If it had been any other day, Mateo would’ve biked around Chicano Park before cutting back to his house on South Evans Street. But, his mom was working late tonight, and his baby sister was already home all alone. Instead of taking a right on Beardsley Street to Harbor Drive, he held his breath and continued down Logan Ave.
He hated this street – well the whole damn neighborhood. But especially, this street. Located beneath the San Diego-Coronado Bridge, the distressed homes of Barrio Logan have black barred windows and peeling paint. Junk littered the yellowed lawns.
Some city officials thought it would be a good idea to beautify the neighborhood by dressing up all of the bridge’s structures that were located in the middle of the neighborhood. The politicians are happy – the result is that the park is now home to the largest collection of outdoor murals in the country. It is considered an art cultural area of San Diego.
But this art is not of American heroes, like Abraham Lincoln, JFK or Martin Luther King. Instead, local artisans fought to have portraits and sculptures represent heroes from the Chicano Civil Rights Movement – a powerful group in the 1960s that wanted to see Mexican-American empowerment. The concrete is covered with impressions of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara amongst other communist rulers.
The bridge supports cast a sinister shade over the whole neighborhood. The famous faces oversaw the comings and goings of all the residents, and it was impossible not to feel watched. The politicians? They turned a blind eye. They bragged about their success in revitalizing the neighborhood to all the tourists. “Check out the Barrio Logan,” the brochure said. “San Diego’s Art Center.” They were happy that there were a few new restaurants and shops in the neighborhood.
What wasn’t mentioned in the brochure was the Hispanics, either illegal or impoverished, who have struggled to put food on the table for decades. Yes, some have moved on to National City or Chula Vista, but for most, times were even worse. The landlords wanted to eradicate their tenants like termites by driving the rent up on all the homes. But if you couldn’t afford to move to Chula Vista, like Mateo’s mom, then you had to stay where you were and cut back in other places, like food.
And like all forgotten people, they were left to make their own rules and rulers. In Barrio Logan, it was the Barrio Gang who was the real law. Mateo didn’t know what he had done, but they have made it clear that they were upset with him.
Mateo’s hair stood on its end the minute he crossed the Chavez Parkway. His senses knew he was being watched before he even saw the tall, lean yet muscular young man in a black tank top and black shorts. The shorts hung well past his knees, and an all-black bandana was tied around his head. He was waiting beneath the bridge structure that said Barrio Sí, Yonkes No.