By Brent E. Beltrán
Editor’s Note: Chicano Park was designated as a National Historic Landmark on January 11, 2017. This 2013 article from the San Diego Free Press archives chronicles Chicano Park’s placement on the National Register of Historic Places.
On Friday, March 15, the Ides of March, there was a press conference at Chicano Park in my beloved Barrio Logan. The press conference was put together to announce Chicano Park being added to the National Register of Historic Places. In other words, Chicano Park was officially recognized as being a national treasure of the United States. Those of us who live in Logan and the various barrios throughout San Diego, California, and beyond already recognize this fact. But, through the fine work of Chicano Park co-founder, Josie Talamantez, the nation now officially recognizes this.
In front of Chicano Park co-founders, activists, artists, professors and numerous members of the media, Mayor Bob Filner gave praise to Chicano Park and those that struggled for a peoples park. He was followed by District 8 City Councilman David Alvarez, State Senator elect Ben Hueso, Chicano Park Steering Committee Chairperson Tommie Camarillo, and Josie Talamantez, who broke down the process and criteria for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. It was a proud day for all involved in the creation and maintenance of Chicano Park.
With my trusty iPhone 5 I recorded the speeches and afterwards I interviewed many of those that gathered to honor Chicano Park. I asked each interviewee the same question: What does Chicano Park’s addition to the National Register of Historic Places mean to you, Chicano Park, Barrio Logan, and Chicanos as a whole? These are their responses preceded by excerpts from some of the speeches given that day. Their answers have been slightly edited for clarity.
“These murals are connected to a peoples movement. That makes it all the more meaningful. It’s connected to the aspirations of the people in the community. You all said we are going to have this for the community. We’re going to unite the community. We are going to have art that in fact beautifies it, brings people together, talks about our history, talks about our community. And says this is ours. Its a true honor to be here to stand on the shoulders of those that made this happen. It is the unifying symbol of this community. It could be and should be the unifying symbol of this city. These unifying symbols have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. That is why we are here today to formally recognize. We have always know that. What you have known in this community as a historic gathering place is now officially recognized in the nation and in our community. This is truly an historic place. We are connecting our past and our present right here today. Those of you who worked so hard to make it happen. We thank you. We are inspired by you. We honor you and appreciate all that you have done. This tierra is the community’s tierra. Thank you all who made it happen. What we have here is the realization of si se puede.”
— Bob Filner, Mayor of San Diego
“It’s been a community effort. I’m a product of this community. And I’m here to say thank you. Thank you for all that you’ve done to allow someone like me to have this opportunity to be working for the community. And now we are working together. Because there are still a lot of changes that are happening and a lot of ideas percolating about Barrio Logan. But I can assure you today that we are going to maintain the history and the rich culture that this park means to this community. We’re working with Armando [Nuñez] one of the artists on the gateway sign. The new sign that is going to announce to the world: this is Barrio Logan. We are integrating the community, the culture into the new things that are coming. And we are going to make sure that continues to happen. Because this is a unique place. It has to maintain it’s integrity and its got to maintain its beauty that we are so proud of. I’m so happy that I’m here today to join all of you who mean so much to this community and what you are leaving behind for generations to come. It’s just a really proud day for all of us.”
— David Alvarez, District 8 City Councilman
“Today Chicano Park is in the National Register not because of the politicians. Not because somebody had a job to do it. But because of one of our founding sisters of Chicano Park volunteered. For over 14 years she worked on this. She did the research. She talked to as many people as she could. She bugged me a lot, I know that. She had to convince us that this is really a good thing for Chicano Park, the community and all communities. I want everybody to know that she is the person that made this possible and we are really proud of her. And we thank her: Josie Talamantez.
— Tommie Camarillo, Chairperson of the Chicano Park Steering Committee
“It took a long time to convince my community that this was the right thing to do for us. The National Register of Historic Places recognizes national treasures. There’s a strict criteria for placement on the registry. Chicano Park’s nomination is inclusive of both Chicano Park and the Chicano Park monumental murals. Which is not an easy task with regards to the murals. That is extremely significant. The National Register recognizes historic places. A lot of architecture, old buildings, pretty much old history that isn’t very inclusive of my community. So, that is very significant. And the murals in particular because it sets a precedent for murals created during the height of the Chicano Civil Rights era. To go forward and seek recognition to be worthy of preservation. Within our community we know they’re worthy of preservation. But to have the National Register recognize them as national treasures is very important to us because it tells our history.”
