For Assemblyman David Alvarez, Chicano Park is a bridge between his childhood and the lessons he teaches his sons.

From memories of his mother preparing food to sell at the park to sharing sweet treats with his boys Saturday on Chicano Park Day.

“It started really early Chicano Park Day when the lowriders started to come in,” Alvarez recalled. “Six in the morning, everybody would come out of their homes to see the parade as they were … making their way to the park.”

The 80th Assembly District representative and former San Diego councilman grew up a block and a half away from the park and now lives nearby on the other side of the freeway.

On Saturday, the 53rd annual celebration of Chicano Park, thousands packed the neighborhood to enjoy dance, music, food and buy from an array of booths — the first in-person Chicano Park Day since 2019.

All parking spots within walking distance were taken.

The theme was “Chicano Park Day 53: Kindling the New Fire.”

“The story of Chicano Park is really a very powerful story for anybody who is working hard to accomplish something,” said Alvarez, 42. It’s a story that “inspires people to this day.”

“It inspires me to continue to do work on behalf of the community and always focus on the community,” he said.

The celebration gives community members a chance to catch up with others.

“It’s a reunion of community, and it’s a way to really get reinvigorated for the work again,” he said. “It is kind of this renewal that happens.”

Chicano Park Day.
Celebrants at Chicano Park Day. Photo by Chris Stone

Speaking of the event’s return from the pandemic, Alvarez said, “There’s nothing like it, the energy that is here, the diversity that is here.”

Early on, the park under the Coronado Bridge didn’t have the colorful, emotion-filled murals it has today. In October the Chicano Park Museum & Cultural Center opened, which teaches people about the park.

More than 400 colorful lowrider vehicles, which lined both sides of Logan Avenue adjacent to the park, attracted a steady stream of admirers. People gazed under the hoods, explored the detail of the vehicles and, of course, took selfies with them.

Said Rafael Perez, board member with United Lowrider Coalition: “Lowriders have been an important part of the day, the park and this community, an extension of cultural expression, and this is an opportunity to showcase it in such a sacred place.”

He too talked about the park’s significance to the community.

“This park is a symbol of what is possible when a community stands up for what was promised to them and holds people accountable,” Perez said, “so I think today is a celebration of community coming together and fighting for parks and green space and everything else that the park represents.”

In the 1960s, the Catrans built the I-5 freeway through the area, demolishing homes and splitting the neighborhood in two. To compensate, residents were promised that land under the Coronado Bridge would be turned into a park, something the community had wanted for years.

On April 22, 1970, residents learned that the promise had been rescinded and the land would be used for a California Highway Patrol station. The local community rallied quickly to halt construction.

Hundreds of men, women and children converged on the site, forming a human chain around bulldozers. They occupied the space for 12 days, attracting the attention of government officials.

After months of negotiation, the formation of Chicano Park was signed into law in 1971.

On Saturday, Alvarez said it’s important for him to share with his children the significance of the park.

“It was people who came together, who fought for this, who knew that something wasn’t right, and look where we are now.”