“Quetzalcóatl” was the first mural to go up on the freeway underpass cutting through Barrio Logan. The artists collaborating on the introductory piece made sure its imagery packed a political punch. At the center of the mural, nestled among a beautiful depiction of the Coronado Bridge, a huelga eagle, farm workers and other more expected renderings, is a bright-red swastika. One of the muralists, Mario Torero, says the symbol was included partly because of its connections to ancient Native American and Asian civilizations, but mostly because it’s controversial.
“It was anti-establishment,” Torero said. “If the establishment liked something or didn’t like something, we went against it because we never trusted them. We were challenging the system.”
It was the late ’60s and early ’70s, and racial tension was high. A group of multimedia Chicano artists who called themselves Toltecas en Aztlan had recently taken over—first by permission, then by protest—an unused space in Balboa Park called the Ford Building (now the San Diego Air & Space Museum). They were eventually kicked out and given the large water-storage tank that now houses the Centro Cultural de la Raza. The painters in Toltecas en Aztlan eventually broke off from the larger group and participated in the 1970 takeover of what’s now known as Chicano Park.
On March 27, 1973, work on “Quetzalcóatl” began.
“It’s the only mural that has a date,” Torero said. “I knew we were doing something very historical, so I tagged it up on the left corner.”
The artists working on the mural called themselves the Congresso de Artistas Chicanos en Azltan—that’s CACA for short (the Spanish word meaning “poop” or "doo-doo"). Again, the artists were interested in being contentious.
“And we were stoners at the time, getting our shit together, so it made sense,” Torero laughed.
“Quetzalcóatl” is one of four remaining murals in line to be retouched as part of the Chicano Park Mural Restoration Project, a federally funded endeavor that began last June 20 and was originally scheduled to be finished by this year’s Chicano Park Day, happening from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, April 21. At the event, folks can see the 14 murals that have been restored and compare them with the four that’ll be retouched in coming months, plus enjoy music, food, a lowrider show and more. Also, Chicano Park-related exhibitions will be on view at The Roots Factory (1878 Main St.) and Blueprint Café (1805 Newton Ave.).
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