Congressman Juan Vargas is continuing to push a bill that may one day designate San Diego’s Chicano Park as a national monument that’s part of the National Park System.
Vargas, who represents California’s 51st Congressional District including the southern portion of San Diego County, has long worked to preserve the colorful cultural landmark that sits in San Diego’s Barrio Logan community.
He pressed on this week as he pushed H.R. 486 to the House Natural Resources Committee, a bill to “authorize the Secretary of the Interior to conduct a special resource study of Chicano Park.”
The new push is part of Vargas’ ongoing Chicano Park Preservation Act of 2019 introduced in House this past January. In conducting the thorough study into the San Diego landmark, the Secretary of the Interior would evaluate the site’s national significance and determine whether it’s possible to designate Chicano Park as an "Affiliated Site of the National Park System."
The legislation – and designation, if approved – would make Chicano Park eligible for federal protections and aid. That aid would be used to continue preserving the site, which sits beneath the Coronado Bay Bridge, about 4.5 miles southeast of downtown San Diego.
"A testament to San Diego’s tradition of community building and activism, Chicano Park has been the center of cultural history for decades," Vargas said in January, while pushing the Chicano Preservation Act of 2019. "Adorned with vibrant murals, sculptures, and beautiful landscaping, the Park extends throughout seven acres, making it the largest collection of outdoor murals in the entire country."
"Designating Chicano Park as an Affiliated Site will not only honor the resilient spirit of an entire community, it will cement its significance in American history for generations to come," he added.
The U.S. Secretary of the Interior designated Chicano Park a National Historic Landmark in January 2017. At that time, it was one of 24 newly-designated sites chosen by the Interior for showcasing America's rich, complex history.
San Diegans know Chicano 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.
On April 20, 1970, San Diego residents occupied Chicano Park in a successful effort to prevent the construction of a California Highway Patrol substation on the land where the City of San Diego had promised to build a park for the community.
In 1970, late San Diego Chicano activist and musician Ramon “Chunky” Sanchez, wrote a song about the park – “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. Sanchez died in San Diego in late October 2016 but his song and ties to Chicano Park will forever be remembered by the community.
Though a colorful space often used for community festivals, darkness and chaos swept over Chicano Park on Oct. 15, 2016. On that day, Richard Anthony Sepolio lost control of his pick-up truck and drove off the Coronado Bay-Bridge, flying 60 feet and landing on a crowd below that had gathered at Chicano Park to enjoy a motorcycle festival with live music, food and art.
Four people were killed in the tragedy at the park: Cruz Elias Contreras, 52; AnnaMarie Contreras, 50; Andre Christopher Banks, 49 and Francine Denise Jimenez, 46.
Jurors convicted Sepolio of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and driving under the influence causing injury. On May 2, 2019, a San Diego judge sentenced him to more than nine years behind bars with credit for time served.
Each spring, the park hosts Chicano Park Day, a free community celebration that highlights what the park means to the barrio. Since the deadly 2016 tragedy, that event has also become a place to mourn those lives lost.
To keep up on Vargas' efforts involving Chicano Park, visit the congressman's website.