San Diego Native Turned Historical Figure – Deja Alfred

 

San Diego Native Turned Historical Figure

    San Diego is one of the largest cities in the United States and it is filled with an abundance of   culture and history. Being that San Diego is known for its rich history, it is easy for some significant aspects of the city’s history to be overlooked. Specifically, African American history. Since their arrival in the San Diego region in the late 1800’s, African Americans have made some very important contributions that have ultimately shaped the history of San Diego and its black community. A more recent contributor to history in San Diego, is an African American woman named Makeda Cheatom. Cheatom is well known in the San Diego community as a radio personality, and a reggae artist. Whenever Cheatom is not live on the radio or recording new music, she is working hard as an active leader in the San Diego black community. As a prominent leader, she has spent decades trying to preserve African and African American history and culture in San Diego. She is able to do this by maintaining a protecting the aspects of black history that are already present in the community and adding to them with her own creative vision.

     Makeda Cheatom has always been very passionate about bettering the San Diego community because San Diego is home for her. She grew up in Barrio Logan, a neighborhood in south central San Diego. This neighborhood has always been known for its rich artistic and cultural traditions. It was there, in that neighborhood that Cheatom would learn the importance of community. As a child she had to deal with the absence of both her parents due to their struggles with alcohol addiction. However, she was cared for by many of the migrant workers who also lived and worked in Barrio Logan in the 1950’s. Although this neighborhood did not have a large population of African Americans in the 50’s, she was still able to connect with the people in her neighborhood. The people in her neighborhood inspired her to want to help others and to foster a larger appreciation for different cultures. As Cheatom transitioned into her adult years, she was able to bring to life some of the things she envisioned for her community.

Having grown up in a neighborhood that was filled with murals and images that preserve past activism and history of Mexican descendants, Cheatom was inspired to also celebrate and preserve African American culture and history in San Diego. In 1984, Cheatom founded the World Beat Cultural Center. According to the mission statement on the center’s website, the center serves as a “ non-profit multi-cultural arts organization dedicated to promoting, presenting and preserving the African Diaspora and Indigenous cultures of the world through music, art, dance, education, sustainability, and technology”[1]. The cultural center is located in beautiful Balboa Park and it has created more opportunities for both unity and diversity in the community. Cheatom, along with other co-founders and community members transformed the center from an old water tower into a museum like building with portraits of great African and African American figures like Marcus Garvey, Bob Marley, Nefertiti, and more. The center holds a great amount of significance for everyone in the community, but it is especially significant for today’s youth who are given the opportunity to learn more about and experience different cultures.

In addition to the cultural center in San Diego, Cheatom also works at cultural center called “La Casa del Tunél” in Tijuana. In her dissertation academic researcher and scholar, Minerva Tapia, explained, “ I found it interesting that an American citizen was the director of a cultural center in San Diego and also one in Tijuana, our experiences with Cheatom and the people who work at the venue were constructive”[2]. This is another aspect that highlights just how important it is for Cheatom that she allows everyone to experience different cultures.

Over the years, Cheatom has been strongly driven by her desire to better the community. That desire has led her to develop some amazing opportunities for all who live in San Diego.  One of her major historical contributions to the San Diego community was the opening of her restaurant, “The Prophet” in 1972. The opening of this restaurant marked a historical moment because it was the first vegetarian restaurant in all of San Diego. In an interview with Vegetarian Times, Cheatom explained, “There were no vegetarian restaurants in San Diego and everyone who ate vegetarian food seemed to end up at my house as a dinner guest, so I decided to open up a restaurant”[3]. The restaurant turned out to be a huge success. Many people in the San Diego community enjoyed having a restaurant with a great atmosphere and delicious food. As for Cheatom, she was happy to be able to provide a place the offered healthy meals to the people in the community. It was also important for Cheatom that her vegetarian restaurant served food that had been greatly influenced by African cuisine. This was another way that Cheatom sought to preserve African culture and history.

In addition to her great work in the San Diego community, Cheatom has also been a big part of the music industry as a prominent reggae artist. Over the years Cheatom has shared the stage with many great reggae legends in an effort to spread love, peace, and positivity through music. Cheatom even found a way to spread the joy and positivity of reggae music across the U.S border to Mexico. According to Alejandro Madrid , author of Transnational Encounters, “Cheatom sees reggae as a potentially important connective tissue in coalitions and support between African-American and Afro-Mexican communities in Southern California”[4]. Additionally, Cheatom claims that “many Afro-Mexican youth in Tijuana learn more about Mexico’s black history and the African Diaspora through reggae”[5]. This is significant because it highlights Cheatom’s efforts to bring together and educate all members of the black community, including those outside of San Diego.

Cheatom’s activism, her role as a community leader, and her love for reggae music were all heavily influenced by the late Bob Marley. Bob Marley was someone whom she cared for deeply and considered a friend. After his passing, she went on to found the first ever Bob Marley birthday celebration held in San Diego back in 1981. This celebration concert featured many great reggae artists including Cheatom herself. The concert became an annual event for nearly 36 years before Cheatom decided to put an end to the celebration. After the last concert she spoke with a reporter from the San Diego Union Tribute about her decision to end the celebration. She stated that, “The reason I’m stopping the festival is I don’t want to compromise the music, or legends who created”[6]. This statement really speaks to Cheatom’s overall goal of preserving many important aspects of African American culture and history in all forms.

To some people, the contributions that Makeda Cheatom has made to San Diego history may not seem very significant but her work in the community has proven to have a positive impact on the entire community as a whole. Whether it be her decision to create a first of its kind vegetarian restaurant or the founding of a cultural center, or even a music festival. These are all things that have provided better opportunities for adults as well as the youth in San Diego. Cheatom initially became an activist in the black community in an effort to bring change that was so desperately needed. She then decided that it was just as important to try to preserve the history of Africans and African Americans and to also pay tribute to them. In her quest to celebrate and recognize historical African American figures and events, she became a historical figure herself. She is such an amazing figure, working for the betterment of the community and it is time that her contributions are fully recognized, not just in San Diego but globally.

 

Bibliography

Jones, Susan Smith. “San Diego’s “The Prophet” Restaurant.” Vegetarian Times, 1980, 45.

Madrid, Alejandro L. Transnational Encounters: Music and Performance at the U.S.-Mexico Border. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Tapia, Minerva, “Danzas Fronterizas: Contemporary Dance at the U.S. Mexican Borderland.” UC Riverside,2014 https://escholarship.org/uc/item/3v286773

Varga, George. “35th Bob Marley Day Festival the Last for Makeda Dread.”San Diego Union Tribune. August 23, 2016. https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/entertainment/music/sdut-makeda-reggae-lends-fest-end-of-an-era-2016jan30-htmlstory.html.

“WorldBeat Cultural Center.” WorldBeat Center Official Website. http://www.worldbeatcenter.org/about-us.

[1]“WorldBeat Cultural Center.” WorldBeat Center Official Website. http://www.worldbeatcenter.org/about-us.

[2]Minerva Tapia. “Danzas Fronterizas: Contemporary Dance at the U.S.-Mexican Borderland.”, 80

[3]Susan Smith Jones. “San Diego’s “The Prophet” Restaurant.” Vegetarian Times, 1980, 45.

[4]Alejandro L. Madrid. Transnational Encounters: Music and Performance at the U.S.-Mexico Border. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 31

[5]Madrid,31

[6]George Varga. “35th Bob Marley Day Festival the Last for Makeda Dread.” San Diego Union Tribune. August 23, 2016.

 

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