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Virtual Exhibition 

"Botanical Hybridity of South Bay's Multicultural History" 


  Sponsored by City of Chula Vista Performing and Visual Arts Grant 

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South Bay, San Diego. Oil on Canvas, 120" x 36", 2019. 


Written by Akiko Suari

In her large-scale oil on canvas work “South Bay, San Diego'', Amanda Kachadoorian blends American landscape traditions and a distinctly southwestern aesthetic to dig into complex regional histories of San Diego focusing on plant life and botanical hybridity. 


Amanda Kachadoorian’s panoramic canvas “South Bay, San Diego”, stretches from daybreak over the Jamul mountains in the east to the sun sinking into the Pacific Ocean in the far west. Viewers are placed into a rolling landscape of golden grass that runs uninterrupted to what locals will recognize as the Sweetwater reservoir, the building of which marked a boon in development for the South Bay. In 1886, Frank Kimball proposed the building of a dam that would allow the Sweetwater river to serve the growing population of National City.[1] Before this structure, the area bounced between years of drought and devastating floods. A consistent water source allowed agriculture and industry to expand bringing new people to the region. Aside from the reservoir, the landscape looks vacant, bringing to mind American photography and painting of the 19th century during westward expansion. But in reality, this landscape is populated by plants.


South Bay exists between the genres of landscape and still life as its scenic background is just as important as the carefully arranged plants in the foreground. Kachadoorian entwines the legacies of diverse peoples by combining these plants into hybridized organisms. Familiar forms include the native yucca and agave seen on the far left. Yucca has been used by the local Kumeyaay tribes to make utilitarian objects like ropes, tools, and baskets for thousands of years.[2] From the yucca’s spikey base, a tall agave stalk blooms. Instead of the agave’s natural flower, the stalk branches and bursts open with red carnations, the national flower of Spain. The Spanish were the first Europeans to enter what is now San Diego in 1542, establishing missions and beginning the colonial era.[3] In the center of the composition, we see the San Pedro cactus, native to South America and also brought by the Spanish, topped with lemons. Lemons and citrus were among the first crops to be fed by the Sweetwater dam. Frank Kimball himself brought various crops through his work with the department of agriculture including eucalyptus, Japanese orange, and Italian olive trees.[4] The light green heart-shaped leaves spreading along the ground at the far right are Nephthytis Swainei, native to tropical West Africa. This vine climbs the stem of a seedpod from a Bombax Ceiba tree, native to China. African labor was used across what is now Mexico in the colonial era, immigrants from China and other East Asian countries built the Sweetwater dam side by side with Native Americans and Mexican residents. The red and white flowers to the far left combine the national flowers of the Philippines (Jasminum Sambac) and England (Tudor Rose). In 1848 the signing of the Hidalgo treaty made California a U.S. Territory bringing Anglo-Americans, including those with English ancestry, to the area[5]. San Diego saw an influx of Filipino residents around the turn of the century, many of whom worked in the agricultural sector. [6]


In addition to telling the region’s history, this work speaks to the contemporary biodiversity of San Diego. Within San Diego county you will find more varied flora and fauna than any other county in North America.[7] Many plants thrive here due to the varied micro-climates and differences in terrain. One can imagine these plants making their way here as a part of their respective cultures, a familiar flower or leaf may act as a piece of home away from home to soothe the loneliness of a major move. Nestled in the arrangement is a human heart suspended in a glass bowl. The heart is isolated, not yet branching out, but held in a seed-like stasis looking for a fertile space to belong. Both plant and planter must adapt to grow in a new context, doing their best to take root and thrive.


Since completing “South Bay”, Kachadoorian has continued to interrogate personal and regional histories. In addition to large historic works, she has created a series of more personal “portraits” of the heritage of San Diego residents. Her newer experiments include living greenery encouraging new planted “communities” to sprout in her studio. Paying keen attention to individual stories and delving into research, Kachadoorian is presenting nuanced stories at the points where cultural memory overlaps in an ever-changing landscape.


[1] Zaragoza, Barbara. “Sweetwater Reservoir.” South Bay Compass. Accessed December 18, 2019.

[2] “Summary of Mohave Yucca and Its Traditional Use.” Summary of Mohave yucca and its traditional use - Department of Biology - College of Arts and Sciences - University of San Diego. University of San Diego Department of Biology. Accessed December 20, 2019.

