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CA Park Featuring Che Guevara and Fidel Castro Unveils Latest Federally-Funded Renovations

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Among the faded paintings of Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, and right next to the bronze statue of Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata, a $1.6 million federal grant is being used to restore 18 murals in San Diego's Chicano Park.

State of California Business, Transportation and Housing Agency, Memorandum, (page 4).

Last Friday, restoration artists revealed that they are about halfway though the project.

The murals have brought people to the park since the 1970s, when locals first decided to take over "a small piece of barren land under the bridge" in order to defeat a plan to build a California Highway Patrol office there, according to U-T San Diego. "They negotiated with the city and state to create a park."

Once the park came into being, some residents decided to paint colorful and vibrant murals to vent their frustration and "tell their story."

However, because time has eaten away at some of the paintings, "Chicano" muralists have been brought in to help restore the murals ("Chicano" is a word commonly associated with ethnic pride). With $1.6 million in federal transportation enhancement money financing the project, artists have already touched up 9 of the 18 murals designated by the grant for restoration.

The project was first proposed in 1999 and funding was approved in 2002. However, work did not start until the funds became available in 2011, according to California Watch. The restoration project faced "many bureaucratic road blocks, including the need to publish a Chicano Park Mural Restoration Technical Manual," according to La Presna San Diego.

“As a young artist I remember coming to San Diego and thinking ‘gosh I wish I could have a mural up at Chicano park,’” painter Mario Chacon said.

See a news brief on the project via NBC San Diego:

The artists working on the restoration said each painting has significant symbolism.

“What was placed at the top of the mural was a banner proclaiming the battle cry of the day,” Chacon told FOX. “The idea being that the community would build a green zone, a recreational area from here to the bay.”

Martin D. Rosen, a former senior environmental planner and cultural resource specialist for the California Department of Transportation, championed efforts to have the murals restored.

"It's the Sistine Chapel of California," said Rosen, according to California Watch. "I have a feeling of reverence every time I go there."

According to Chicano Park’s official website, these are the murals that have been restored:

"Undocumented Worker 1979," completed August, 2011.

"Chicano Park Takeover," completed August, 2011.

"Los Ninos del Mundo," completed August, 2011.

“Aztec Archer," completed September, 2011.

"Varrio Logan," completed September, 2011.

“Mujer Cosmica,”  front angle.

“Mujer Cosmica,” back angle.

The "Leyes - La Familia" mural has been restored by Tomas and Maceo Montoya.

"Inlakesh" by Juanishi Orosco is the 9th mural to be restored.

"Adelita," competed October, 2011.

On Jan. 13, 2012, media outlets in San Diego were reporting the near-completion of the park's most recent renovation: the "All the Way to the Bay!" mural.

A walk through Chicano Park may surprise a few unsuspecting tourists. While the murals depicting the struggles of the neighborhood and the "pride of the barrio" are relatively innocuous, some visitors may be surprised to see portraits of infamous revolutionaries such as Fidel Castro or Ernesto "Che" Guevara:

But this may not come as much of a shock.

"Most murals were painted in the 1970s and reflect the political climate of the times," reports U-T San Diego. "Cesar Chavez, Che Guevara, Benito Juarez, Frida Kahlo and Emiliano Zapata are among the celebrated."

Chicano Park Historical Mural.

Chicano Park Historical Mural.

Side view of mural No. 41.

It's important to note that no revolutionary icons are featured in the recently restored murals, and therefore it cannot be said that grant money was put towards restoring images of infamous revolutionaries. However, it's unclear whether the 9 upcoming murals will feature socialist and/or communist leaders.

It seems this could go both ways.

Considering that in 2003, the state Department of Transportation was hesitant to invest federal money in a Chicano Park project that involved the word "Aztlán" (referring to U.S. land that once belonged to Mexico) because to do so might violate grant-related civil rights laws, it's difficult to imagine the agency would be comfortable paying for the restoration of murals featuring controversial figures such as Fidel Castro or Che Guevara.

Chicano Park Steering Committee Logo

On the other hand, considering that the agency eventually decided that spending federal money on "Aztlán"-associated projects would not violate grant-related civil rights laws, and that the agency also provided Chicano Park (via a T Grant) with a bronze statue of Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata, it's entirely possible that Castro and Guevara could be scheduled for a facelift.

[Editor's note: The Blaze reached out to both the company chosen to oversee the mural restoration project and the Chicano Park Steering Committee for clarification on the upcoming murals. Both were unavailable for comment.]

Emiliano Zapata in Chicano Park

Restoration artists Mario Chacon considers the murals more like history books, according to FOX.

“It’s that significant to me because it’s art for our people," Charcon said. “It’s art of our people and for our people and [we’re] sharing it with different communities.”

See a news brief on the restoration project via KPBS San Diego:

(H/T:Weasel Zippers)

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