All photos by Torrey Bailey unless otherwise noted
For the families who have roots in the south San Diego borough of Barrio Logan, this isn’t the same community they homesteaded. Over time, the city’s interests have bulldozed this neighborhood, both literally and figuratively, but residents have tirelessly celebrated and safeguarded their culture.
Mexican immigrants first settled here in 1910, picking up blue-collar jobs, and by the ‘40s, it became one of the largest Mexican-American communities in California, according to the 2009 documentary Remembering Our Past: History of Barrio Logan. Those who have been here since the start don’t call the neighborhood Barrio Logan, but rather Logan Heights, as the greater area was referred to before the I-5 freeway divided it up in 1963. Families were displaced then and again several years later to make way for the Coronado Bridge. For years, the city promised to designate a park under the bridge’s pillars, but when construction started there on a California Highway Patrol station, the community took its most famous stand. Resentment toward city officials boiled over into protest, leading to 12 days of residents forming human chains, planting greenery and protecting the land. On April 22, 1970, the locals succeeded in taking over the plot of land that would soon become Chicano Park.
Since then, Chicano Park has acted as a gathering ground, where murals document the accomplishments and struggles of Mexican-Americans since before California’s lines were drawn. Today, Barrio Logan holds tight to its foundations and wards off gentrification by prioritizing small, independently owned businesses that cater to the residents. Craft breweries, art galleries and restaurants have multiplied over the past half decade, inadvertently attracting the attention of bigger name artists and investors. But time continues to prove Barrio Logan’s resiliency with working class people who value an authentic sense of community and standing up for what’s rightfully theirs.
Until recently, Logan Avenue and Sampson Street was the inarguable hangout. But with Mercado del Barrio constructed, Cesar E. Chavez Parkway and Main Street became a mainstay, sealed by a landmark arch. Here, Iron Fist Brewing, Mish Mash and other restaurants, as well as a grocery store and affordable housing can support community needs closer to the bay.
Photo courtesy of National Endowment for the Arts
Ramon “Chunky” Sanchez at Chicano Park, 2013
CHICANO POET: The Influence of Ramon "Chunky" Sanchez
If you want to hear Barrio Logan, listen to Los Alacranes, the band founded by mustachioed local troubadour Ramon “Chunky” Sanchez in 1975 with his brother Ricardo. Their music, a mixture of traditional folk and contemporary activist music, blended Chicano and American pop culture into something that became not only musically influential, but socially as well.
“It was very much an era of social activism,” says Mario Aguilar, a friend of Sanchez’s and a former member of his band. “There was something in the air that you could feel. There was a lot of energy that everybody tapped into.”
Aguilar describes three different types of music that Sanchez and Los Alacranes would play: traditional romantic trio ballads, socially conscious activist music, and a third style of Chicano blues that was more improvisational, with a poetic sing-speak approach Aguilar describes as being similar to hip-hop. Los Alacranes’ best-known song is “Chicano Park,” a soulful document of the community’s reclamation of the now nationally recognized park in Barrio Logan. Yet Sanchez had a larger repertoire of standards, including “El Correo del Campesino” and “Sabor a Mi.”
“I have fond memories of playing those songs with Chunky,” he says. “It was traditional music, but it was also keeping alive a communication method in a way that people would appreciate. All of those songs had meaning because of the places that they took you.”
Sanchez died last October at the age of 64, but his music and the messages in his songs remain relevant today. Part of what made Sanchez a beloved figure was his personality and his sense of humor, Aguilar says, but he also notes that his message and his humanitarianism is what makes his music ageless.
“Look at the artifacts of the era—Trump’s wall, all the racism going on, threats to Jewish community centers... all of these things are being revived and brought forward,” he says. “But this music is also one way to tell young people about what we’ve seen and did in the past, and what can be done in the future.
“Chunky always made people know that they were worth something,” he continues. “He really made people feel comfortable with themselves.”
