Chicano Park

On Tuesday, our friend and colleague, Pastor Manuel Retamoza, took Lori and me to spend time at Chicano Park, in San Diego.

Following World War II, the interstate freeway system was built, and I-5, running up and down the California coast, cut through a Latino neighborhood in San Diego. Homes and neighborhoods were destroyed. To compensate, the government promised the neighborhoods that the area under the Coronado bridge would be turned into a park, something the residents had wanted for a long time.

The residents of the community waited patiently, but the promise was never fulfilled. In 1970, the promise was formally rescinded and plans were announced to build a California Highway Patrol station on the site.

The neighborhood rallied quickly and converged on the site, occupying it and forming human chains around the bulldozers that were set to begin construction. The residents demanded that the city live up to its promise. In 1971, Chicano Park was established.

On weekends, the park is full of people, and music. Families picnic together there, in the shadow of the giant overpass taking cars out to Coronado Island. There is a pavilion, where music is played, and people gather for community events there as well.

But the amazing thing about Chicano Park is the art. A central committee, made up of artists and residents, was established to manage the artwork. Artists are invited to submit proposals and drawings. If approved, they create their art on the pillars and support concrete of the bridge. It is incredible, and the murals tell the story of the people who live in that community, their struggles, and their history.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the excellence of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

1 Peter 2:9-10

Chicano Park is a metaphor for the experience of the Latino people. Throughout history, promises have been broken and they have often been forced to the margins. But their spirit is strong, and they have endured. Their sense of spirituality, their sense of family and the importance of community have remained foundational elements in their lives.

And the art. The art is amazing.

I am interested in Latino culture. Partly because as demographics shift, even in Steele County, this culture is going to be something that we encounter on a daily basis. But mostly I am interested because of the beauty of the culture. I want to learn more.

Chicano Park is a small and simple triangle of land under a freeway overpass. But it is a place of community, peace and joy. It is a place of art and music. In 2017, it was designated a National Historic Landmark.

It is a place where God is at work.

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