ALISE (Caller, San Diego): Hi. Good morning.


ALISE: Hi. I just wanted to say that through my organization, we host a lot of student volunteers that come to this region and we always take them to Chicano Park and the artists or members of the Chicano Park committee have helped us to host them and give them presentation of the park, and I just think that the park should get more funding from whoever to be sure that it can be well maintained and everything. It’s an extraordinary piece of art and part of the history of this city, so…

CAVANAUGH: Thank you. Thank you for the call, Alise.

OCHOA: That’s great because talking about volunteers, we do have a art workshop. I’ve been asking for volunteers that we work with at least 500 kids during the day and doing different painting and arts and crafts, so I know – And these groups that she mentioned is something that we feel very important that to give tours and presentations like that and, you know, reach the Chicano Park Steering Committee during the year and we – we always do that with groups.

CAVANAUGH: Good to know. Thank you. Paul’s calling from Chula Vista. Hi, Paul, welcome to These Days.

PAUL (Caller, Chula Vista): Hey, good morning, and first of all, thank you, KPBS, for, you know, bringing this topic up as a conversation piece because I am a native of San Diego and now live in Chula Vista and visit the park very frequently. Quite frankly, my favorite burritos are made right under the bridge at the little market there. So it’s an easy get off, grab the burrito and go, but I usually like to visit the park and absolutely love the artwork. It is just incredible to be around. And my favorite piece, with all due respect to the artist—to the muralist—is that huge pharaoh that is stuck into the ground. It’s such a big artistic statement. I just love it. So anyway I just wish more people would visit the park and enjoy that part of San Diego. It’s really beautiful.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you, Paul.

OCHOA: That was Ground Zero by Mario Torero and it’s right next to the Senior Paradise Center that we also have and we also have murals in that immediate region which we still consider Chicano Park.

CAVANAUGH: We have another phone call now. David, calling from Imperial Beach. Good morning, David, and welcome to These Days.

DAVID (Caller, Imperial Beach): Good morning, and thank you for taking my call. I just have a question that maybe you can shed some light on. I notice that on one of the pillars of the bridge the word ‘varrio’ is spelled out, which I believe it should mean neighborhood or community and it’s spelled with a ‘b’ in Spanish instead of a ‘v’. And I was just curious why is it spelled on the pillar with a ‘v’?

OCHOA: Well, that’s because my name is Victor. I – It is kind of funny in a certain way but I think in a – You have to understand that Spanish is also a European language and I think in a lot of different revolutionary kind of aspects of looking at language, we change – we started changing letters around like con-salvos (?), for instance, is ‘cs,’ c-dash-s, which means don’t mess with this wall. But we would change it to ‘kz’ for instance and it would just – it was just part of the attitude of – And, in fact, I painted that mural and I purposely painted that letter a different color so that people would know that we did it on purpose, but I know some people that are very…

CAVANAUGH: Just don’t get it.

OCHOA: …literary. They think, you know…

CAVANAUGH: Let me ask you, Victor. How are the original murals holding up?

OCHOA: Well, that’s – I’m glad you brought that up because we did just recently – Well, actually it’s been like nine years since we – We’ve been working with a grant, T-grant of $1.6 million that we’re hoping that this year we’ll actually initiate the restoration of the oldest murals. But we’ve been using materials that have the longest, you know, longevity possible, so we’ve been using the proper primers and pigments that have up to 20 to 30 years durability. But we have now the latest technology that we’re really just really excited about which is the Acryloid B-72, which is a resin that actually goes into the paint molecularly and rebinds it back to the original surface and pumps up the color 80 to 100% again, and that extends the durability 50 to 100 years, depending on the exposure.


OCHOA: So we’re like – we’re just ready to go for it. We’ve been working with major restorers, internationally now on this project and we’re really like just – Chicano Park, in the next two years will just completely look brand new, brand spanking new again.

CAVANAUGH: Wow. Let’s take another call. We’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Nicole’s calling from San Diego. Good morning, Nicole. Welcome to These Days.

NICOLE (Caller, San Diego): Good morning, Mr. Ochoa and Maureen. Mr. Ochoa, thank you so much. I’m a gringa Francesca, Francesa, if you will.

OCHOA: Well, pan dulce is also French, too, so…

NICOLE: And I knew nothing about these until I saw them by chance. Well, I was on I-5 in the early eighties and went down to explore and found this magnificent jewel of these incredible murals. I mean, it was just – I was just awestruck and I had – And Mr. Ochoa – I can’t even remember how I figured out how to reach him but a couple of years into – later, I had a friend come with Swedish students on a tour through California and two years in a row he met us there and explained everything and toured with them, and after that I brought my daughter down there. And I brought Girl Scouts to look at them and it’s just this incredible gift and jewel to the community. I’m so excited to hear about the pigment extension stuff you just talked about.

