New Generation Joins Barrio Logan’s Long Fight

By Adem Lewis / in , , /

Hidden in the shadows of the iconic
Coronado Bridge is a vibrant neighborhood: Barrio Logan. A handful of artists have built a grassroots art scene in the historically Latino community. A crop of new locally owned small businesses has popped up here too. But people who live in Barrio Logan are also wary of the neighborhood’s change. As it blossoms, outsiders move in threatening to displace the people
already there. Activists have been fighting for the community for decades and many are still here. But now, they’re raising a new generation of protectors, young community activists committed to fighting for Barrio Logan. This is their story. “People always want to tell you what a
mural means, but I think it’s better when you hear it from the actual artist or people that were there during the takeover. At 24 years old, Lucas Cruz is one of the youngest members of the Chicano Park Steering
Committee. The grassroots organization was founded back in 1970 to help take
care of Chicano Park, a piece of public land Barrio Logan had to fight for. In the late 60s, state and local officials expanded Interstate 5, dividing Barrio
Logan in two. Under the freeway, San Diego city officials plan to build a Highway Patrol station, but the community said no. To keep Barrio Logan connected, residents demanded a neighborhood park instead. Hundreds of residents, young and old, showed up to protest the construction The 12-day standoff ended with the
community getting what they wanted, a park. It’s been 48 years since that fight and now Chicano Park is a national landmark thanks to its history and dozens of
large Mexican themed murals artists have painted on the concrete pillars of the Coronado Bridge But while the park stands strong with the support of the community, Lucas says there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done. I just want to be able to see the park maintain its identity because our elders are
getting older and they’re guiding us all right now and if we don’t carry on the
flag that they’ve given us, Who knows what’s gonna happen to the park, you know, We can’t let someone just come in and start saying, “Well I think this will be what’s best.” On February 3rd, a group of conservative activists held a rally
demanding that an American flag be raised in the park. The Chicano Park Steering
Committee held an event of its own and educated the public about the history of the murals. Because we’re the ones that are supposed to be, like I said, learning from our elders and then pushing that forward, so we can show our kids, because we just stay
stagnant and just ignore everything, the movement can disappear. Everything can just fall apart. That’s why we have to keep going forward and just keep trying to learn. Lucas isn’t alone. Seventeen-year-old Diana Loza is also
passionate about protecting the park. She’s lived in Barrio Logan her entire life and has seen the neighborhood change a lot I’ve noticed recently like, a lot of like caucasian people walking around, walking their dogs and for me that was surprising because I know there was a point where a lot of them were like, “Oh, it’s too dangerous to
go there like, I’m just gonna stay home or walk around my neighborhood. Diana wants to make sure people who visit the park learn about its history and cultural significance, and she’s getting a group of friends to help her out. I’m teaming up with the steering committee of Chicano Park to start a youth committee for the younger people in Barrio Logan. Protecting the park isn’t the only
battle these young warriors are trying to fight. Meet Francisco “Panchito” Martinez. He was born in Barrio Logan and is the son of immigrant parents. He wants to ensure that kids like him, who are growing up in Barrio Logan, have access to quality education. Growing up, Panchito was introduced to mentors through the Barrio Logan College Institute. A nonprofit organization that helps kids
in underserved communities attend college. But on a trip to tour schools in San Francisco, Panchitos mentor, Jose Cruz, learned that Panchito didn’t yet buy into the benefits of college. He posed an important challenge to me into the organization he said, “You know, the only
way I’ve heard college promoted to us is that it helps you find a job that makes
more money and yeah I guess that’s kind of important but it just doesn’t move me. Jose ended up taking Panchito under his wing. Now he’s studying philosophy at San
Diego State University and also helps other Barrio Logan Institute students become leaders in their communities. I came back to BLCI I think because I found a sense of purpose. I think I found my calling or at least a glimpse of it, and I wanted to explore that more. Every Tuesday and Thursday,
Panchito spearheads a group that helps students with time management, conflict
resolution and leadership skills. But education wasn’t the only hurdle
Panchito faced growing up. pollution from the nearby industrial businesses in Barrio Logan, has caused health problems in the community. Growing up I had asthma problems because of the diesel trucks that would pass through here to go to
the port. And that affected me academically when I was in middle school. Because of that, Panchito is also involved with the Environmental Health Coalition, a nonprofit that are advocates for environmental justice. For decades, residents have fought for cleaner air in the neighborhood. Now, young adults in Barrio Logan have a new concern: gentrification. Trendy and locally owned businesses, art galleries and restaurants have brought in the new crowd of visitors. Many local activists like 27-year-old artists Joaquin Junco, are seeing the change as a double-edged sword. He’s one of several local artists whose work is focused on gentrification. In 2016, a ballot measure proposed building a downtown stadium for the Chargers. Community activists in Barrio Logan campaigned against the stadium, arguing that it would turn Barrio Logan into a parking lot during football
games and speed up gentrification. Junco made a political poster depicting a
defiant Barrio Logan resident alongside the words, “no downtown stadium.” Gentrification, as somebody told me once is that it’s not a matter that, it’s not something that can be stopped, but we can be ready for it and just deal with it as it comes, as it changes the community. Junco and some other residents of Barrio Logan, say the new businesses in the
neighborhood, even if there are owned by Latinos, are helping drive the
gentrification problem. He says they need to work together to
figure out how the neighborhood can grow and improve without forcing families out. “It’s gonna reach a point, a critical point where People are going to have to get
together and decide, you know, we both love this community but we have like different visions as to where Barrio Logan is going to go, so we need to compromise. Community activists have long worked to protect the identity of Barrio Logan. But now, it’s time for a new generation to step up. Lucas, Diana, Panchito, Junco and other young adults in Barrio Logan say they’re ready.

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