— Josie Talamantez, the person who applied to make Chicano Park a national treasure
“I’m always worried about our history and culture being protected. Because in this society, being that we are not in power, our history gets dismissed continuously. You can not find our history as Mexican people, as Chicano people, as black people, as Asian people in the annals of our history. To me this is going to be a little protection. It’s gonna be a little bit of protection for the history, for other generations. For me in particular it is great to have an honor. We get so much oppressive, negative media coverage. We don’t have very many positive examples of our own history, of our own community. This is one little positive thing. They can’t say we don’t do anything positive. I think that we take pride in all of this work that we’ve been doing over the last 50 years is now protected. We’re suffering in almost every city in the southwest, including Chicago, where our murals, our culture are being whitewashed. This, I think shows to all of these communities across Aztlán, that it is possible to gain this kind historical value and that will hopefully make them strive for protection of their work in those cities.”
— Victor Ochoa, muralist and Chicano Park co-founder
“I think that Chicano Park being placed on the National Register is important because we will be able to protect the murals from weeds, vandalism, and also to help restore them. Keep them fresh and vibrant. This is a national historic site of Aztlán. That’s important.”
— Salvador R. Torres, artist and Chicano Park co-founder
“I think to me it adds more pride than I normally have because it puts us in a category where we are recognized nationwide. As a park for all people, a park that began as a struggle of the people, and as a park where we preserve our culture, our paintings, our music, and everything else you could think of that is right here in this little piece of land that was taken over in 1970.”
— Ramon “Chunky” Sanchez, musician and Chicano Park co-founder
“Well I think it’s a big thing. I mean it’s really a big thing that we’re finally recognized as a legitimate front for the people. You know, this is kind of like the ombligo of the people. Everybody comes here for one reason or another. They find identity, first of all, and you can see it all over the walls. The spiritual thing that lives here, you can feel it as soon as you walk in to this sacred ground. So I mean, we’ve been here since way back then. I happened to be here during the ‘bulldozer days.’ So I’m very lucky that I’m still contributing whichever way I can. And so, I think it means a lot, especially for the young people that are coming in, that are finding out about this place ‘Hey I do belong, I do have a sense of identity’ you know? ‘I am someone’ and I think it’s very important not only for the young people, but for the old people as well. It’s just an overall good thing. It’s a very positive, positive, optimistic way of looking at life.”
— Armando Nuñez, artist and Chicano Park co-founder
“I think it’s a multifaceted outcome that comes from this. Its political points for the mayor of course. But it also, in some ways, shows his interest in coming to the barrio here and celebrating this real important date. The designation of a national landmark, I think, is a double edged sword in some senses. It now places the park under a different jurisdiction. It may mean some different types of limitations that people have to get adjusted to but it opens up other doors for funding possibilities. And certainly makes it a permanent, appreciated jewel of the United States in regards to art and social movements. I think in that regard, as far as social political movements, it places the park in a limelight where those who look into the history of the park will have to understand that this is also the product of struggle. That is an important byproduct of this.”
— Mario Chacon, Chicano Park muralist
“I think it is a huge accomplishment for Chicano Park. I think it is a huge accomplishment for the people who began, not just the Steering Committee, but the Chicano Movement. I think that this speaks loudly that we are still moving forward. In many different senses. We don’t need anybodies acknowledgement or recognition but to have it is something amazing especially for the muralists that began this. And for me, as someone who has helped and is working on a mural now, its amazing but it doesn’t change the love I have for it in the first place.”
— Patricia Aguayo, Chicano Park muralist
“It means that we are up to another level. We’re finally being recognized. And recognition means more support and more prosperity. Especially with the arts. The arts has the power to bring prosperity to the community. That is why a lot of senators and mayors show interest in arts to bring tourism. This is something very positive. The park has been around for a long time. And the fight to get it recognized too. It’s well deserved.”