[3] “Introduction--Early History of the California Coast--A National Register of Historic Places Travel Itinerary.” National Parks Service. U.S. Department of the Interior. Accessed December 20, 2019.

[4] Phillips, Irene. “National City in Review - San Diego History Center: San Diego, CA: Our City, Our Story.” San Diego History Center | San Diego, CA | Our City, Our Story. The Journal of San Diego History, July 1962.

[5] Editors. “Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.” A&E Television Networks, November 9, 2009.

[6] Castillo, Adelaida M. “Filipino Migrants In San Diego 1900-1946 - San Diego History Center: San Diego, CA: Our City, Our Story.” San Diego History Center | San Diego, CA | Our City, Our Story. The Journal of San Diego History, 1976.

[7] “Overview of San Diego's Biodiversity.” The San Diego Wildfires Education Project. San Diego State University. Accessed December 20, 2019.

Plant References 
National City, San Diego
Written by Amanda Kachadoorian

The first of the sub-paintings connected with the “South Bay, San Diego” painting is “National City, San Diego”. National city is shown in an early morning sunrise with the botanicals facing east while the view is out towards the virgin landscape of National City as well as San Diego Bay. 


Before the arrival of European settlers, the Kumeyaay tribe were the first inhabitants of the region using the land’s resources such as Coast Live Oak and Agave Shawii as food and for tool making. The Kumeyaay tribe used the acorns from the Coast Live Oak tree as a source of food and it also “symbolically embodies their identity as an Indigenous tribe”. [1] Agave Shawii’s was another important plant for the Kumeyaay tribe that had many uses. The fibers from the leaves were crafted into fishing nets, rope, and clothing, while the roots and stalks were roasted and eaten. Unfortunately, Shawii’s agave are very rare due to the modern development of San Diego but they can be found in Cabrillo National Monument located in Point Loma. [2] 

In the painting, looking inland of National City towards the marina, that area became a development of railway systems and depots that shaped the land and culture of the South Bay. In 1849, gold was discovered in California, which brought many people from all over the world to seek

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National City, San Diego. Oil on Canvas, 35" x 40", 2020

 fortune and to escape poverty. [3] Those who migrated to San Diego were mainly Chinese, Japanese and European settlers who worked alongside Indigenous people and Californians. In 1881, The Santa Fe railway system built a railyard in National City and in 1885, Southern California was connected with Santa Fe Railway to Barstow leading to an increase in population in San Diego and the South Bay. [3] A year before the Gold Rush, the “Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo [was] signed, ending the war between Mexico and the United States”. It heavily impacted Native people as they were categorized separately from Mexican citizens. [4] Through the Gold Rush, a new railway system, and agriculture, San Diego, including the South Bay, continued to grow and develop. 


Before and after the first World War, there had been an influx of Filipino migrants from the Philippines to San Diego. The majority of them were Filipino men who enlisted in the United States Navy in order to send money back to their families. Others worked as farm workers for low wages and endured suffering conditions. [5] As the Filipino community grew, so did the intermarriage of Mexican and Filipino couples in the South Bay, which created an identity referred to as “Mexipino”. [6]


Currently, there is a large Filipino community in National City along with other Asian communities such as Vietnamese, Taiwanese, Japanese, and Chinese. Based on National City’s 2010 census data, Hispanics make up 63% of the population while Asian and Pacific Islander make up 20%, along with White (10%) Black (5%), and two or more races (2%). [7]


[1] Michael Wilken-Robertson. Kumeyaay Ethnobotany: Shared Heritage of the Californias. Published October 15, 2017. 

[2] “Summary of shaw's agave and its traditional use”. Summary of shaw's agave and its traditional use - Department of Biology - College of Arts and Sciences - University of San Diego. University of San Diego Department of Biology. Accessed September 3, 2020.

[3] South Bay Historical Society Bulletin. Issue No. 4. Accessed September 4, 2020.

[4] Timeline of San Diego History: 1800-1879. San Diego History Center: San Diego, CA. Accessed September 4, 2020.

[5] Castillo, Adelaida M. “Filipino Migrants In San Diego 1900-1946 - San Diego History Center: San Diego, CA: Our City, Our Story.” San Diego History Center | San Diego, CA | Our City, Our Story. The Journal of San Diego History, 1976.

[6] Zaragoza, Barbara. Fronterizos: A History of the Spanish-speaking People of the South Bay, San Diego. Published January 3, 2018. 

