Op-Ed: A Year After Losing Iconic ESSJ Mural, Surviving Chicano Art May Get Some Recognition

Thursday marked one year since East San Jose lost El Mural de La Raza.

In its stead stands a blank wall in multi-shades of gray surrounded by a tarped fence, unequivocally telling neighbors to stay away. Residents and concerned members of the community have rallied to insist the mural be restored and to preserve the remaining Chicano murals in San Jose.

Unfortunately, murals by prominent Latinos are suffering a similar fate throughout California. Judith F. Baca’s “Hitting the Wall” disappeared in March in Los Angeles. This trend is alarming, and it even sparked an exhibition called “¡Murales Rebeldes! L.A. Chicana/o Murals under Siege,” which chronicles the rise of Chicano murals in LA and their gradual disappearance. Those interested in preserving the remaining historic murals rich with cultural significance must continue to advocate for their protection.

These murals are worthy of being protected. Community-based murals stand as beacons of light for the neighborhoods that surround them. They validate the existence of the community they represent. A mural where Latinos can see their reflection sends a powerful message, especially at a time when the Latino community is constantly vilified and threatened by racist rhetoric and policies coming from the White House.

The Latino community is under siege; they face harassment simply for speaking Spanish in public and are told to “go back” to where they came from. A mural representative of their culture sends a message of solidarity. In contrast, the whitewashing of such murals also sends a very strong message under this political climate. It only exacerbates the message: you are not welcome here.  Like these murals, you can be erased.

This is why murals are more than just paint on a wall to our community. They serve as the community’s canvas, a place where we can see our history and culture, a place to express our hopes and dreams; it is a reflection of who we are.

On Sept. 4, 2019, El Comité for the Preservation of Chicano Arts, comprised of local community activists, will advocate before the San Jose Historic Landmark Commission to add several Chicano murals to the city’s Historic Resources Inventory. According to the city’s website, the Historic Resources Inventory aims to document San Jose’s “historical and architectural heritage.”

While inclusion in the Historic Resources Inventory is a noteworthy first step in giving these murals recognition, it does not confer upon them historic landmark protection nor does it ensure they won’t suffer a similar fate as the beloved Mural de La Raza.

The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors established a historic grant program to celebrate the untold stories and underrepresented communities. The county grant program will give out $5 million for projects that fulfill this purpose. Hopefully, those selected projects include restoring these murals and creating new ones that reflect the values and culture of the residents of San Jose.

After El Mural de La Raza was painted over, some city leaders took to social media and expressed their sadness immediately after the incident. Besides that, however, little action has come from City Hall.

Contrast that with the response of our city leaders after the Orchard Hardware Store sign disappeared. City and county leaders stepped up to track down its whereabouts. While the vintage commercial sign was ultimately found, the incident triggered local leaders to seek a historic inventory of commercial and roadside signs. Indeed, commercial signs have received historic landmark protection in the past by the city of San Jose.

To my knowledge, none of the historic Chicano murals in our beautiful city of San Jose have prompted such concern or received a protected status.

Perhaps San Jose leaders can learn from Orange County and the cities of Atwood and Santa Ana. Recently, a mural painted by Latino artist Manuel Hernandez-Trujillo in 1977 was painted over in Atwood, California. In response, the OC Board of Supervisors moved swiftly to restore the mural with the community’s input. The mural is expected to be restored in October. Last month, a mural by Mexican American artist Sergio O’Cadiz Moctezuma, a prominent painter in Santa Ana, was whitewashed by the owner of the property. In response, the Santa Ana City Council and its arts commission agreed to draft a mural policy, and to discuss it during their October meeting.

There also needs to be more education on the artists’ rights to their works. A colorful mural that paid tribute Cesar Chavez was painted over in San Jose just a few days ago.

To the leaders of San Jose, seeking to make the city a pioneer of the future, I ask you to do more. Consider adopting a mural policy that protects the remaining Chicano murals that are so meaningful to residents. New development is slated to come in to the Alum Rock area. Please consider including a requirement that new development include community-based murals, murals that are designed to represent the neighborhood’s rich culture. These are small, but powerful ways to promote inclusion through public art.