— Stephanie Cervantes, Chicano Park muralist
“I think this is a momentous occasion. I shared, actually, yesterday with my students that this is a long time in the making. A lot of blood, sweat and tears went into this. It’s important. It’s huge. And I think its a proper recognition of the historical presence of Chicanos, Mexicanos in the U.S. It’s a park underneath the bridge with all of the fumes. Who would want such a park? But it’s our park and that is what matters and what’s important. I think Chicano Park Day is a testament to that. Every year people come from all over the country. Not only the country but even tourists from around the world know to come to Chicano Park because of the importance it does have. I’m very thrilled and excited to hear that it was finally properly recognized. But at the same time its always been a need to defend the park. So just with this recognition alone doesn’t mean that everything is ok. We need to keep continuing to honor that memory of everything that went into the building and sustaining of this park so that it could carry on for many years to come.”
— Roberto D. Hernandez, PhD, Assistant Professor of Chicana and Chicano Studies at San Diego State University
“We were involved with interviewing a lot of artists that restored the murals. I think the incredible restoration, that got a lot of press nationally and internationally, sort of pressured the city to recognize the park. But I think what it also recognizes is the work of the Chicano Park Steering Committee that is autonomous, unpaid volunteer labor. And that created this space that has shared governance between the Steering Committee and Parks and Rec and CalTrans. And just for a grassroots organization to achieve that kind of autonomy and say and how land is used in the city is amazing. And so this being on the National Historic Registry I think finally recognizes the significance of that struggle and gives hope to people who want to control their space. And also create art that mirrors their reality and not some official committee driven reality that is behind so much public art that doesn’t really reflect anything. So today I’m happy for the Steering Committee and for the artists and community that have their reality finally recognized by the mainstream.”
— Gail Perez, PhD, Associate Professor of English and Ethnic Studies at University of San Diego
“It’s been so long in the making and this park was not recognized by our own city for so long. Forty three years, now they’re finally recognizing this, the significance of the art. This is the largest collection of Chicano outdoor murals anywhere in the world. It’s an important part of my anthropology classes that I teach to my students, this is one of the case studies that we investigate and we get into the whole history of the neighborhood, of how the park happened and all of the events sort of leading up to the present time. There have been many people involved and this allows the younger generations to be connected with the history of their elders who made this possible. Paving the way to make life easier for them, to make them have a connection to their historical background, and to appreciate and embrace everything so beautifully. And this legacy will continue a long time after the elders, who have started to pass away, long after they’re gone. This will continue and now it’s recognized by people outside of this community and that’s very significant.”
— Kathleen Robles, Adjunct Professor at City College
“For our community people have not realized how important the artists are. They are really high grade, quality artists that because they are Chicano Movement people [others] don’t recognize their skill. They have been blessed with big talent. This is very significant. We are not in the history books as we are supposed to be. We have to tell our own stories and God bless the artists that do that in this venue.”
— Rachel Ortiz, Executive Director of the Barrio Station
“I think it is a recognition, finally, by the United States government that the contributions that Chicanos in Barrio Logan have made to the social and cultural progress of this nation have to be validated. We have never struggled with the objective of getting validation from the state. But I think the fact that those forces that once opposed the creation of this park — the state government, the local government, the federal government — have to turn around and recognize finally that the struggles that started here over 40 years ago in this park have endured. And no matter the threats of gentrification, the threats of marginalization that had almost pushed this park to the brink of disappearing, all of those challenges were not able to overcome the willingness of folks to stand up for what they believe in and to paint the pillars of concrete that signified progress for just a few and destruction for the majority. For us to finally be recognized as a historic place is a strong validation that the struggle must continue and now we need to make sure this park is treated with dignity and respect especially as gentrification starts to set its nasty presence and footprint here in Barrio Logan.”
