By San Diego Community Fellow Janice Luna Reynoso
Ever since I can remember it has been my pleasure to be a part of two neighboring yet distinct communities. I grew up in living in National City, one of the communities where Communities of Excellence 2026 is piloting the COE Framework. It is located in the South Bay of San Diego County and neighbors Southeast San Diego, my second home. I lived in National City but as soon as dinner was over my mother would load us up into the car to go visit my tia, my mother’s sister, and my cousins in Southeast San Diego in the barrio of Shelltown.
Growing up I knew there were less disparities on our side of the boundary, but did I think it was better? Not really. I grew up being called by the vibrant community who was diverse in spirit and full of zeal. People were real and there was a bustling and sense of urgency, and at the same time, the feel of celebration.
I grew up in a quieter neighborhood where many of my neighbors and school mates were Mexican or Filipino. Good memories and oh the food that I would look forward to at our potlucks and events was my first ethnic cuisine experience. In Southeast San Diego, I got to experience a different kind of diversity where a lot of the youth walking around looked like me, but they also looked like my best friend in National City. African Americans, Black youths. I saw a lot more movement of people in general at events and people speaking up or joking on the street corners. I remember all the liquor stores we would frequent for candy and pickles. For Mexican candy we would go to the candy ladies’ houses or small apartments where they lived with their families. There was also the only big Mexican grocery store I knew of at the time. National City at that time had more businesses and restaurants, nicer parks, one with monkeys, yes monkeys, and the yearly anticipated 4th of July Fair.
Sharing the resident perspective as a South Bay resident has been a rewarding experience while participating as a Live Well San Diego South Region Leadership Team Member. What stands out about South Bay communities like National City and Chula Vista is that they work well in tandem to address the disparities in the community. There is a lot of collaboration in place with established Community Based Organizations and the results being reached. By attending the Live Well San Diego South Region Leadership Team Meetings I see there is already a familiarity among the partnering organizations who are used to working together and give a feeling of going about the business as usual. There is a voice of the service providers that informs and invites participation. It is all very in sync.
Just recently I had an opportunity to attend as a guest the Live Well San Diego Central Region Leadership Team Meeting where leaders from Southeast San Diego were doing presentations. It seemed that a lot more of the resident voice and urgent issues were being presented in a very grassroots and dynamic way. The community is applying for recognition as part of the healthiest cities initiative with a focus on food justice and community gardens. There were presentations discussing gang violence, human trafficking, and parenting classes with a large focus on African American fathers. The call for unity and representation seems to be a priority for these community groups. The higher crime rate in Southeast has mobilized many key leaders. Work is being done and a strong call to action with plans and the need for more change.