By Letitia Rogers
I’ve moved around a lot. From where I was born, in El Cajon, to rural Oregon and even more rural Alaska. Wherever we lived, though, we were still San Diegans, listening to the Beach Boys Christmas album — even with snow outside. I spent 20 years in LA and never seemed to settle, always hinting at a return to San Diego.
In 2007 I made the move and while working downtown, my car got towed. The impound lot was near Barrio Logan. Uh oh. I’d never been there and only had vague stories of why not to go there. Danger was implied. We exited at Cesar E. Chavez and driving by old houses with bars on the windows, I wondered: who lives here?
That move didn’t stick and I ended up back in LA. While figuring out my next move after a film job ended, I got a call from a family friend in San Diego about an opportunity. Gayle is a caterer & chef and had decided to open a restaurant in Barrio Logan. Very little foot traffic and a down economy wasn’t ideal but she’d moved her catering kitchen to a building at Newton and Beardsley and taken over the old Guild restaurant space in the front.
She was going to give it a go. I was intrigued. It was to be friendly and relaxed with affordable, good food for the people working and living in the community. I think my ever-on-the-move brain only heard the word “community.” That’s what I was looking for and I said “Yes.”
The Blueprint Cafe turned out to be a great place to land. I loved it! I met people from all parts of the city and all walks of life– dentists from the clinic across the street, architects, tuna fisherman, sculptors, musicians, ship painters, dock workers, Navy folks, retirees from Coronado as well as SDPD detectives. I met young artists living and working in the barrio, people developing biofuels and people working to bring solar power to low income areas.
The cafe was also a hub of local information and I found the Zirk Ubu circus people at a warehouse screening of a silent French film and Voz Alta’s Latin jazz art shows & jam sessions. I found the Barrio Logan Winery (who knew?!), The Glashaus, Roots Factory and The Spot.
I learned more about the history of the neighborhood from long-time residents and activists working to protect and engage their community through art. I met some of the original Chicano Park muralists, deepening my connection to the park and my appreciation of the art. I took loads of photos of the murals in their aged and faded glory. I had car envy at Chicano Park Day. I was making friends, exploring and creating a new life here, from my base near the shadow of the Coronado Bridge.
Pride in a place is something that connect ourselves to a group of people or a stretch of earth. It kind of snuck up on me but I was developing a pride in Barrio Logan. Not exactly like listening to the Beach Boys in the snow, but I felt it upon seeing the Barrio Logan fire truck one day parked in Balboa Park; watching the murals being restored and their colors vibrating anew; seeing the signs for the First Annual Barrio Film Festival; taking part in the Dia de los Muertos procession from The Roots Factory to Voz Alta and, most recently, the historical designation of Chicano Park.
In looking for ways to promote the cafe (and learn more about Barrio Logan), I sought out press references. In print and online, outdated articles about gangs and illegal dumping didn’t match my experiences. I also got funny looks from people in other parts of town when I suggested they come to the cafe for lunch or told them I was walking about from art show to art show after dark in the barrio. I wanted there to be more stories reflecting what I saw. I wanted people to venture beyond the stereotype.
It’s been over three years now and, I’m not sure if I adopted Barrio Logan or if it adopted me, but either way, it’s stuck with me!
Bill Caballero’s Latin Jazz jam at Voz has become my “church.” I’m there every week unless I’m sick or out of town and I try not to miss an art show. At first, I didn’t know anyone, but it felt like a place I wanted to be: simple folding chairs, good music and people who appreciated good music. Now my visits come with hugs, smiles & laughter. The space is always pulsing with fresh art and creativity. The art on the walls change, as do some of the faces, and there’s always an easy going welcome in the room. It doesn’t get much better, if you ask me. The jam is my “heartbeat” of San Diego.
For the last two years, I’ve stomped grapes at the winery’s annual charity event. Our charity is the barrio-based Rainforest Art Project that brings art workshops to schools that don’t have an art program. I volunteer with them at Perkins Elementary each year. I really enjoy the art classes, but I love when the kids walk by the cafe after school: “Miss Letitia! Miss Letitia! Look! I got skinny jeans!”
Upon my return to San Diego, I had moved in with my sister in Clairemont. I love my place and the rent is just right, but I’ve found myself on the 5 South to that Cesar E. Chavez exit hundreds of times now. My San Diego radiates North, South and East but the source is clearly down by the bridge.
I’ve shared tacos on the deck above the jam, with trumpet-song spiraling into the summer night and laughter with artists in their creative spaces. I’ve bopped my head, smiling to cumbia or punk at Roots. At The Spot, I’ve participate in art shows for the first time – then brought my grandma to check it out. I got hooked on aguas frescas from Patty’s Fruitland and had amazing Peruvian food at an underground dinner. I’ve watched kids creating, old teaching new and back the other way. I’ve been inspired and welcomed with open arms, again and again.
I’ve never really watched a neighborhood change. Never been in one place long enough. Now, I see new people moving in, opening businesses, building new things. I watch with a sense of anticipation and fun, but also a sense of protectiveness. I’m new here, too and I know that I’m part of the change. But what can I say? In my short time here, Barrio Logan feels like family and I want to be sure it’s respected. It looks to be that way and I’m glad.
My Barrio Logan is really only a few blocks, but it’s so full of life, creativity, warmth & color. There are many people in the Barrio I credit with making San Diego feel like home by their efforts to create community through art and music. They may or may not know. That’s ok. That’s how life is. That’s why we have to approach each day like we may make a little (or big) difference in someone’s life. I think that’s how it works – in Barrio Logan or in LA or wherever you are.
I also believe most places have good things to offer and good people in them but Barrio Logan has something special for me. Maybe it’s just for this brief period in time, a time where I can fit in amidst the change, amidst the old and the new. Whatever the reason, it is this particular stretch of earth I’m connected to.
All photos by Letitia Rogers.
Letitia has recently returned to her native San Diego, by way of Oregon, Alaska and 20 years in LA where she worked in music for film, product placement for television and graphic design. A painter and music lover, she calls Barrio Logan her adopted neighborhood and is a regular at art and music events there. She believes “you can’t judge a books by its cover” is very true for people and often uses music as a tool for uncovering the stories of people’s lives. When not working at the Blueprint Cafe in the barrio, she volunteers with a local Music & Memory program where she develops customized iPod playlists for the elderly or infirm to improve quality of life.