— Christian Ramirez, Human Rights Director for Alliance San Diego
“I think the designation is an important validation of all the work and struggle that has gone to essentially create and claim an identity, a political identity, of Chicanismo and how that has had an effect on insuring that people are able to essentially, through a process of self-determination, decide for themselves how they want to live. A life of dignity, a life that respects everyone else irrespective of where their origins are from. It definitely provides compatibility, a sense of equality with other communities in San Diego. San Diego historically has been a place that has relegated people of color to the margins, and very particularly the Mexican community and the Chicano community specifically. This is a designation that carries a lot of weight and how we move forward as a community, as Raza, to ensure that we also have a place at the table. We also have wonderful, beautiful art to offer to how we make San Diego a much more diverse place to live in.”
— Pedro Rios, Director of the American Friends Service Committee’s US/Mexico Border Program
“Well I think that means it’s a big victory to all of the founders of Chicano Park itself. Especially because of the big effort that it took in order for the communities to be able to create Chicano Park in the first place. For it to have come so far from the day that that was done is an amazing thing for everybody. Especially because now you are going to have people from all over the world to come and see the fruit of all of that work. I think it is an amazing thing.”
— Bertha Gutierrez, activist and member of the Centro Cultural de la Raza’s Arts Advisory Committee
“This is a historic day. Because it shows the pride of all of us. As Chicanos and the fact that we have a national treasure right here in Aztlán, in Mexican territory, San Diego, California is very significant. The fact that we have our first Latino mayor in a long time, Roberto Filner. It was a very historic day. Chicano Park has taught me a lot. Its a very proud day and I’m excited to be here. Its a wonderful tribute to the entire community.”
— Enrique Morones, President of Border Angels
“What Chicano Park represents to me is a reaffirmation of 500 years of our existence as a people. And when I say that our ancestors have been here forever. And what is so special about today is that in other big cities like Los Angeles for example that reaffirmation has occurred amongst the people. However in San Diego historically, up until today I believe, San Diego the city government has ignored its bicultural heritage. Has completely ignored and not even addressed the issues of the Chicano Mexicano community. That’s why today is such a special day in San Diego because of the nature of our politics. The nature of this city and how conservative it is. And to have a reaffirmation via the arts and via love and via unity and via everything that Cesar [Chavez], Dr. King, Mahatmas Gandhi taught us is awesome. Its beautiful. Because there’s no other way to do it. And its through the arts we can come together as human beings. So, what does this park represent to me? Unity. Bringing people together. People north of Interstate 8, people south of Interstate 8. And as a city as a whole, both dominant and minority cultures, to accept this as a national treasure is really special. That is why I am here today.”
— Michael Slomanson, Chicano attorney
“It means that our umbilical cord has been validated. Now who we are has been extended throughout this country. We may not think it’s important, but it’s like the most basic human necessity which is validation. And for us to be finally acknowledged as contributors to this country, not just artistically, but politically, socially, validation is huge. And you can’t say that we don’t need to be validated because it’s important that we are. We have a voice, we are here. People need to know we are here. We are not just the stupid Fox [News] stereotypes. When we get validated, it helps to shatter some of those lies, some of those single stories about us as a people. So that’s what it means to me.”
— Macedonio Arteaga, Jr., Executive Director of Teatro Izcalli and Race Human Relations Counsellor for SDUSD
“I think this park is not just historical to San Diego, but the culture of San Diego. I think it’s more of the roots of who we are and what we stand for, and so this has become like a worldwide, well respected community park. I think what went down today is something for the books, not just here, but other cities, other states are going to start following. I think we’re really ahead of the game here. I think Chicano Park is one for the history books, for sure. I see a lot more beautiful stuff happening here in Chicano Park and I hope it continues to grow.”
— Ruben Torres, CEO of Connected With Ruben Torres
Chicano Park being added to the National Register of Historical Places is a milestone in the history of Chicanos in the U.S. No other mural site from the Chicano Civil Rights era has ever been designated so. The above quoted people have contributed and continue to contribute to La Causa Chicana. Not for themselves and Chicanos but for the overall good of all humanity. I, for one, am honored to have played a minor role in keeping the spirit of Chicano Park alive. And am even more honored to live across the street from a national treasure.
Originally published in 2013. Reposted on Jan. 12, 2017.
To read the entire file on Chicano Park’s inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places visit: