By Ernie McCray
I shakily tried to take a picture with my AT&T 3G cell phone of a cactus painted by Mario Chacon. I acquired it from him a while back in Chicano Park. I had to shade the painting from the glare of a blue sky with the sun shining high and bright and far and wide and finally I got about as good a picture as I was going to get no matter how hard I had tried.
Trite as it may seem my persistence in getting this snapshot was based on Mario telling me that the protrusions reaching out from the cactus spoke to the persistence of the indigenous people.
Being a simple minded person, that colored my thinking as I walked around the park with other people who were there, like me, to celebrate the restoration of the murals. Murals, as I see them, that stem from the long trail of heartaches that have plagued the Americas since the Spanish came by in drive-by style and created a reality wherein folks who had hunted, farmed, and gathered on those rich lands for thousands of years suddenly found themselves in poor standing in the only world they had ever known.
But with their land stolen and their hearts broken in the name of a virulent social virus diagnosed as “human progress,” they set in motion a struggle that lives to this very day, a struggle to live in dignity, in ways soothing to their souls, in ways that honor their thinking and approaches to being a human being in the world.
It was a persistence to live in the spirit of a people’s indigenous ancestors that created Chicano Park. “The Man,” who used to go by names like Hernan Cortes and Hernandez de Cordoba and Christopher Columbus, had segued into the State of California who wanted to build a Highway Patrol Kingdom on some prime land in Barrio Logan but a few folks in the community stood before the tractors and bulldozers that were sent to set in motion such a heartless scheme against their hopes and dreams and said “Hell No!” in so many ways:
LA TIERRA MIA;
VARRIO SI, YONKES NO!
We are NOT A Minority!!
And a park that met a community’s social and cultural and emotional needs was soon born through more and more people taking on the cause: lowriders and cholos and chicas and chucos and neighborhood organizers and politicos and Hispanics and/or Latinos with a sprinkling of Blacks and/or Negroes and Whites and/or gringos; the land became sacred, a place for celebrations, for picnics, for chess and card games, for conversations. Chicano Park. Persistence personified.
Then the murals, known world wide, were painted in attractive blazing colors by masterful artists along the walkways, on the walls, on the Coronado Bridge abutments, on the stage, on all kinds of columns and supports and beams, all crafted with the kind of pride and boldness that characterized the lives of the Incas and the Maya and the Aztecs, ancestors from long ago.
So we celebrated the restoration of the murals on an exceptionally nice San Diego day, a Saturday filled with sunshine and equally sunny smiles. The air was filled with the burning of sage, a ritual that has been passed down from age to age, signifying the cleansing of our being, the healing of our souls, our need to conduct ourselves wisely, to become more spiritually aware so that we can clarify and see our roles as loving human beings more clearly.
I like that kind of thing. It makes my heart sing and hope resonate in my being whenever I’m around so many people of goodwill, some of them old friends, some of them activists who have devoted their lives for the betterment of all human beings; some of them artists whose work is featured in the park; some of them young people who appeared to be ready to keep the spark alive, willing to carry the torch of a people’s ongoing unyielding affirmative quest for a better tomorrow.
I can still feel the love from the day, the vibrations emanating from the hundred or so dancers, both young and old, who moved lively and blithely to ancient rhythms beat on drums in bright colorful feathers and shawls and leggings and jingly dresses and ankle bells. We couldn’t help but entertain the will to persist still, to move on. The restorations, in their new colors, gave fresh breath to our persisting natures.
I look at the protrusions from Mario’s cactus and I dare say they’re leading us “ALL THE WAY TO THE BAY!” To walk from Chicano Park to the San Diego Bay the whole way without leaving the park along the way has been a major goal of Barrio Logan and remains so today.
My snapshot is a bit wobbly but that’s all right. It just reminds us that making a better world never ends; persisting is a lifetime ride.
Originally published on Sept. 8, 2012.