Barrio Logan

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With radio, a barrio finds its voice

Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” played once, ended, started again.

The song is the theme music of Breakfast Burrito Club, the morning show of Logan Heights’ community radio station, Radio Pulso Del Barrio.

On a Tuesday morning a little after 9 o’clock, the show’s hosts — Bob Green, Ana Brown and Bucky Montero — milled around the radio desk, checking cables, fiddling with the mixing board, tapping microphones. Their voices were audible on the monitors, but weren’t going out on the internet stream.

Then, looking over Bucky’s shoulder at the computer, Bob found the problem, “You’re not live, Bucky.”

“Oh!” Bucky clicked a mouse.

Ana leaned forward and spoke into her mic, “Is anybody out there?”

SLIDESHOW: Bob Green, co-host of Breakfast Burrito Club, introduces Radio Pulso’s weekday morning show.

 Do it yourself

“The distinguishing characteristic of community radio is that you put average citizens on the air,” said Michael Huntsberger, a professor at Linfield College in Oregon who researches community and public radio.

By that definition, Radio Pulso is a textbook example. Most of its all-volunteer staff has no broadcasting experience, but because of rather than in spite of this, they are creating a radio station with an identity uniquely its own, in a community where identity has long been a basis of struggle.

The station was created last year with help from the San Diego Museum of Art, which awards grants to different neighborhoods to fund a public art project of the residents’ choosing.

Radio Pulso del Barrio broadcasts from a second-floor room in Bread & Salt at 1955 Julian Ave. Before that it broadcasted from a corner of the stripped-out ground floor of the building, a former bread factory now home to an architect’s offices and artists’ spaces.

 

Logan Heights chose to have a radio station, a decision which excited and perplexed Bucky, who serves as president of the station’s board of directors.

“We just started from ground zero, you know?,” Bucky said. “Like, okay, how are we gonna do this, how do we become a nonprofit, how do we get music? It was like basic questions.”

Bucky’s description of her morning show with Bob and Ana — “It’s funny and serious all at the same time” — could describe many of the station’s roster of shows.

An example: Beats Brunch, the noontime Sunday show that got its name from a New Year’s Eve party a few years back that lasted into the following day.

One of the show’s disc jockeys, Alden Medina, explained the next day’s party “was the more memorable one.” Inspiration found, he and his friends took their love of music and “brunch culture” on the air, blending in talk of urban gardening and sustainable food.

That last part, a focus on community service and bringing to light issues and topics of importance, guides the station’s vision. Shows are tried out on a probationary basis, and only keep their slot if they meet expectations in line with Radio Pulso’s mission of community empowerment.

VIDEO: Host of “All Out,” Jesus Villavicencio, talks about growing up gay and Latino and explains how community radio fosters understanding about LGBT issues.

As such, many shows have a socially and politically conscious bent: All Out (LGBT), Ladies First (women and feminism), and El Daily Justice (political commentary).

Interviews with community members, from the greater Logan Heights area and other San Diego neighborhoods and across the border in Tijuana, are a staple of the programming as well. Artists, organizers, urban gardeners, herbalists, acupuncturists, students, drag queens, tattoo artists and playwrights are just a few of those who drop by to chat about themselves, their projects and their concerns.

New movers and shakers

“If we could get the community to feel like it’s their station — because it is, it’s not ours, it’s not mine — then we’ll have their support.” Bucky sipped coffee at a sidewalk table in front of Cafe Moto on National Avenue in Barrio Logan, just across the Interstate 5 from Logan Heights.

She’s conscious of the trend of young artists moving to Logan Heights and Barrio Logan from other communities, drawn by the place’s urban, Chicano and artistic culture.

She’s a part of it. Having grown up in San Diego’s South Bay, she moved to Barrio Logan after finishing out her twenties in San Francisco.

It’s interesting how we all grew up in different areas but we all migrate to Barrio Logan,” she said, “and I think it’s because of that reason that it feels like home and it’s so Chicano.”

She, Bob, and Ana — all thirtysomethings and transplants to the neighborhood — were partially behind the recently exploded arts scene there, now home to no less than 10 art spaces and galleries.

She and friends Milo Lorenzana and Chris Zertuche started The Spot (renamed The Stronghold, after Bucky had left), and Bob and Ana are the remaining team behind The Roots Factory.

Having met San Diego Museum of Art’s project coordinator, Irma Esquivias, as the art scene was just beginning to take off, Bucky was tapped to be involved with the radio station.

But being the steward of an outlet for the whole neighborhood, rather than just her own creativity, is a new kind of challenge.