OCHOA: Oh, yeah, I’m just really so excited because just a couple of weeks ago we applied it at – in a mural 27 years old and it just came back to life. It was just amazing. And I’m just really ready for action that way.

CAVANAUGH: Well, Nicole, thank you so much for the call. We asked people…

OCHOA: Thank you for the call, yes.

CAVANAUGH: …for their memories and their experiences of Chicano Park and that was such a lovely one for her to share with us. Thank you for that. You know, we talked about this sort of an incredible activism in the Chicano community during the 1970s when Chicano Park was created. What’s going on in the Chicano movement today?

OCHOA: Well, you know, it’s a question that a lot of people ask and I always see that sometimes we feel like things are in a lull or in a cycle or something but, you know, if you look at other movements as well that were going on in the sixties and seventies where they – you can ask – but the fact is that the issues that we have been dealing with for at least 40 years or longer are still going on. You know, I mean, you know, we can – just on immigration, for instance. You know, the things that are going on in Arizona, for instance, are still right there and they’re something that we’re struggling for. So the movement per se, I think, is still with us and it’s really great to see a lot of young people activated. And for me, it’s hopeful because I think that the future of learning of what those issues are – because I would say that most of the murals are dealing with similar issues that we still have. You know, we still – in high schools, we still don’t have very many role models or important people in our books, for instance, our texts. I think that they really only mention Cesar Chavez, for instance. So, you know, we still deal with a lot of racism in society. I – So, you know, I would say that it may not be as potent as we might’ve felt in the sixties or seventies but I think it’s still with us. I hope it would be better but, you know…

CAVANAUGH: Well, let’s take another call. Stuart’s calling from Clairemont. Good morning, Stuart. Welcome to These Days.

STUART (Caller, Clairemont): Hi. I don’t usually listen to KPBS that much. I got in a borrowed car and that was the station on and I heard you guys talking.

CAVANAUGH: Well, we’re lucky to have you, Stuart.

STUART: For me, I listen to you from time to time just about as much but I have a tendency to take the conservative viewpoint on a lot of these subjects. I wanted to ask a serious question about the murals and the earthquake retrofitting, what, about 15 or more years ago. And Chicano Park was exempted from the total teardown and recovering and as I remember, they said that they had a better, less expensive way of retrofitting and I was wondering if that was the case, why didn’t they save the state a lot of money by, you know, retrofitting the less expensive and better way without – you know, I understand that they, you know, had to keep all the murals up there and I’m not going to debate about that.

CAVANAUGH: Right, right. Stuart I’ve got the question and…

OCHOA: Yeah, I happened to be one of the ones that worked on that and I sat in meetings for about two years on that and I was really, I guess, inspired by the turnout of the community. The first time we heard that they were trying to retrofit, about 400 people showed up, and it was amazing. We actually brought in engineers from the Middle East that knew about Egyptian architecture and we tested what they were trying to do and, in fact, CalTrans – in a lot of ways, we found out that it was not necessary to do that. We did do the increasing infrastructure on the crowns of the pillars and the foundations and it did not need to affect the murals and we went through, like I said, the whole engineering, testing and all of that. In fact, UCSD has the largest earthquake lab in the world.

CAVANAUGH: Yes. Yes, yes. Okay, all right, Stuart, and thank you for finding us in your rental car. We appreciate it. Now I want to talk, because we’re running out of time, I really do want to talk about the celebration coming up on Saturday. So people heading down to Chicano Park on Saturday for the 40th annual celebration, what are they going to see?

OCHOA: Well, I’m surprised to see the program. It’s going to be action packed. We have two stages just full of music, dances. We have 350 low rider cars plus motorcycles and bikes. We have about, I would say, at least 15 Aztec dancer groups coming together this year from all over the southwest and Mexico. We have, of course, food booths and other booths with everything that you can imagine. Of course, my famous children’s – free children’s art workshop, and just – and just a…

CAVANAUGH: There’s so much going on.

OCHOA: …so many things.


OCHOA: We’re expecting, I think, 20,000 people so we’re really working up for having something really good for all the people that participate.

CAVANAUGH: Victor, thank you so much for speaking with us today. I appreciate it.

OCHOA: No, it was fun. You – I got out of class.

CAVANAUGH: Well, let’s hope we can do that all the time. Victor Ochoa is a founding member of the Chicano Park Steering Committee. He is, of course, artist and muralist. And the 40th annual Chicano Park Day will be held this Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., of course, in Chicano Park located in the Barrio Logan community south of downtown San Diego. And if you want any more information, we have it on our website, Coming up, it’s the Weekend Preview as These Days continues here on KPBS.