Faced with the threat of a white supremacist attack, hundreds of community members rallied to defend San Diego's iconic Chicano Park, a cultural mecca of the U.S. Southwest and National Historic Landmark covered in colorful murals depicting the social struggles of Chicanos, Mexican-Americans and Latinos.
Led by a broad front of community elders, students, youth, artists and the local Kumeyaay Indigenous nation, the rally came in response to a series of violent threats to vandalize the park and hold a neo-Nazi or so-called "alt-right" demonstration in the overwhelmingly Chicano and Mexican community of Barrio Logan.
Under heavy protection by the San Diego Police Department and California Highway Patrol, a small handful of Trump supporters and white nationalists attempted to enter the park, but they were escorted away. Security was provided by local community defense groups the Brown Berets of Aztlan and Union del Barrio, who established a disciplined and visible presence in the crowd.
"Despite all the rumors, misinformation, handwringing, and general tensions, hundreds of Raza from San Diego and beyond gathered in the Park at noon, where we were joined by a very diverse group of progressive allies," Union del Barrio wrote in a statement released following the rally. "There was some doubt that the Trumpista hate groups would show up at all (some thought that because of the rain, or fear of the community, that they would not show up), but they indeed showed up."
"Not only did the original San Diego based haters try to make their way into the park, but also people linked to Southern California 'Proud Boys' and other white nationalist organizations," the group added. "When these provocateurs tried to force their way into the park they were overwhelmed by Raza on all sides and they had to be escorted out."
Chicano Park has long been a locus of controversy among right-wing conservatives and white supremacists in the region, who claim that the massive murals covering the pylons of the bridge above the park is somehow “anti-American,” “pro-communist” and amounts to a display of “reverse racism” – the term alleging the victimization of whites by historically oppressed nationalities.
A National Park Service form on the park's significance describes the murals as "Mexican pre-Columbian gods, myths and legendary icons, botanical elements, animal imagery, the Mexican colonial experience, revolutionary struggles, cultural and spiritual reaffirmation through the arts, Chicano achievements, identity and bicultural duality as symbolized in the search for the 'indigenous self,' Mexican and Chicano cultural heroes and heroines such as La Adelita, Cesar Chavez, Father Miguel Hidalgo, Che Guevara, Pancho Villa, Emiliano Zapata, and scenes based on contemporary Chicano civil rights history."
About a 20 minutes' drive from the San Diego port of entry from neighboring Tijuana, Mexico, the park was founded in 1970 when students — including members of the Brown Berets — occupied a vacant lot slated to be turned into a California Highway Patrol substation.
Threats to deface the park and calls for its removal ramped up during the ascent of President Donald Trump, whose campaign relied on immigrant-scapegoating rhetoric that singled out Mexicans. Verbal threats against the monumental park reached an increasingly furious pitch following the August 12 white supremacist riot in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a neo-Nazi plowed his car into a crowd of protesters, killing Heather Heyer.
“Right-wing Trumpista groups in San Diego felt that they could draw attention to themselves by calling for the elimination of Chicano Park, because as far as they are concerned, our park is more offensive than Nazism, the confederacy, and white supremacy,” Union del Barrio said. “Furthermore, during previous weeks there has been an intensification of Trump’s anti-Raza policies through a rapid increase in ICE detentions, the August 25th presidential pardon of Joe Arpaio, the August 31st announcement that the prototypes of Trump’s wall are coming to San Diego, and the ongoing threats of the imminent cancellation of DACA.”
Residents credit the Chicano Park Steering Committee, who organized Sunday's rally, for the park's survival. The committee was formed by community members and still enjoys the participation of many who were involved in the original takeover that led to the park's creation.