International cottages
A weekend cultural event at the House of Pacific Relations International Cottages. Courtesy

Nestled in one corner of Balboa Park, a group of 32 beautiful, single-story houses, known as the House of Pacific Relations International Cottages, is one of the most unique attractions of San Diego.

Each house exhibits the culture of a country that has contributed to the history of the city, and together they form a landmark that fits in less than two acres of land. As a volunteer at the House of Pacific Relations, I believe it is a must-see for all, tourists and locals alike. Here’s why.

The word “Pacific” has multiple meanings, but in The House of Pacific Relations, it means “peaceful.” The name was chosen in 1935 by its founder, Frank Drugan, during a period of mounting global tensions and economic crisis. After moving to San Diego in 1933 and being enamored with the geography and history of San Diego, he aimed to connect its citizens so they could appreciate the diverse cultures of the city.

To this end, each of the 32 houses has always invited local artists and performers to create an atmosphere of relaxation and exploration. In a walk around the cottages, visitors can experience attractions from many cultures such as taking photos with handmade Irish quilts, listening to live jazz piano, and tasting traditional Turkish baklava. The performance area is in the middle of all the houses, and because it is small, the shows are closer to the viewers, and the audience cheers louder, contributing to a feeling of community.

In March, during the annual African American Heritage Celebration, I was a volunteer at The House of China, selling dumplings to the students, families, and tourists attending the event. During the day, a special guest arrived — the winner of the Miss San Diego County pagent, Love Bradley.

Bradley told us she was one-eighth Chinese and often visited the House of China to learn about her Chinese ancestry. She showed us an old photo of her great-grandmother, a Chinese immigrant who arrived in America nearly a century ago.

Just before entering our house, Bradley had given a speech on African American history to the visitors of the houses. In the audience, I saw the bright faces of San Diego youth, dancing and singing, proudly expressing their culture. I also saw visitors from around the world, dressed in traditional clothes and talking in their native languages. And, of course, there were people from San Diego, just passing by to enjoy the festivities.

Bradley represents the true meaning of the House of Pacific Relations: offering not only one’s own story but an opportunity to listen to different ones. 

The poet Margaret Atwood once said, “In the end, we’ll all become stories.” San Diego’s story is that of millions of people who sought peace, freedom, and a place to call home.