Just inside the entrance to El Mercadito Market, a dreamcatcher the size of a large gong dangles feathery tentacles toward the floor. In other neighborhoods, this yarn-threaded novelty might seem out of place in such a store, but here in Barrio Logan, it fits in with the lipsticks sold sans packaging, with the bin of red beans swallowing their clear scoop, with the modular piles of TVs waiting for repair at the back of the store. Across the aisle, brooms with neon plastic bristles spike out of a canister, lighting a fuse of color that snakes through the surrounding blocks. It touches the art gallery across the street, circles a red umbrella used as a parasol, runs through the Dulceria Peninsular, where piñatas in the form of fish and monsters and misshapen cartoon characters hang from the ceiling like so many bright potted plants.
Across the trolley tracks, the color fuse tangles in great coils inside the warehouse that houses the farmer’s market, where innumerable vendors peddle mangos and sweetbreads, Coke in glass bottles and shiny little girls’ dresses, DVDs and hundreds of glittering gold crosses.
The spark reaches its end in Chicano Park. Color explodes across the cement underbelly of the Coronado Bay Bridge, murals of Quetzalcoatl and the Mexican Revolution seeping into every empty space. San Diego muralist Victor Ochoa painted many of the murals; some were done by students. Chicano Park is a striking manifestation of a historically Mexican art form, a political and recreational space in one. Miguel Hidalgo and Pancho Villa smile out over Logan Avenue from the Mural Histórico.
Yet the paint on Barrio Logan’s historic clapboard houses is fading. The community is almost entirely Hispanic, and incomes are low. César Chávez Elementary School feeds nearly half of its students free or reduced-price lunches. Political battles abound: from combating corporate environmental abuses to protesting tighter security at the United States–Mexico border. As a result, in part, of ballpark construction, many residents are being forced out of the area; rents increased 41 percent in the first half of this year.
But Barrio Logan is a united community. Organizations like the Barrio Logan College Institute and Calaca Press foster group identity and political strength. Crime rates are much lower in Barrio Logan than in nearby Gaslamp or Lincoln Park. Still, wrought-iron bars curl over the windows of Chepina’s Bridal Gowns.
— Dorothy Kronick
When I stand in the middle of Chicano Park and close my eyes, my mind becomes engulfed with the memories of the Chicano movement. When I open my eyes and look into the eyes of the people of Barrio Logan, I still see the fighting spirit, the determination that still burns. Life in Barrio Logan has never, ever been easy. Nothing has been given to these people, and what little they have they had to fight for. What future they hope for will be what they, again, fight for.
Barrio Logan is not big. From the kiosk in Chicano Park you can see the ever-present cranes of NASSCO cutting into the sky. Just west is the 32nd Street Naval Station that frames one end of Barrio Logan. To the south along the bayfront are various businesses, mostly in support of NASSCO, an oil-storage facility and trains, all effectively blocking any view of the bay. To the north, I-5 divides and isolates the community. The new Petco Park brackets the west side. And at the heart is Chicano Park.
When the tuna industry came into the area in 1932, Barrio Logan became a distinct ethnic/Mexican-American neighborhood. In 1963, with the construction of I-5, the community became even further isolated. In 1969 when the pillars of the Coronado Bay Bridge were sunk into the heart of the barrio, it was again divided and the community begrudgingly accepted this. But in 1970, when a highway patrol station was about to be built, the people of Barrio Logan, such as Mike Amador and Salvador Torres, stood up and said ya basta (that is enough).
With the construction of the bridge, the community had been promised a small park, but when construction of a California Highway Patrol station was about to begin, the community rose up and created a human chain to stop the bulldozers. A park was promised, and a park was delivered. Barrio Logan became the symbolic center of the Chicano movement in San Diego.
The community of Barrio Logan fought for a health clinic, which is here today in part because of activists such as Laura Rodriquez, who started hosting tamale luncheons to raise funds. The Chicano Free Clinic is now called the Logan Heights Family Health Center.
The cry was “All the way to the bay.” The community wanted access to a waterfront park. It took ten years, but finally a bayside park was created, hidden behind trains and industry buildings, and wedged in between old tuna piers and the Tenth Avenue Marina.
Barrio Logan is a mixture of homes, markets, Mexican restaurants, and a lot of small businesses that are not exactly environmentally friendly. It is registered as one of the ten most polluted communities in California. And Perkins Elementary is probably the only elementary school that has monitors on its rooftops to collect and gauge pollution.
But the people love their community and continue to fight for it; they fight for their children, they fight to be recognized as a people. And just about every weekend you can see them in Chicano Park, celebrating their life and culture and looking toward the future.
— Daniel Muñoz Jr.