Gentrification in Barrio Logan Reaching Generations Old and New

The murals add life to the undersides of freeway overpasses and bridges that would otherwise be as dreary looking as the smog that has perched itself above the Barrio Logan community. It’s a park that vomits out the city’s culture through vibrant street art and graffiti — but on this early afternoon of your typical Friday — the park is silent.

A few faces mosey the 16-stall parking lot, only occupied by a couple of idle cars. Some serve as the storage unit for someone’s entire livelihood, others only needed as a quiet space to retreat during one’s lunch break. 

A pitbull tugs at his leash, barking at a rowdy tourist eager to pose in front of a mural he has little understanding of. His owner hushed him, continuing to brush delicate strokes onto a fresh wall that would soon be home to another mural in this decorated park.

Georgina Santos sits and takes it all in. She’s been doing that for upward of 20 years now. Georgina brings color to this park too, but she’s no painter. The cart she pushes around day after day houses neon purple Taki packages, red and orange bags of chicharrones and bright green canisters of Pelon Pelo Rico — a staple for those with a liking to Mexican tamarindo sweets.

Georgina and her cart now sit in their usual spot. The lively colors of her assorted snacks stick out against the entrance to a playground full of rusted monkey bars and faded slides tagged with gang affiliations rather than the traditional Chicano paintings. 

The park’s best vendor doesn’t go unnoticed. A trio of construction workers on their lunch break buy Gatorades from Georgina. A man gifts his son a bag of chips from her stash. An out-of-town visitor of the park hands her three dollars in exchange for their first bag of chicharrones. 

To some, what Georgina makes off these snacks is pocket money. To Georgina, it’s her ticket to remain in the community of Barrio Logan for just a bit longer. A neighborhood she raised a family in, now in recent years becoming increasingly difficult to live in.

“At first, it was the environment. Look up. You can still see some of the smog in the air. But the city is starting to help,” said Georgina. “Now, they clean it up for us. Make changes. Fix this. Fix that. And the result is we can’t afford to live on the streets we grew up in anymore.” 

She looks off to where her grandson dangles from a swing. His short legs kick back and forth as he helplessly tries to gain momentum. He could use a push. However, manning the cart during the lunch hours of the day preoccupies Georgina.

When Georgina isn’t sitting by the cart, she pushes it up and down National and Logan Avenues. From feeding workers in the park on their lunch break, to supplying kids with after-school snacks; Georgina doesn’t leave her cart’s side. And they’ve been together for quite some time.

“I cleaned hotel rooms downtown, but I am older now. I have outgrown that,” she said with a chuckle. “I sell these goods because that is what’s needed. My daughter works now, and I take care of him.”

Him being the boy on the swing. Georgina’s grandson. Now pushing on four years old, Felix does his day-to-day life with Georgina, meaning he’s become familiar with the life of a vendor.

“Felix is a good sport,” Georgina grins, watching him continue to struggle with the oversized swing. “This is his daycare. I walk and he follows, or we sit and I sell so he has a break.”

Daycare isn’t entirely out of the picture for Georgina and her family. But they are practical. Putting their hard-earned money into places that matter at the moment. That’s what it takes to live in present-day Barrio Logan.

“You look around and you wouldn’t think this is a tough place to afford. But actually, this neighborhood is growing.” Georgina cranes her neck to look beyond the park where a newer apartment building sits. “I think people think we have become hopeless here. It is not easy, but I am honest with you and myself, it has never been easy.”

The man and his son — whose right-hand clutches his dad’s and left-hand clutches the bag of chips from Georgina — loom by the swings. Felix and the other boy test their luck together on the swings. Georgina’s soft grin never wavers despite the harsh reality of such an image.

“That man is likely from Barrio, just like me. But those two boys. I often look at Felix and other kids and question if they will remain here. Whether they want to stay or not, I know others who have had to leave, and Felix may have to also if things don’t change,” Georgina explains. 

The already quiet park empties out leaving the area at a standstill as those finishing their lunch breaks head back to their cars. The few stragglers are people Georgina knows. The man who’s been sweeping since Georgina posted up at the park goes by JC. He sweeps and sweeps, the dust floating up until it nestles under the bridge with the murals. JC visits Georgina on occasion for a Sprite. He talks very little, but for a reserved woman like Georgina, that is fine.

Carmen crosses the street in her scrubs. A daughter and son latched on to each of her wrists, eager to let go and grab onto a monkey bar or other park railing. Carmen doesn’t buy anything, but the two women smile at each other as they do every afternoon.

As the afternoon sun begs to fall from high noon, people begin to start their weekends. To Georgina, there is no weekend. She will be out here selling goods tomorrow, and then the next day, and then the next day. On this particular Friday, her outing to the park reeled her in $42.

“People need to realize we are not helpless here. But I think gentrification is something our neighborhood is taking seriously now, so hopefully the community isn’t separated any more than it already has been,” Georgina says with that same hopeful grin.

“It is easy to see this area and think it has gone to waste, but no; this place is full of beautiful culture. We have much to celebrate, and much to work on.” Georgina continues to watch her grandson trek around the playground. “There are groups here that understand living needs to become cheaper again, but there are people that will forget someone like me grew up in Barrio and doesn’t want to leave. What will happen here, I’m not sure.”

While Georgina’s future — and more so Felix and all the other kids’ future who fall into the next generation of Barrio Logan residents — is uncertain, life will go on in Barrio Logan as change continues to be made by local and citywide advocacy groups.

School will be out soon and Georgina’s next clientele will be waiting. The crinkle of chip bags and squeak of wheels from a cart that is pushed all too often signals Felix to take one more trip down the red, plastic slide. Carmen takes a seat on the other end of the playground. JC finally gives his broom a break from the sweeping. Georgina hobbles down the walkway, and back toward National Avenue with Felix on her tail. 

Three lives existing in a park under some noisy freeway overpasses, but one unifying story. Lives rooted in a community that is slowly being pulled apart by people who have never thought to stop and smell the roses — or should I say look at the murals — of Chicano Park in Barrio Logan.