Presidio of San Francisco
Located on the spectacular Golden Gate Park, in San Francisco, Presidio was originally a Spanish military base built in 1776.
In 1989 the Presidio fortress ceased to be an active duty military base and is now part of a developing program, which include commercial and public use.
The Golden Gate Park comprise woods and hills marking the entrance to the Golden Gate Bridge, one of the most famous touristic landmarks of the city.
The military transferred the land to the National Park Services in 1994, which transformed old troop dormitories in apartments, boosting the touristic attraction of the area. These building have a very picturesque look —many of them with red bricks— and style.
This former military base, used by three nations, Spain, Mexico and USA, is a very significant and beautiful place to visit, as well as the park itself.
Alcatraz, “The Rock,” of San Francisco
While in San Francisco you can’t pass the opportunity to visit the famous former federal prison of Alcatraz, or “The Rock.”
This little island housed the first lighthouse in US Pacific Coast and a famous federal prison.
Alcatraz is a small rocky island located 1.5 miles offshore from San Francisco and it is visible from the city. The name was given by Spanish navigator Juan Manuel de Ayala in 1775, who charted the Bay of San Francisco and called the island “La Isla de los Alcatraces,” meaning the Island of the Pelicans.
California was still part of Mexico when Governor Pio Pico asked Julia Workman to build a lighthouse on Alcatraz in 1846.
In 1853 it became part of the US military. In 1867 the construction of the prison started. Several additional constructions transformed it in the fortified prison-fortress people know today. In 1933 ended its military prison status and was transferred to the Bureau of Prisons.
Alcatraz was considered the most secure of all US prisons. It housed notorious prisoners, like Al Capone, Puerto Rican nationalist Rafael Cancel Miranda, and others. It is little known that during the Civil War (1860-1865), Alcatraz housed confederated sympathizers and, during World War I (1914-1918) the first well known conscientious objector, Philip Grosser.
Alcatraz proudly claimed no prisoner successfully escaped —even though there were several attempts to escape. However, in 1962, three prisoners participated in what is considered the only successful “possible” escape. The escapees were never found and Alcatraz’s authorities said the trio most likely drowned in the iced and tricky waters surrounding the island.
This story elevated the dark legend of the prison, which in turn was closed in 1963.
Currently is a very popular touristic attraction, and some visitors can spend the night in one of the cells, just like regular prisoner.
Mexican Heritage Plaza, San Jose
If you visit San Francisco, you could drive 50 miles South to visit the city of San Jose.
This industrious and populated city, with almost one million people —more than a third of Latino origin— was originally called El Pueblo de San Jose de Guadalupe by the Spaniards who established it in 1777.
This Pueblo was basically a farming area dedicated to provide food to the more populated centers of Monterey and San Francisco. When California obtained the statehood, San Jose was it’s first capital, privilege that lasted a short period of time.
The expansion of the city began after World War II when many war veterans settle in the area. Then, at the beginning of the 1960s, the growth of the electronic industry and currently with the explosion of the Silicon Valley —right between San Jose and San Francisco— converted this city into a big metropolis.
The significance of the Latino presence materialized in 1999 with the opening of the Mexican Heritage Plaza, considered a unique community and cultural arts facility located in the heart of the area where Mexican settled in the mid-19th century.
The site formerly housed a grocery store that was the target of one of the boycotts organized by the United Farm Workers (UFW), the union co-founded by Cesar Chavez.
The Plaza features a theater, pavilion, art gallery, classroom space, and an outdoor square and gardens built in the architectural style of a traditional Mexican plaza. The Plaza hosts plays and other performances, art exhibits, community events, corporate meetings, weddings and quinceañeras, etc.
The City of San Jose has control of the Mexican Heritage Plaza and recently appointed the School of Arts and Culture —a non profit cultural organization— to run it permanently.
While the city of Sacramento, the capital city of the Golden State, has less presence of Latinos on it’s history, you can feel their presence and influence.
The city took its name from the Sacramento River, an important river which flows for more than 400 miles, finally reaching Suisin Bay, an arm of the San Francisco Bay. Spanish explorer Gabriel Moraga name it “Río de los Sacramentos.”
The city was built mainly by europeans and by 1849, during the so called “Gold Rush,” it became an important commercial point, distribution center and a crossroads for gold seekers and adventurers.
The Gold Rush brought thousands of immigrants from all over to California with the illusion to strike rich, including hundreds of Chileans and Peruvians. The gold fever gave California the nickname of Golden State.
For Spain and then Mexico, Monterey was the capital of California. But in 1853 —five years after California became part of USA— Sacramento became the capital, after San Jose, which hold that status for a short period of time.
The city is located in the Northern area of the state and the Central Valley’s. Currently is considered one of the most diverse cities of the state, with a very busy cultural and commercial life.
Chinese immigrants populated the city before 1882 —the year USA banned people from that country to enter— and currently China Town is one of the several touristic attractions of Sacramento.
The Central Valley, called the breadbasket of the country, is formally divided in two: The Sacramento Valley to the North and the San Joaquin Valley to the South. Being part of the agriculture world means to have a large Latino immigrant population. With 466,000 inhabitants, according to the 2010 US Census, third of them are of Latino origin. This information does not include the surrounding rural areas.
Sacramento’s downtown is clean and very attractive. More recently, the Old Town was revitalized becoming an instant touristic boom, with buildings resembling the Gold Rush era and with friendly atmosphere.