There have been several polarizing views about what should be done with the historical murals at Santa Barbara’s Ortega Park for its proposed renovation, but the voices of those that grew up in the neighboring community and those that live there now are clear: “We want the murals to stay.”
On Sunday, this neighborhood community gathered in the Eastside park for Occupy Ortega Park, an event meant to amplify these voices and educate those unfamiliar with the deep history of the murals that give the park its unique flavor.
Michael Montenegro, community leader, activist, and curator behind @chicanoculturesb — an Instagram page that explores Santa Barbara’s Chicano history through informative posts and community-led discourse — organized Sunday’s event, which featured artists and vendors such as Sin Fin Designs, @oxy.airbrush.
“[Ortega Park] was an undesirable spot,” Montenegro said, leading a tour around the park’s many Chicano- and Indigenous-inspired murals. “Only raza would live here.”
Chicano muralism arose from the Chicano Civil Rights Movement, set off by the El Movimiento in the early 1960s and creating a culture of community-based murals and artworks across Southern California. According to a mural evaluation report by Site & Studio Conservation that was recently accepted through the Historic Landmarks Commission, the Ortega Park murals are particularly noteworthy because they were one of a few Chicano murals officially sanctioned in the 1970s by the city of Santa Barbara in partnership with community center La Casa de la Raza and the people of the neighborhood itself.
Mark Alvarado, founder and director of the One Community Bridge Project, an organization that helped bring awareness when the murals were slated for destruction a year ago, says that any updates to the park must be “family friendly and culturally representative.” He said that original plans that failed to consider the murals sparked the organization’s push to save them.
"We advocated, essentially, centering the murals,” Alvarado said. “We kind of woke up a segment of the community that was like, hey, I grew up here.”
La Casa de la Raza, which was newly formed in 1969 was instrumental in the painting of the murals.
Diana Cabral, an Eastside native drove down from the San Fernando Valley to support the cause. She runs Sin Fin Designs, where she creates and sells handmade crafts, clothing, and accessories inspired by Chicano art and culture.
“You can’t just erase history,” said Cabral. “This is history, through the murals.” She said that they are more than just paint on walls, but represent “sacrifice and effort” to those who made them happen.
Andi Garcia, who helped Montenegro organize the event, grew up on the Eastside and can recall spending much of her youth in the park. She said the city views the park as rundown, and cites the removal of the picnic tables and benches in 2016 out of concern that “transients” were congregating there as evidence that the city doesn’t understand who really uses the park. “The ones that suffer most are the families,” Garcia said.
One of the reasons behind the Occupy Ortega Park events, she said, is to remind the city that the community still uses the park. “They thought we forgot,” Garcia said. “We didn’t forget.”
Part of why the park is thought to be forgotten is the lack of events and gatherings, something Montenegro said is directly related to accessibility. “Developers have said no one uses the park.” He said that previous generations would hold parties, weddings, and quinceañeras in the park’s Welcome House, but current prices are not feasible for the working-class people who live in the area. “The prices are financially inaccessible.”
The latest recommendations from the mural evaluation report state that the murals that are in good condition be kept as is, or relocated within the park, and those that are significantly damaged be “re-created” or “reenvisioned” with the community’s input.
SAN ANTONIO — Chuco Garcia first embraced the Chicano Culture back when he was in high school.
“I’ve always been intrigued by the style, by the culture and the ranflas, the cars, and everything like that just intrigued me to get into and know my history about it,” Garcia said.
Garcia is only 29 but he’s a Chicano from the Souhtside of San Antonio who knows his history.
Garcia says people always thought he was in a clika, which is a gang but he was just a chill chavalo who couldn’t get into trouble.
He also had to deal with health issues. “When I was eight months old, I had a liver transplant, by the age of 19,20 I was already on dialysis,” Garcia said.
After Garcia received a kidney transplant when he was 23, he started to document things through film. “I just learned on my own, I picked up a chafa (cheap) editing software, my computer would get all frozen,” Garcia said.
Garcia put on his burgundy zoot suit, and stopped by the Guadalupe Cultural Arts on San Antonio’s West Side for a film festival called CineFestival.
Garcia was called to the stage to talk about a recent documentary he filmed.
“What’s happening raza, this is Chuco Garcia, the documentary I put together is about Dimas Garza its called You’ve Succeeded: The Life & Times of Dimas Garza,” Garcia said on stage.
Garza’s a legendary Chicano Soul artist from the West Side of San Antonio who passed away in 2008.
“His voice is so distinct,” Garcia said.
Garcia felt pushed to preserve Garza’s legacy.
“It’s our roots, we got to keep it alive, si no, it gets forgotten, man,” Garcia said. “You know its important. They don’t teach us this in school.”
Molina is an author and historian from East Los Angeles. He was also featured in Garcia’s documentary on Garza.
“I just really felt it time for us, as a raza, to start documenting our own stories,” Molina said.
Molina’s done it through his book Chicano Soul: Recordings & History of an American Culture, where he featured the West Side sound. This created the opportunity for Garza’s’ song You’ve Succeeded to be placed in the Smithsonian.
“It is important for generations to follow, to see that footsteps have been laid in the right direction ,” Molina said.
Garcia believes that the right path is simple — document Chicano culture at all costs.
“As long as its they’re in libraries, in books, in film format or audio format, it’ll stay alive,” Garcia said.
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