Landlord Accused of Erasing ‘Mural de la Raza’ Faced Similar Allegations Years Before

A landlord being sued for destroying an iconic mural in San Jose’s East Side reportedly settled a lawsuit four years prior for removing another artist’s work.

In 2014, a dentist named Suong Le allegedly painted over Guillermo Aranda’s “Mexicatlan” mural on an old building at Sunset and Alum Rock avenues. In October this year, Le apparently did the same to artist Jose Mesa Velasquez’s “Mural de la Raza,” which had adorned the side of the Payless ShoeSource building on Story Road for more than three decades.

In an interview with the Mercury News, which first reported on the existence of the previous lawsuit, Aranda said he had a tough time tracking Le down to file the complaint. According to the article, Aranda has created murals throughout Santa Cruz and Monterey counties as well as under a freeway in San Diego that became part of a national historic site called Chicano Park.

Aranda’s mural in San Jose was commissioned in 2002 by a neighborhood nonprofit called the Mayfair Improvement Initiative, which has since rechristened itself SOMOS Mayfair. The community was outraged when “Mexicatlan” disappeared without notice, which caught up with Le and resulted in a legal settlement a year later.

Similar backlash ensued this past summer when the new owners of Payless ShoeSource—reportedly Le—removed Velasquez’s “Mural de la Raza,” which depicted Latino cultural figures. Velasquez has since filed a similar lawsuit, demanding $5 million from Le for allegedly painting over his work without notice, as required by state and federal law.

Le’s attorneys claim that his company, A7 Story, assumed the Payless building’s previous owner, 2048 Partners LLC, had complied with applicable laws by notifying Velasquez ahead of time. According to Le’s cross-complaint, the prior landlord painted over all but the face of the Virgin de Guadalupe in the early morning darkness Aug, 29. Hours later, even that was covered up.

A Change.org petition to restore the mural has garnered 3,000-plus signatures to date.

Jennifer Wadsworth is the news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Newspaper. Email tips to [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.

9 Comments

    • How about pay NOTHING since the owner has EVERY RIGHT to do whatever he/she wants to his/her property?

      • While I would normally agree, there is specific law that covers this exact thing. The laws, California Art Preservation Act and it federal conterpart, Visual Artists Rights Act, protect something I didn’t think could even exist, Moral Rights. Anyway, you just can’t paint over someone’s art, even on your own property if they were given permission to paint there initially, which I guess precludes graffiti.

        The problem in this case is the incident is being used to whip up racial and class antagonisms, particularily by SJI. The Merc is doing their share too though.

        I am with John, pay the fine or otherwise let it play out in the courts. Nothing to see here and let’s get back to our daily lives and stop looking for things to hate each other over.

  1. I was offended by that racist graffiti every I drove past it. To me it was like waving a Nazi flag in front of a synagogue.
    “La Raza” The Race . Are Chicano’s telling the word they are the superior race? I think so. Chicano Park say’s to me White’s keep out, It’s only for us. I can just imagine the reaction if someone painted Columbus planting the Queens flag on a beach in the new world.

    • The mural that you call racist graffiti had pictures of MLK, Cesar Chavez among other images that celebrated indigenous roots and local neighborhood icons like Jim Plunkett. Maybe if you stopped and looked at the mural you would have realized that. It also meant a lot to the people in the neighborhood that you drive past. Calling it waving a nazi flag in front of a synagogue is a bit much, no? For a mural that meant a lot to the neighborhood, you can understand the anger when someone paints it over with no regard to what it meant to people. If you want to look at it from a business standpoint, it’s not smart to get your customers mad.

      • Mr. Resect
        I see Mayan pyramids on wall, you know the guys that marched captives up to the top, sliced their chests open, put beating harts in the mouths of the executioner/priest, then cut the victims heads of and rolled them down the steps of the pyramid, all in the name of the sun god.

        That’s Cannibalism!

        Quite a heritage you have to be proud of. Doesn’t that sound a bit like something Nazi might like to do.
        I suppose if I was Nazi or Johnny-Reb I’d be really angry too if someone painted over my swastikas’ or tore down my statue to Robert E Lee or even Columbus. All things that have been done right here in San Jose in the name of tolerance in the last few years.

        So now maybe you can understand how racist and offensive your La Raza graffiti art is to the rest of us and there is no reason for it other that to promote more racism and division, so tear it all down man.

        By the way Mayans and Inca are not indigenes to this area, this idea was imported just like European stuff was.

  2. The Mercury-News article had a LOT more information:

    [ https://www.mercurynews.com/2018/12/05/new-details-emerge-in-removal-of-san-joses-historic-mural-de-la-raza/ ]

    So it appears this article is being used to stir up racial dissention. Isn’t there too much of that already?

    Also, this article blames the buyer of the property, but it was the seller that painted over the mural, before the property was sold. Apparently the author of this article didn’t read the Merc’s article. Otherwise, the building’s buyer wouldn’t be the one accused here, since the buyer didn’t paint over anything.

    Can I just say… Sheesh! … ?

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