Enedina Cardenas is an attorney based in Cupertino where she represents artists and protects their artistic endeavors. She is one of the attorneys for muralist Jose Meza Velasquez, whose mural “El Mural de La Raza” in East San Jose was painted over without notice. Their lawsuit seeks to enforce Mr. Velasquez’s rights under the Visual Artist Rights Act and the California Art Preservation Act. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside. Send op-ed pitches to [email protected].

14 Comments

  1. Ms. Enedina Cardenas makes a powerful statement and it should be disseminated in the mainstream media to reach the widest audience possible. Perhaps she could submit her article as an Opnion piece. Many people are unaware of the existence of these murals for the very good reason they are usually in areas with heavily-Hispanic populations. The reason the Stephen’s Meat Products “Dancing PIg” got so much public attention is because many people saw it over the years, not because it is great art. Publicity exists for a reason and we need to publicize our art.

  2. This is an important story. The heritage and social history of our Chicano and Latinx brothers and sisters should be respected. What happened to the Mural on east side is a travesty to the arts and to our community.

    • > The heritage and social history of our Chicano and Latinx brothers and sisters should be respected.

      How about the stature of Christopher Columbus, formerly in the lobby of San Jose City Hall, but desecrated, smashed, kidnapped, and removed to solitary exile in vermin infested shed somewhere.

      Isn’t Christopher Columbus part of the heritage and social history of out Latinx brothers and sisters? Without Christopher Columbus, there wouldn’t BE any Latin America, or Latino America, of Lantinx America.

      After all, Christopher Columbus was working for King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain.

      Christopher Columbus brought the Spanish language and Catholicism to the New World, central pillars of “the heritage and social history of our Chicano and Latinx brothers and sisters”.

      • Bubble, in Latino America Christopher Columbus is not seen as here. For Gun, La raza identifies all people in the American continent with Native American blood. Latinos are an ethnic group of people from different races. Those identified as la raza are those primarily decendientes of Natives and Europeans, Spain, (mestizos) and those we know today as Native Americans. All Latino Americacn countries celebrate El Día de la Raza. When Latinos talk about America, They talk about the whole continent. In the Latin America literature from K-12 and up, Cristobal Colon is the man that discovered America. “…El que descubrió America…” In the United States, there is a different narrative. He was just a servant of the queen. Los conquistadores and murderers came after. The Natives in the whole American continent had the same fate than the the Native Americans. The first Mestizos were the product of the rape of Native women by the White men. For this the Catholic Church and Spain did not recognize their existence. Now, those are the majority and La raza Latina. They may erase the murals, but they cannot erase the fact that California is a Native Mexican land. What God has given to the Natives and their decency no one can take away. Please respect the beauty of the Spanish language and [email protected] the Latinx! Should they now say caminx, plazx, ups! Then there is no more Spanish language. In Mexico the LGBTQs have more rights and freedom than here and gay marriage passed there so long ago. To socially succeed in the Mexican culture of Mexico you just have to learn a very simple social rule: Mind your own [email protected] business and Let others do the same. This obviously does not apply to the Narco lords; the [email protected] who ever they want since they fear no one. Their god is “La Santa Muerte.”

  3. If you want to see real racist discrimination paint a few people wearing MAGA hats on that wall and see what happens!
    I don’t speak much Spanish but even I know what “Mural de La Raza” means.

  4. Felix,
    Mexico was granted California in 1821 when it given it’s independence from Spain and held it for exactly 28 years treating the locals badly till they revolted, several times from Texas in the East to California in the West. None of it was native Mexican land as Mexico was just part of the Spanish conquest of the time. As we all know times change, Spain
    once part of Islam and before that Rome and before that Carthage. How far back should we go to establish ownership of one’s land? Should Mexico be granted all of Central America and half of South America as well? After losing Texas to Texicans that later joined the US.

    Mexico continued harassing’s and mistreating those people till hostility broke out again in the 1840 again losing to what was now the US. Matter of fact they lost it all the way to the Halls of Montezuma. We gave it back to them.
    Treaties were again signed and Mexico was paid 15 million dollars for those territory’s and was forgiven another 3 million in debt.

    Native Americans got screwed no doubt about that. Times have changed for 171 years all of this has been the United States. All of that Mexico. Wars have been conducted by both side and have continued to this day in Central and South America. Indigence people are encouraged to join the melting pot or maintain their independence in the tribal nation and yet can still participate as regular citizens.

