By Dana Driskill, SDFP Intern
Editor’s Note: We are pleased to introduce our readers to Dana Driskill, SDFP’s very first intern. When Dana expressed her interest in working with us, she included a short video that shows the reporting she has done about one Chicago neighborhood school. We were impressed and thought she’d be a good fit here. We asked her to spend some time in City Heights and report back. This is her first submission.
Despite living only 60 miles north of San Diego for most of my life, I must admit that I feel like more like a tourist here than in Chicago where I’ve come to call home for the last two years. My name is Dana, and I’m a journalism and political science student at Northwestern University, spending the remaining weeks of my summer as an intern for the San Diego Free Press before I enter my third year of college. Before Chicago, I lived in the Murrieta/Temecula area, a stone’s throw north of the San Diego county line and right next to the Pechanga Indian Reservation.
My previous perception of San Diego is colored by my limited childhood and early adolescence experiences before graduating high school. When I hear San Diego, I think of Coronado’s endless white beaches, of Jason Mraz, of the Gaslamp District, of avocados and mouthwatering Mexican food, of Comic Con, of ill fated Padres games, and of my soccer playing years. What doesn’t come to mind, and what I’ve come to find out through a little exploration and the guidance of Google Maps, is that San Diego, like Chicago, is made up of dozens of communities with their own distinct attitude and history.
Driving along El Cajon Boulevard Tuesday, what I found most striking about City Heights is the absence of chain restaurants and stores. All my life, I’ve lived in areas where a Starbucks or McDonalds is on every street corner. Here, the main streets are lined with mom and pop shops, catering to every food taste and craving imaginable, from impossible to pronounce Vietnamese specialties to more familiar taquerillas and supermercados. The abundance of different cultures present in City Heights can best be exemplified by a Methodist Church that offers services in English, Cambodian, Vietnamese, and Spanish.
Driving is more cumbersome than I planned, City Heights wasn’t built with the intention of expanding so rapidly. One of the main roads, Euclid, is a narrow two lane road with parked cars bumper to bumper. This slightly cramped feeling seems to be present throughout the community, the population is increasing steadily as new waves of immigrants move to the area and there simply isn’t enough space.
After some careful navigating, I park my car at the mouth of Manzanita Canyon and proceed on foot. I’ve never been much of a hiker, but my clumsy feet and diligence are rewarded by the beautiful views of the growing foliage, the rugged cacti, and the winding trails. I wander through the canyon for some time and watch the sun drift lazily across the sky. After a while, I turn back for my car and continue to downtown City Heights.
I’ve always had an appreciation for parks and libraries, and I’ve found that their value is often unrecognized. In my History of Chicago class this past quarter, we learned that parks were often used to measure the greatness of a city. After the Great Fire of 1871, which burnt down three fourths of Chicago, the city planners made a conscious effort to create the present day lakefront, which is decorated with parks for miles.
With this in mind, I’m delighted by City Heights’s public library and “Urban Village,” which includes a performance annex, a swimming pool, sports fields, tennis courts, and a recreation center. The demographics of the area become more than just numbers at the park as children run around, teenagers tease and flirt, and young adults watch, bemused. City Heights is a place of beginnings: for immigrants (foreign born citizens make 41% of the population) and young families.
While I walk around, I cannot help but laugh at the stares I’m drawing with my camera and backpack. I either look like a befuddled tourist or a creeper as I take pictures of scenes that City Heights citizens around me consider commonplace. I suppose it takes fresh eyes to truly see the beauty in an area. When I went to Chicago, I was stunned by the vastness of Lake Michigan, the dying leaves bursting in colors, and the commanding architecture of the city. Only three months passed before I returned to Murrieta/Temecula, and I found myself catching my breath at the sight of the rolling hills and palm trees that I had never truly valued or noticed before.
Christopher McCandless, an American explorer, once wrote that “the joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.” As I leave to head home, the sun is shining bright on City Heights. I can’t help but feel that City Heights is a diamond in the rough, a hidden gem buried amidst the fast paced life and downtown glitz of San Diego. The neighborhood has an undeniable charm, and life is bursting out of City Heights; houses line the canyons, gardens overflow people’s front lawns, murals decorate sidewalks and walls, and a melting pot of cultures create a welcoming place of new beginnings. With such a vibrant community, I can tell that I will greatly enjoy my time in City Heights and learn a lot.
Photographs of Manzanita Canyon and the City Heights Urban Village by Dana Driskill
Editor’s Note: This post was updated to correct the date of the Great Chicago Fire.