[7] National City - City Overview. Race and Ethnicity (Census, 1980-2000 and SANDAG, 2010 Estimate). Updated November 2010.

Plant References 
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Sweetwater Marsh, San Diego. Oil on Canvas, 35" x 40", 2020

Sweetwater Marsh, San Diego

Written by Amanda Kachadoorian

The second piece of the South Bay sub-painting collection is “Sweetwater Marsh, San Diego”. It depicts various surrealist plant species in the wet marsh lands of Sweetwater Marsh and its pools of water surrounded by vibrant green vegetation while looking out towards the San Miguel Mountains. 


Currently, the Sweetwater Marsh is located in Chula Vista and is preserved through the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge that supports the habitats’ “array of invertebrates and juvenile fish, and provides nesting, foraging, and high-water refuge for many species of birds.” [1] There are very few preserved wetlands in San Diego that were a part of the original landscape, “with 90 to 100% of submerged lands, intertidal mudflats, and salt marshes eliminated in the north and central Bay” [2]. Some areas that are still kept under preservation in the South Bay include the Tijuana River National Estuarine, Otay Valley Regional Park and Silver Strand Natural Preserve. 

The Chula Vista Bayfront where Sweetwater Marsh resides currently has gone through many periods of development, such as large agriculture, World War ll factories, the development of the Interstate-5 freeway,    and Sweetwater Channel. In the refuge of Sweetwater Marsh, “Gunpowder Point” was a World War l processing plant that produced potash in order to make

 smokeless gunpowder for the British Army. [1] Then, after the tragedy of Pearl Harbor, the U.S entered into World War ll, thus, creating a demand for weapons and military planes. Fred Rohr was the owner of Rohr Aircraft Company and bought ten acres of land on Chula Vista’s bayfront in order to produce 60,000 military planes.[3] As the demand grew, so did the company’s need for more industrial space that was developed along Chula Vista bayfront. This caused the growth of Chula Vista’s population, that went from roughly 4,000 in 1940 to almost 30,000 people in 1955. [3] 


Before the large growth of industrial factories that brought the majority of people to Chula Vista, the Sweetwater Dam was the major milestone in creating an inhabitable community for the South Bay. In 1888, the Sweetwater Dam was completed, using the same labor that had built the railroad system in National City. Using water from the dam, farmland grew for the South Bay, creating “The Orchard Period” and making Chula Vista the largest lemon-growing center in the world at the time. [4] Located near the Sweetwater Marsh, salt mines were also developed along the Bayfront and Imperial Beach.  Even though the agriculture boom was a prosperous time for owners in the community, it also contributed to the abuse and mistreatment of laborers, the majority of whom were of Spanish-speaking decent.


In San Diego, using cheap labor had been and still is a common practice in the agriculture industry. Many Mexican laborers were referred to as “Birds of Passage”-  people who pass through a place without staying for long – and were often employed at low wages. Many workers traveled across the border into the United States and returned back to Mexico everyday even though there also existed a large Chicano community in the South Bay. Many farm laborers experienced harsh working conditions, described by Genaro Zavala who was interviewed by Chula Vista’s Star News at the time. In Zavala’s interview, he described the unjust working conditions and lack of proper regulations, extremely long working hours, no job protection, serious injuries on the job, no rest breaks, and working in an unsafe and deadly environment. As an example of this unsafe working environment, Zavala stated: “a lot of growers will spray with pesticides which are very deadly. I’ve seen people covered with burns, rashes. The spray will get in the eyes, just the breathing of it will bring on nausea. If any workers refuse to go into newly sprayed fields, the growers will say: ‘No, you’re going in right and if you refuse, we’ll get someone to replace you’ “. [5] As decades of unjust working conditions continued, the fight for farm workers led to the creation of the National Farm Workers Association, later to become the United Farm Workers. The founder of the National Farm Workers Association was Cesaer Chavez and Dolores Huerta. [6] 


As the agriculture boom started to slow down in the South Bay, the development of the modern landscape that we see today started to form, first with the construction of the Interstate 5 and 805 freeway. This development disrupted the landscape of the South Bay in many ways by forcing families and communities that were mainly of Spanish speaking decent to relocate, creating an unofficial division between Chula Vista, National City, and San Ysidro. [5] Today, you can see parts of Sweetwater Marsh and Sweetwater Channel when driving down Interstate-5 South. 

[1] U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge | California - Sweetwater Marsh Unit.

[2] San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge - Wikipedia. Edited on 7 January 2020

[3] “They made Chula Vista History” Booklet- Fred Rohr: An Aircraft, Pioneer-

[4] City of Chula Vista – History – The Orchard Period

[5] Zaragoza, Barbara. Fronterizos: A History of the Spanish-speaking People of the South Bay, San Diego. Published January 3, 2018.

[6] United Farm Workers. The Story of Cesar Chavez, The United Farm Workers is Born -

Plant References 

Spring Valley, San Diego

Written by Amanda Kachadoorian

Our final painting in the South Bay sub-painting collection, “Spring Valley, San Diego”, depicts the sun setting in the west while it shines along San Miguel mountains and the open plain. The botanicals are placed in the forefront while the sun shines from the west. 


The San Miguel Mountains is a very symbolic landmark in the South Bay that can be recognized throughout the region and which has been a prominent image for the community. In the area is a natural spring that was used by the Kumeyaay tribe as a natural resource until the Spaniards forced them out to use the land for cattle farming. Spring Valley was named after this natural spring.[1] The majority of Spring Valley’s land had been used for ranches and agriculture. In 1863, the area was owned by Judge Augustus S. Ensworth who built an adobe house out of salvaged wood from the Clarissa Andrews ship that ran aground in San Diego Harbor. Then, in 1865, the land was owned by historian Hubert Bancroft. He named the ranch Helix Farms and grew it into the largest olive farm in Southern California. [2]

 Near Spring Valley is the Sweetwater Dam. It was a major factor in the growth and development of the area. Before the construction of the dam, it was difficult for farmers to produce consistent crop output due to devasting floods from the rivers in the winter season. In the summer, it was also difficult

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Spring Valley, San Diego. Oil on Canvas, 35" x 40", 2020

for production because of extreme droughts. Luckily, Sweetwater River, along with San Diego River and San Luis Rey River, were the very few locations that the streams did not subside year around. However, as the population grew in San Diego, the rivers were not able to provide the necessary resources to sustain the region.[3] The need for the Sweetwater Dam was proposed by Frank Kimbell in 1886. [4] Due to the Gold Rush, there were many migrants that came to California for work and provided labor in the construction of the dam. Unfortunately, in 1916 the Sweetwater Dam collapsed and caused the worst natural disaster to the South Bay, often referred to as the “The Great Flood of 1916”. [5] Charles Hatfield, nicknamed “the Rain Maker”, was contracted by the San Diego city council to produce rain due to a 4-year drought at the time. In January of 1916, heavy rain began, and people believed that Hatfield was responsible for the rainstorm that caused the flooding of the valley and the overflow of the dam. [6] The Sweetwater Dam and the Lower Otay Dam both overflowed and eventually broke, causing extreme devastation to the valley. The entire valley was flooded and washed away hundreds of homes, farmlands, railroads, bridges, the town of Otay, and “the gardens and fields of Chinese workers who helped build the dam in 1888[…].” Many families moved to the South Bay in hopes of building a new life there. One such family, the Loustalet’s came from France in 1888 and lost their dairy farm. After the flood they moved to the Tijuana Valley, then to Bonita. The flood killed roughly 22 people, including 11 Japanese farmers living near the dam. [5]  


Currently, the area surrounding Spring Valley and Sweeter Reservoir is part of suburban housing and has very little markings of the large agriculture and ranches that were once prominent. However, the natural environment surrounding San Miguel is still intact with housing built alongside it. 


*While Spring Valley is considered part of East County, San Diego, it neighbors La Presa, which is informally part of Spring Valley and considered a part of the South Bay as it is so close to the San Miguel Mountains.


[1] Spring Valley, San Diego County, California - Wikipedia. 15 September 2020,,_San_Diego_County,_California

[2] Spring Valley: Large unincorporated area got its start with home built from shipwreck wood – San Diego Union Tribune, Martina Schimitschek, June 30, 2019,

[3] Sweetwater Dam – Wikipedia - Information sources by Pourade, Richard F. "Chapter 3: Water Is King". The History of San Diego. San Diego History Center. 

[4] Zaragoza, Barbara. “Sweetwater Reservoir.” South Bay Compass. Accessed December 18, 2019.

[5] South Bay Historical Society, The Great Flood of 1916, Steve Schoenherr, published May 1, 2015 -

[6] Charles Hatfield- Careers, August 15, 2020

Plant References