"Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked what we would do if the stars only came out once every thousand years. No one would sleep that night, of course...Instead, the stars come out every night and we watch television." - Paul Hawken, Commencement Address, May 2009
On my last day in San Diego, I found myself busy running errands, cleaning, strategizing a way to pack the cars, and generally feeling equal parts stress and sadness. I decided to grab a quick lunch and picked up a sandwich, intending to eat it in the car on my way to my next task. But then I remembered the above portion of Paul Hawken's commencement address, which I had read only a few days before, and I pulled over.
If this was my last day in a city I love, I needed to see something in it. But what? There's so much to see! Funny how I've lived in San Diego for seven years and never once had that thought. In fact, in the last year, my husband and I have traveled to Sonoma and Seattle and Santa Barbara and Joshua Tree to sightsee. We never once thought to sightsee in our own backyard, although there is much of beauty to take in.
Perhaps because I'm reading Barbara Kingsolver's The Lacuna, the story of a young Mexican cook whose life intersects with those of Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Leon Trotsky, I decided to finish my half-eaten sandwich at Chicano Park, a local monument that is literally beneath the Coronado Bridge on the city side and, thus, a five minute drive from my front door, though I have never once been to see it.
The park is located in Barrio Logan, a historically chicano and Mexican-immigrant neighborhood, settled before the turn of the century, and it came about in the 1970s, after a nonviolent takeover of the land by the people of the neighborhood in opposition to Caltrans' plan to build a highway patrol parking lot on the space promised for the construction of a neighborhood park. Chicano Park holds the largest collection of outdoor murals in the entire country, and they depict various elements of chicano culture, history, politics, and spiritual beliefs; the effect is one of resistance to historical oppressions and neglect. There are depictions of Latino revolutionaries and visionaries, such as Emiliano Zapata, Che Guevarra, Fidel Castro, and Cesar Chavez, as well as depictions of artists like Kahlo and Rivera and Christian imagery of the Virgin of Gaudalupe and Mother Teresa. Perhaps the most striking image is of an Aztec warrior, wearing an elaborate headdress, carrying a decorated shield, and pointing north.
For me, the fact that the murals are painted on the pillars of the Coronado Bridge, which was constructed to run right through Barrio Logan in order to offer Coronado residents and tourists the option to drive directly onto the island instead of relying only on the ferry to cross the bay, is the most inspiring part of the park. Instead of accepting its prescribed position as a second-class community, the neighborhood residents declared their beliefs, their cultural contributions, their history, and their worth on the very structure that sought to make these things invisible.