- Jeff Terich
Image courtesy of the Barrio Logan Steering Committee
Rendering of the Chicano Park Museum and Cultural Center
CENTER OF ATTENTION
For Josephine Talamantez, the Chicano Park Museum & Cultural Center has been nearly 50 years in the making. That is, for as long as the iconic park has been around (since 1970, to be exact), there has been the need for an adjacent space where visitors and locals alike could learn about the social and artistic importance of the park.
“The effort to try to preserve the history of our community and what the Latino community contributed to the economic, social, political and cultural development of San Diego is extremely important,” says Talamantez, who, as a student activist in the ‘70s, helped fight for the park.
Talamantez is now a member of the Chicano Park Steering Committee and has been in negotiations with the city for a plot of land on 1960 National Ave. where the now vacant Cesar Chavez Continuing Education Center now stands. Talamantez is getting the committee prepared for a bidding process when it comes to the property, but is hoping that Chicano Park’s recent designation as a National Landmark will help them bypass a bidding war.
“I found a council policy that says that the city council and the mayor can identify a site for a non-profit organization to lease a building,” Talamantez says.
Talamantez and the committee estimates that it will take around $8 million dollars to get the building up to standard and local architectural firm RJC Architects recently developed schematics for the museum/center. Most of that money will have to come from fundraising and Talamantez says that actually having the building would help them raise funds. Once completed, she says the museum would go a long way in preserving the cultural integrity of a community that’s increasingly threatened with gentrification.
“We want to instill a level of pride in the next generation,” Talamantez says. “It’s extremely important to validate the elders who are still alive and take the next generation through the process of the historical development of Chicano Park.”
- Seth Combs
THE REAL DEAL
On March 2, City Councilmember David Alvarez, whose district encompasses Barrio Logan, tweeted out, “Grabbed lunch at a Barrio Logan spot you’ve probably never heard off. Best flour tortillas, after the homemade ones. #childhoodmemories” Bonus: there was a selfie attached of Alvarez and, with a good squint, followers could make out the name of the restaurant, La Popular Tortilleria (2194 National Ave.), from the sign’s faded, red lettering behind him. “The plates are simple but the flavors are robust,” Alvarez told CityBeat in an email, adding that the carne asada burrito is his go-to.
When in the neighborhood, Alvarez makes it a point to stop by the local eateries, including one of Barrio Logan’s most esteemed, Salud! (2196 Logan Ave.). This isn’t a no-frills establishment like La Popular Tortilleria; the restaurant salutes the neighborhood’s creative core with walls decked with artistic tributes to the Chicanx culture. “When I order here, I indulge in birria tacos,” says Alvarez, referring to flash-fried tortillas filled with Mole-coated shredded pork, veggies and cotija cheese. We’d be lying if we didn’t also want him to indulge in Salud!’s infamous, tamarindo and Tajin-rimmed Vampiro Micheladas.
- Torrey Bailey
Ryan and Yung Ryan
END OF THE RAINBOW
On a warm Thursday afternoon, Rainbow Party Supplies (2076 Logan Ave.) owner Ignacio “Nacho” Delacerda restocks rented merchandise while talking to a lady on speakerphone. It’s a feat of multitasking, but Delacerda makes it look easy.
The woman wants a piñata made to look like Ninjago—which I guess is some sort of Lego ninja. “You did such a good job last time,” the lady says. Delacerda says he can do it, and there’s a slight pause on the woman’s end. “I heard you guys are closing” the lady says. “That’s such a bummer.”
Yes, it is. Rainbow Party Supplies has been bringing joy to the community—specializing in custom piñatas—for 26 years. However, by the time this story is published, Rainbow will be closed. Given Barrio Logan’s rapidly changing identity, the closure is not surprising, but no less heartbreaking. However, Delacerda’s father—Rainbow’s original owner (and also named Nacho)—feels good about the impact they’ve left on the community.
“Customers have been coming here since they were this big,” Nacho Sr. says, holding a hand to his knee. And if there’s a bright side to Rainbow’s closure, it’s entirely on the Delacerdas’ terms, not gentrification.
“I’m just looking to retire,” Nacho Sr. says. “I want to travel.”
