by Brent E. Beltrán
Editor Note: The SDFP is committed to the practice of citizen journalism, with an emphasis on life and the issues we face in our respective neighborhoods throughout the county. We are pleased to introduce Brent Beltrán to our readers. He presents an important historical account of the Chicano movement in San Diego and provides us with a glimpse into his personal life and what we can expect in future posts “Desde la Logan”- from Barrio Logan.
Back in August I read an article on San Diego Free Press about the San Diego Public Market getting ready to open up on National Ave., across from the art space Voz Alta, in Barrio Logan. Under the article I posted the following comment:
“There are many positive things going on in my barrio. Including the Barrio Logan Arts District that features grassroots art spaces like Chicano Park, Voz Alta, The Roots Factory and The Spot. This market and the new apartments, which I’ll soon be moving into, are great additions. Hopefully Barrio Logan can maintain its character without being gentrified by downtown business interests that never cared for us. We have a long history of defending the rights and interests of our community. As changes happen we will continue this tradition. Outside interests better be aware of this and come into our neighborhood with respect. If not, they will have a fight on their hands.”
A few days after I posted I received an email from Patty Jones an Editorial Board Member of SDFP. In the email she asked, “Would you be interested in talking to us about becoming a contributor for the San Diego Free Press?” This came completely out of the blue. The thought of pursuing journalistic writing hadn’t crept into my mind in a long time. Immediately I was intrigued because I was ready for a new challenge at this point in my so-called “professional” life (I put professional in quotes because I rarely got paid for any of the work that I did).
For the past twenty years I’ve contributed my many modest talents to a variety of community organizations throughout San Diego. Mostly related to the Chicano Mexicano community. It all started at Mesa College in 1992. It was there that I had, what Chicano scholars call, my “transformative Chicano experience.” At Mesa I went from being an American of Mexican descent (on my father’s side, my mom’s side came from Canada by way of Scotland/Ireland) to a full fledged Chicano with a political and social conscience.
There I met profes such as Mike Ornelas and Rita Sanchez and joined el Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (M.E.Ch.A). I later came in contact with the community group Raza Rights Coalition (which I joined almost immediately) and then, after seeing my commitment, was asked by the late activist Marco Anguiano if I’d like to join the militant revolutionary nationalist organization Unión del Barrio. Honored, I said yes. It was around this time that I decided to drop out of Mesa and become a full time activist.
It was during my years in the Unión that I learned many of the organizing skills that I’ve used throughout my adult life. As a cadre in la Unión I participated in numerous projects, committees and other work, some of them include UCSD’s Chicano student newspaper Voz Fronteriza, the Chicano Park Steering Committee and the Chicano Mexicano Prison Project. But the main project that I led, and was most proud of, was La Verdad Publications. LVP was in charge of publishing and disseminating ¡La Verdad! the political organ of la Unión as well as the various newspapers, newsletters and other propaganda produced by the organization and it’s projects.
In addition to publishing newspapers and newsletters I was also in charge of creating fliers, posters, booklets, books and building and maintaining la Unión’s website. Eventually I got burned out through the work, petty jealousies and a lack of respect and decided it was time to move on. In January of 1997 my ex-wife Consuelo Manríquez and I left the organization on not-so-good terms. Shortly thereafter our soon-to-be compadre Manuel J. Vélez also decided to take leave of the organization.
For the first time since I joined M.E.Ch.A. in 1992 I didn’t belong to an organization. I felt somewhat lost and had no direction. I had acquired numerous skills yet had no way to apply them. I knew I still wanted to do something for my community yet I did not know what. Then it dawned on me: I’m a publisher. I had the skills and knowledge though my work on LVP. I just needed to apply them in a slightly different direction. It just so happened that Manuel had finished his Masters degree in creative writing from the University of Texas El Paso about a year prior and had his thesis ready to be published.
In the fall of 1997 Calaca Press was founded in a small two bedroom apartment in Golden Hill and our first book, Bus Stops and Other Poems, was published in April of 1998 debuting later that month at Chicano Park Day. Thus began the second chapter of my so-called “professional” life. From 1997 through early 2010 we had the honor of publishing over 100 different writers and artists and published over 30 Chicano Latino literary books, chapbooks and spoken word CD’s, mostly focusing on bilingual poetry. I take great pride in the work that my ex-wife and I did under the Calaca Press banner. It was more than a publishing house. It was a lifestyle. A movement. A family.
In 2001 Calaca Press co-founded the performance space Voz Alta (and I co-founded with trumpet player Bill Caballero the Latin Jazz Jam that continues to this day) with members of the Taco Shop Poets and others. Calaca also became a part of the Save Our Centro Coalition after various artists and activists left the Centro Cultural de la Raza after a new governing board became antagonistic to the original ideals of the space, we co-organized Barrio Book Fest, co-sponsored Chicano Park Days, raised tens of thousands of dollars for friends in need like Chicano Park Steering Committee chairperson Tommie Camarillo when she couldn’t afford eye surgery, artist Berenice Badillo who needed help after getting diagnosed with a degenerative bone disease and musician Bill Caballero who couldn’t work after being stricken with cancer.
I also organized over a hundred different cultural events from poetry readings and book signings to annual Día de los Muertos commemorations and Día de la Mujer Internacional events. After leaving Voz Alta we started our own arts organization, the Red CalacArts Collective (an homage to another late mentor poet/activist Raúl R. Salinas and his Red Salmon Arts in Austin, Texas) which organized numerous events, published chapbooks of poetry and participated in various grassroots political actions in San Diego. It was also during this time that I directed all of the arts programming at Chicano Perk National City including curating their monthly art exhibits. It was a busy yet exciting time but things change. I separated and got divorced in 2010 and that was the end of my Calaca life.
And so began the third, yet brief, chapter of my so-called “professional” life. After the end of my Calaca ways I joined the Board of Trustees of the Centro Cultural de la Raza. I had an on again off again relationship with the Centro over the years. I was briefly part of the Centro’s Arts Advisory Committee (once again thanks to Marco Anguiano) until the boycott started in 2000, I organized the occasional Calaca related event and curated a couple art exhibits including the first post-boycott show Re:Unión C/S. It was here that I met my current wife Olympia Andrade Beltrán. She was also a member of the Centro’s BOT and continues to be.
The Centro BOT bylaws state that married couples could not be on the Board at the same time. So after we got married (at the Centro by the way) I resigned my BOT position and rejoined the Centro’s Arts Advisory Committee jumping head first into work. But unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be as particular personalities once again burned me out. I left the Centro completely by the end of 2011 and decided that I was “retired” from community work. For the past year I have not done any kind of community type work “professional” or otherwise. Yet it keeps calling me back.
In June of 2011, I became a first time father at 40 years old and had a son, Sandino “Dino” Tizoc Declan Beltrán. We named him after the Nicaraguan revolutionary Augusto César Sandino who fought the US marines to a standstill in the 1930’s, Tizoc the seventh tlatoani of Tenochtitlan (Aztec emperor) and Declan, an Irish saint that preceded Saint Patrick. Dino’s life has inspired me to continue to contribute in some way back to my community.
And so begins the fourth chapter in my “professional” life. With the email I received from Patty Jones and subsequent ones from SDFP’s Anna Daniels I’ve decided to take up the challenge of contributing to San Diego Free Press and give voice, through my perspective, to the community that I live in. I do not pretend to speak for the entire community of Barrio Logan. I am just one voice among thousands.
My family and I recently moved from Logan Heights to the brand new Estrella del Mercado apartments in Barrio Logan adjacent to Chicano Park (for those that do not know Logan Heights and Barrio Logan used to be one whole community until the I-5 freeway cut it in half). From my perch overlooking the soon-to-be-built Northgate Gonzalez supermarket and Chicano Park Bridge (yes I’ve singlehandedly renamed the Coronado Bridge) I plan to reflect poetically (with a little wit thrown in on occasion) about a neighborhood that has always thrived regardless of it being ignored by the city’s powers that be.
There’s a renaissance happening within blocks of my residence. Voz Alta (where Bill Caballero continues to jam) and the new San Diego Public Market are two blocks away. The Roots Factory, The Spot, Ryan Bros Coffee and the barrio institution Las Cuatro Milpas are only a block away. And the largest outdoor mural exhibit in the world is my backyard. I plan on writing about these and many more topics relevant to me and my barrio. I plan on writing about a community that has always stood it’s ground and defended it’s interests from any and all outsiders and their devious plans. I was born and raised here in San Diego. My father was born and raised here. This is my home. Barrio Logan is my neighborhood. And this is my life. I’m not really a writer but I’ll give it a shot.
Brent E. Beltran is a third generation pocho that lives next door to Chicano Park in San Diego’s Barrio Logan. He’s the former publisher of Calaca Press, is married to Olympia Andrade Beltrán and is the proud father of Sandino “Dino” Tizoc Declan Beltrán. He’s an MMA junkie who likes to get his nerd on by watching superhero and sci-fi movies and tv shows while he’s not shouting at Republiklans for being blatant assholes and Democratas for being spineless chumps. He can be contacted through his Twitter handle @CalacaVato or on facebook.com/calacavato.