A celebration Saturday at San Diego’s iconic Chicano Park brought forth mixed emotions as people paid tribute to lives recently lost there, and to the legacy of a beloved Chicano icon.
While there was much to celebrate at the 47th Annual Chicano Park Day in Barrio Logan, it was also a time to reflect.
The event was dedicated to local musician and activist, Ramon “Chunky” Sanchez, who died last October. Sanchez had deep-roots with the park; in late 1970, the Chicano activist wrote a song about it – “Chicano Park Samba” – in which he sang about the culture, spirit and struggle of Chicanos in their fight for the creation of Chicano Park. The song became an anthem for the park and Barrio Logan.
The gathering also paid tribute to the four victims killed in a horrific crash at the park on Oct. 15, 2016: Cruz Elias Contreras, 52; AnnaMarie Contreras, 50; Andre Christopher Banks, 49; Francine Denise Jimenez, 46.
That day, U.S. Navy sailor Richard Anthony Sepolio, 25, was behind the wheel of his truck when his vehicle plunged 60 feet off the Coronado Bridge transition ramp, landing on a large crowd below in Chicano Park that had gathered there for the La Raza Ride motorcycle festival.
On Saturday, the Dahlila Jimenez, the 11-year-old daughter of one of those crash victims, Francine Jimenez, was at Chicano Park, remembering her mother.
“It was very unfair the way they had to pass away,” the girl told NBC 7. “If you’re part of the Navy, you’re not supposed to be setting an example, not setting a bad example for other people.”
Dahlila said Francine will forever be remembered for her caring nature.
“She was just a loving person. She was open to everyone. She was just amazing,” the girl said.
Loved ones of the crash victims traveled from as far as Arizona to pay their respects once more. Attendees at the festival kneeled in front of a memorial, lit candles and left flowers in honor of the victims.
At times, people hugged one another in front of the memorial and cried. Though time has passed, the pain of what transpired there is palpable.
While none of the victims were from San Diego, the community of Barrio Logan has learned to mourn with them as if they were family.
“All these people are kind and open-hearted and I’m thankful for them, that they think it’s necessary to come and pay their respects,” Dahlila added.
While those tributes were a somber but important part of Saturday’s event, there was also much to celebrate.
Chicano Park was designated a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. Interior Department this year.
The park is a beloved part of Barrio Logan and a sense of pride for the community. Locals know the park for its vast collection of colorful murals dedicated to the cultural heritage of the predominantly Mexican-American community that makes up Barrio Logan. Much of the artwork represents the struggle of the Chicano movement.
Chicano Park Day celebrated how far the park has come. There were dance performances and live bands. Dozens of classic cars lined the streets next to the historic park.
“I'm loving the cars, I'm loving the balet folkloriko, and of course I'm loving the art,” said Christina Caro, who is visiting from Chandler, Arizona.
“It’s totally awesome, it’s a good place to be," said longtime San Diego resident Ray Aguilar. "The food’s wonderful. You have great food. You can see the playground for the kids. It’s a family oriented place."
Sepolio was due in court earlier this week, but legal proceedings were postponed. He's scheduled to appear again in court in June. He has pleaded not guilty but, if convicted, could face a maximum sentence of 23 years and eight months in prison.