“That’s very, like, intimidating, and it’s a little nerve-racking for me because there’s a lot of politics around here,” she said. “We call it the barrio politics. There’s a lot of activism, there’s a lot of organizations, there’s a lot of art collectives that have been doing it longer than I have or longer than most of my friends have. So there’s a sense of ownership, you know.”

(Left to right) Ana Brown, Bob Green and Bucky Montero are joined in the studio by urban gardener and organizer “DaleTron,” disc jockey “Josex,” and San Diego City College students Laura Sanchez and Richard Lomibao.

(Left to right) Ana Brown, Bob Green and Bucky Montero are joined in the studio by urban gardener and organizer “DaleTron,” disc jockey “Josex,” and San Diego City College students Laura Sanchez and Richard Lomibao.

 

Chicano: past and present

“The trend is that the community comes first, and I think people realize that,” Bucky said. “We all do it differently, but everybody has that same mission. This is the Chicano movement from the ’70s but in 2015. And now we’re all different, and now it’s like new generations and now it’s like a hybrid of people involved.”

But differences between the old and new generation of Chicanos remain a source of tension, according to Bucky and her friends.

They’re careful not to step too much on the toes of those they refer to respectfully as “the elders,” the generation of artists and activists that established Chicano Park in the early ’70s. But they don’t always see eye to eye.

In the studio one day after a broadcast of Breakfast Burrito Club, Bob opened up about his ambivalence toward the Chicano label.

Bob’s generation, like the first Mexican-Americans to call themselves Chicanos, represents a hybrid of Mexican and American identity. But he senses differences among young and old Mexican-Americans prevent the young from freely claiming the label Chicano.

Younger individuals are sometimes criticized, he said, for not being able to speak Spanish, or for straying from traditional “Chicano” subjects in their art, such as the Virgin Mary or calaveras skulls.

“This older generation, they look at us weird, too,” he said. “They’re like ‘you guys aren’t really Chicano.’”

“We’re not American enough, we’re not Mexican enough, we’re not Chicano enough,” he said.

Bob was wearing a Roots Factory shirt. On the front was a rooster clutching a snake in an outstretched foot. A play on imagery lifted from the Mexican flag, which swaps the rooster for an eagle.

A few people were offended by the design, he said.

That gives him something in common with Victor Ochoa, one of the “elders” who helped organize the painting of murals at Chicano Park.

“When I painted the first skeletons on the wall in the early ’70s, Mexican people would come over protesting that I shouldn’t do that, people were gonna think that we were death hungry or something,” Ochoa said. “Tweaking images has been a fashion for a long time.”

Artistic differences aside, Ochoa would rather the younger generation not lose the intensity and defiance that characterized the Chicano movement’s beginnings.

“The thing that’s important for me to see is that there’s still a lot of effort to regain some of the Chicano attitude,” he said. “I think it’s mainly an attitude of preserving your culture, your community, your family, your identity.”

Of Chicano identity, Bob speaks intensely, defiantly, with attitude: “I’m willing to challenge that, and destroy it, and rebuild it.”

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Barrio Logan finds balance between cultural preservation and anticipated renovation

Barrio Logan sign

The Barrio Logan sign, installed in December 2014, arches over César Chávez Parkway.

 

Chicano Park art

Chicano Park is filled with mural art that symbolizes the Barrio and Mexican-American history.

Located just south of downtown, Barrio Logan is one the most culturally and historically rich neighborhoods in San Diego.

With landmarks such as Chicano Park, the Barrio symbolizes much of the Mexican-American struggle in California. The San Diego Historical Site Board officially recognized the park, along with its murals, as a historic site in 1980. It will be celebrating its 45th birthday this year.

Due to the significance of its past, efforts to redevelop the Barrio typically have been met with resistance from residents; however, the community is trying to find a way to respect and preserve the Barrio’s culture and history amidst redevelopment.

The Barrio Logan Community Planning Group
In 2012, as a part of San Diego’s General Plan, the Barrio Logan Community Plan Update was developed and passed by the San Diego City Council. It was written to help encourage economic growth and redevelopment in the Barrio. The plan addressed transportation, zoning and redevelopment issues. The plan was controversial among industries in the Barrio. Enough signatures were collected by various industries and two propositions (B and C) were put on the 2014 primary election ballot. San Diegans voted the two measures down in the 2014 primary election. Currently, the original Barrio Logan Community plan is in effect.

Since the rejection of the plan, City Councilman David Alvarez has established the Barrio Community Planning Group — one of 42 community planning groups in San Diego. The groups exist to help advise the City Council in city planning and development. Alvarez asked members of the community to run the group. The group is supposed to serve as the Barrio’s official voice.