    Now back to art, radical left wing mobs along with ATIFA terrorist and other elements of the left, much like their friends in ISIS and the Taliban have decided for you what art and history you will be allowed to see. What books you will be allowed to read, what words you will be allowed to speak. Tear it down, burn the books, beat up the people they disagree with.

    Mestizos is a derogatory term like “half breed” as both terms are meant as an insult. Slavery, child prostitution, rape, human smuggling, torcher and other disgusting bad habits still going on in the rest of the world are being dragged back into this country in the name of diversity. Christian and Jews are accused of cultural insensitivity and racism if we don’t accept and embrace all manner of debauchery, assault and murder.
    I mind what the Narco Lords do because its my country and we have a boarder to keep that crap out.

    Who is trying to erase who’s culture and art, Felix ?

  5. Before Christopher Columbus came it was all Native land. For this, Native Americans refuse to call Mexico by this name. They say this is the name white men gave to this part of the same Island as they call it. Talk to some Natives. Then their families were divided since some lived in what is now Mexico. Then, those Natives were immigrants in their own land once California was no longer a Mexico. History for is cruel Gun, but it is history. It was brutal everywhere for the Natives not only in United States. All Latin American countries also engaged in slavery. The Natives were brutalized everywhere. You live in Mexican Native land by God’s design! Lo siento querida! Que tal un mezcal con limón y sal? #NativeNationVoice

    • > Before Christopher Columbus came it was all Native land.

      Well. Maybe we’re making some progress here.

      It’s a point I have been trying to hammer through the thick heads of the “identity politics” cultists with little apparent effect.

      Humans have lived in tribes as long as there have been humans. Tribalism is in human DNA.

      Every human tribe has believed “my tribe good, other tribe bad”, and where MY TRIBE wants to forage is MY TRIBE’s “native land”.

      That is, until a bigger, meaner tribe pushes my tribe out of the way.

      What is one’s “native land” has ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS been decided by force. Force of numbers. Force of arms. Force.

      Some people like to believe that THEIR tribe discovered a pristine, unoccupied, “native land”. Biology and evolution tell us that every biological niche is occupied, and adaptation makes new species better equipped to occupy an already occupied niche (or a “native land”).

      This WAS your “native land”. Not anymore. My tribe is taking over. Now it’s MY “native land”.

  6. Mestizos feel proud to be Mestizos. As I explained, this is being mostly Native and White European blood, Spain. It has derogatory meaning here. THE proudest and bravest Mestiza is the GREAT POLICARPA SALAVARRIETA of Colombia. VIVA LA POLA!

  7. Let’s talk about art in San Jose and the hypocrisy of destroying public art occurring in San Francisco.
    The “Leftist- San Francisco Board of Education’s” decision to “paint over ” Washington High School’s Works Progress Administration (WPA) mural of George Washington, depicting Ol’ George as a slave-holder and one who was exterminating Indians by waiving the “racist flag” as a symbol of their combined self-righteousness.

    I’m sure there must be public art on a building depicting “Whitey” getting “scalped” by some pissed-off Indians and some slaves revolting and hanging their oppressors too.

    I cannot imagine the destruction of any WPA; mural, hiking trail, bridge, hydroelectric projects and so forth for any reason.

    Back to San Jose. Who stepped up to protect the “Train Mural” depicting the “Railroad Heritage” of this neighborhood where many railroad workers lived? The “Train Mural” (what’s left of it) is across from Ryland Park and has been systematically destroyed from the myriad of Chicano-gang related graffiti vandals who have yet to be brought to justice Hardly a peep from any of the self-serving folks who are painfully bleating their case when a private land-owner decides to “paint-over” a cool mural depicting the best of Latin American culture.

    I support public art.

    I support the return of the WPA-God knows we need it.

    David S. Wall

  8. Please no WPA David,
    It took a Great Depression and a Dust Bowl and WWII. But your right destroy public art in a public place like good old George and his slaves can not be tolerated. Using the same reasoning we could them claim there is no longer a record of slavery and then deny that it ever took place. Just like the Holocaust deniers do these days.

    The hypocrisy of that would be deafening to history.

  9. It is a waste of time to engage in any conversation with you John. You are obviously an ignorant da…@ass! I am sure you belong to the club of those who want to make San Jose the city of all gray big apartment buildings!

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