After Delacerda hangs up with the Ninjago lady, I give him an image of what I want made into a piñata: me, mouth agape like an idiot, pulling a dumb-ass stance. “Uh, kind of like that,” I say, pointing to one of their popular Donald Trump piñatas, slightly dismayed at my resemblance to Trump piñatas.
When the piñata is done, it’s Trump but with dark hair and a beard. And, yeah, it’s me. I name it Yung Ryan. I instantly love Yung Ryan (as long as it doesn’t come alive and kill me)—just one of the countless people who’ve received joy courtesy of Rainbow Party Supplies.
Brent Beltrán - Vice Chair of Barrio Logan Community Planning Group
This is a community that’s rarely had a little bit extra,” says Brent Beltrán, the vice chair of the Barrio Logan Community Planning Group. “Almost everything in this community had to be fought for.” While he’s been a long-time community advocate, Beltrán moved to the barrio six years ago and acknowledges that he’s a relative outsider compared to the families who arrived here generations ago. “I’m not afraid to use [my] voice, but at the same time, I understand that I wasn’t born here.” He’s wary of local government, particularly the mayor, who he says “hasn’t done shit” for Barrio Logan since being elected, but also of new businesses inching in. Property pirates, as he calls them, are pushing rent up and residents out. “What’s going to happen when there’s no more Chicanos living near Chicano Park?” he asks. “In five years, this is going to be a different community. Ten years, it’s going to be scary. Ten years, this is going to be Little Italy.” He says the best way to prolong this gentrification is if entrepreneurs within Barrio Logan open businesses that hire and serve the residents here specifically. “If you’re coming in here, you’ve got to respect the historic, cultural nature of this community.”
- Torrey Bailey
Bucky Montero - Manager of Por Vida
Although not native to the community, Bucky Montero shares a deep-rooted connection to Barrio Logan’s history. “There’s a huge sense of pride here,” she says. “A lot of pride. And I mean that in different ways, like Chicano pride, but also in just a pride for the neighborhood and taking care of it.” Originally from South Bay, Bucky’s involvement started with The Spot art gallery where she met other community activists. From there, she found herself at the forefront of current undertakings such as La Bodega Art Gallery, Radio Pulso del Barrio, Barrio Logan Flea Market and Por Vida cafe and gallery (2146 Logan Ave.). Montero also manages La Vecindad, the building that houses Por Vida and other small businesses, which she says are examples for the direction she hopes to see the community grow. “I would love to see more Brown businesses. I feel like that is really empowering to the community of Barrio because let’s face it, it’s primarily Hispanic so… this is how [the residents] are going to feel comfortable with supporting businesses that are coming into the block,” says Montero. While she acknowledges that development is somewhat inevitable, she hopes the future of Barrio will be in hands of those who know the community best. “Maybe that’s wishful thinking. I don’t know. We’ll see.”
- Sofia Mejias-Pascoe
Rigoberto "Rigo" Reyes - Founder of San diego Amigos Car Club
“I remember listening to Cesar Chavez, not knowing who Cesar Chavez was, and playing marbles in between the rallies. I grew up in that atmosphere so something stuck,” says Rigoberto “Rigo” Reyes, founder of Amigos Car Club’s San Diego chapter. He was first introduced to activism during the Chicano Park takeover when he was 12 years old, riding his bike from San Ysidro to participate in the rally. Around the same age, he spotted his first hydraulic-equipped lowrider, a 1957 Chevy. Years later, he bought one as his first car and lifted it. And even now, Reyes says the model is his favorite, dreaming of painting one a candy green and lowering it to the floor. “It’s kind of like a canvas on wheels.” Over the years, he’s been a part of Casinos Car Club, which collapsed in the mid-seventies, but out of its demise came Amigos Car Club, which will be celebrating its 40th anniversary this April. “It’s a way of life… There’s even sayings that we have more hydraulic blood than we have blood going through our veins, and there’s some truth to that because it’s something that grew from the neighborhood… Just as much as I’m going to be buried with my [hydraulic] switches, I’m going to be buried with a Chicano flag.”
- Torrey Bailey