Architect Mark Steele, who has had an office in the Barrio, was asked by Alvarez to serve as the chair of the group. He says that he doesn’t necessarily have a vision for the group, but is dedicated to seeing that come out of its members.

“My strategy, rather, is to make sure that this group remains positive,“ Steele said. “When we make a statement, it’s a statement that has some unity and value to it so that the reputation of this group will build to the point where people will pay attention when we come out and take a position on something.”

Gentrification vs. “gente-fication”
Initial renovations to the Barrio focused on affordable housing for the community like the La Entrada Apartments and Los Vientos Apartments providing 85 and 89 units, respectively. The projects were completed by 2012.

Mercado del Barrio

The Estrella del Mercado apartments are located across the street from the Mercado del Barrio. The Mercado serves as a gathering place for all members of the community.

 

The Mercado del Barrio, located directly in the center of Barrio Logan alongside César Chávez Parkway and between Main Street and Newton Ave., makes up two city blocks. It includes a grocery store, restaurants and a plaza with a fountain. The Northgate-González Market is the Barrio’s first major local grocery store. The Mercado serves as a town square where residents are brought together to shop, eat and socialize.

When a lower-income community undergoes such an overhaul, the word gentrification becomes a part of the conversation.

Gentrification occurs when the redevelopment of a community raises property values and costs, thus displacing the current demographic. It is no wonder why gentrification holds a negative connotation in a culturally rich community like the Barrio.

“I don’t think [gentrification] is happening right now in Barrio Logan, there’s been one market rate development built in Barrio Logan in 10 to 15 years and those were condos built on the corner of National and Sigsbee,” Barrio Logan resident Brent Beltrán said. “Every housing development you see in Barrio Logan… is affordable housing complexes and so they are not market rate condos where a more affluent community is moving in.”

Beltrán, who regularly contributes to the online publication San Diego Free Press, also serves as the vice chair of the Barrio Logan Community Planning Group. Beltrán has been an active member of the community for more than two years.

Although Steele sees gentrification occurring, he has a slightly different view of what it means to the community.

“People are discovering the Barrio,” Steele said. “Most people I talk to, however, are interested in repurposing existing buildings and sort of fitting in with the community as opposed to changing the community.”

Derived from the Spanish word “gente,” Beltrán says some community members are referring to the recent changes as gente-fication rather than gentrification. Beltrán defines this as anything that provides something positive to the community or prompts residents to actively participate in the community.

“We want to ‘peoplefy’ this community,” Beltrán said. “It’s happening, we have these spaces opening up, art exhibits and breweries opening up, they’re playing an active role in the community.”

MULTIMEDIA: Brent Beltrán describes gentrification in the context of the community and Ranessa Ashton explains the significance of the new San Diego Continuing Education campus.

Infusing culture and construction
Gentrification remains a concern for a lot of the Barrio Logan community; however, one architect is proving that is possible to develop within a community without forcing people out and actually inviting people in.

In 2013, construction began on the new San Diego Continuing Education César Chávez campus — the campus is scheduled to open in the fall of 2015. The campus is located on the Southwest corner of Main Street and César Chávez Parkway, walking distance from the trolley station.

The parking structure for the campus is located two blocks northeast, it displays a mural of César Chávez and farm worker protests in California.

San Diego Continuing Education parking structure

The San Diego Continuing Education parking structure is located two blocks northeast of the campus.

 

The continuing education center will focus on adult education and will provide vocational training, like English as a second language classes. The center will also have programs for high school students in the community. The building incorporates symbols of Mayan, Aztec and Mexican culture in its composition.

As a part of the San Diego City College District, the $50 million project is being funded by construction bonds made possible by the passage of Propositions S in 2002 and N in 2006. What makes the campus so special is the architect who designed it and his vision for the campus as a part of the Barrio Logan community.

Joseph Martinez, president and principal architect at Martinez + Cutri, grew up in Logan Heights, a neighboring community to Barrio Logan. He attended University of California San Diego, where he got his bachelor’s degree, and went on to get his master’s degree in architecture from Harvard University in 1975.

As the lead architect on the project, Martinez is able to incorporate elements of his culture into the design of the building. He says his long-term vision for the Barrio is to maintain and promote its rich Latino heritage.

“The design focus was on authenticity, capturing the spirit of the culture and ancestry of the Mexican-American/Latino residents and, in turn, synthesizing an appropriate work of architecture,” Martinez said.

Redeveloping a community like the Barrio, and preserving the culture within it, can be difficult, but members of the community are seeing the recent changes as positive and  many residents are embracing it.