Artists: Valerie Salatino & Nancy MoranLocation: Cesar Chavez Parkway & Harbor DriveAt the corner of Cesar Chavez Parkway and Crosby Road in San Diego, a sculpture on a tiny piece of land pays tribute to Anna Kenniston and the thousands of workers who earned their living in the tuna industry.
Kenniston and others who once were employed in the tuna canneries that lined the San Diego Bay waterfront came together on September 26 for the dedication of the Port of San Diego art sculpture honoring the people who worked in the tuna industry that thrived in the area from the early 1900s to the mid-1980s.“My wife is a celebrity today,” said James Kenniston. Anna, his wife of 67 years, worked for Bumble Bee Seafoods 40 years, packing and cleaning tuna.
“It’s nice to be remembered,” Anna Kenniston said. “The sculpture is beautiful.”
Titled “The Cannery Workers Tribute at Parque del Sol,” the piece includes bronze figures of tuna industry workers. A stainless steel arch of tuna symbolizes the connection between the workers and the decades that San Diego was known as the tuna capital of the world.Video
The canneries were the lifeblood of the region from 1911 to 1984. At its height in the early 1950s, the industry generated $65 million annually for the local economy and employed more than 17,000 workers.
Photo slideshowThe artists captured what the tuna industry was all about,” said Robert “Dukie” Valderrama, vice-chairman of the Board of Port Commissioners.
“The canneries taught a work ethic. It was hard, physically demanding work. And yet, the workers liked their jobs because their co-workers were their friends, neighbors and family members,” he said at the dedication ceremony.Video
He spoke from experience. Ten of his family members, including his mother, worked in the Van Camp and Bumble Bee canneries. San Diego City Council President Ben Hueso and former port commissioner Frank Urtasun also spoke about their family members who had worked in the canneries.
The artwork is located at the southwest corner of Cesar Chavez Parkway and Crosby Road. Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding/Continental Maritime, a ship repair company, donated the site which is across the street from Cesar Chavez Park.
The site was the location where many workers took their breaks. During the 1970s, former cannery maintenance worker Roberto Carrero and co-workers dug a hole and planted a small tree. This, now large, coral tree was incorporated into the artwork.
“I’m going to bring my grandkids here, show them the sculpture, and tell them my cannery stories,” said Carrero.
The artwork is a joint project between the Port of San Diego and Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding/Continental Maritime. It was created by artists Valerie Salatino, and Nancy Moran of Nature Works, Inc., an Escondido sculpture firm, with assistance from Sheila Moran. The artwork incorporates several elements that tell the story of the cannery workers.
A geometric mosaic sun and low mosaic wall that encircles the coral tree signifies the name of the artwork’s site, “Parque del Sol,” and also honors the employees of Sun Harbor Industries who years ago dedicated the coral tree.
There are four bronze plaques embossed with stories of the workers and the history of the canneries. The plaques also honor the diverse cultures of the Italian, Portuguese, Hispanic and Japanese employees of the canneries. The plaques are mounted on parts of cannery machinery.
“This artwork will educate future generations about the importance the tuna industry played in the development of San Diego,” said Urtasun.
During the dedication, historical exhibits illustrating the story of the tuna industry were on display from the Japanese American Historical Society of San Diego, Logan Heights Historical Cannery Society, Maritime Museum of San Diego, and Portuguese Research & Education, Inc. The Port of San Diego also hosted an information booth.
Frank Koide manned the Japanese American Historical Society of San Diego booth. He told his story of growing up living on Fish Camp, a pier on San Diego Bay, while his mother worked in a cannery and his father was a fisherman.
“I worked in a cannery, and also fished for a few years. I found out that the work was too hard so I went to college,” he said.
Many guests attending the dedication ceremony were grateful that the hard work of their parents in the canneries provided them an opportunity for higher education.
“My father, Manuel “Acapulco” Leyva, put six kids through college from his job at the cannery,” said Manuel Leyva, Jr. “He loved his job, his family, and had a great life. All his kids are grateful to him.”
Vice Chairman Valderrama said he hoped people attending the dedication who had family members that had worked in the canneries would visit the Cannery Workers Tribute at Parque Del Sol often to remember their loved ones.
He also said that it saddened him that so many people that worked there didn’t live long enough to see this tribute to their work.
“And for those of you with us who worked in the canneries, thank you for your hard work and dedication,” he said.
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