Restoring the Chicano Dream, One Mural at a Time

Mural reunites collective in effort to fund restoration of public art.

By Gloria Angelina Castillo, EGP Staff Writer

If the grapes in Cesar E. Chavez’s hands could speak, one of the things they might say is, “glaze me.” The purple skulls clenched between the labor leader’s fingers are part of “México-Tenochitlán—The Wall That Talks,” a 100-foot mural in Highland Park that is currently undergoing restoration, after recently being vandalized,

Anthony “Eagle” Ortega, founder of Quetzalcóatl Mural Project, a cultural art collective, said once he and fellow muralists have finished giving the mural located at Avenue 61 and Figueroa, a fresh coat of bright paint in the following months, it will be glazed with a anti-graffiti product called Graffiti Melt Coating, that he estimates will protect the mural for 10 years.

The water-based version of the glaze will allow quick cleanup of graffiti with baby-wipes, said Ortega, who added that L.A.’s Department of Public Works will apply the glaze when the restoration is complete.

“México-Tenochitlán—The Wall That Talks,” is located at Avenue 61 and Figueroa, across from La Estrella Restaurant in Highland Park. Muralists want to secure private and public funding to keep murals in pristine condition. (EGP Photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo)

“México-Tenochitlán—The Wall That Talks,” is located at Avenue 61 and Figueroa, across from La Estrella Restaurant in Highland Park. Muralists want to secure private and public funding to keep murals in pristine condition. (EGP Photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo)

The mural was the collective’s first project almost 15 years ago and cost the city $50,000 to commission. Rage Against the Machine lead singer Zak de la Rocha funded part of it, according to Ortega.

Ortega estimates the restoration will cost about $3,000. John Densmore, drummer for the rock group The Doors, is funding a portion of the expense.

Ortega has asked the Highland Park Heritage Trust for $300-$500 to purchase paints and other materials, and says his group is urgently asking members of the community to help “rescue” the “beautiful mural before the problem is too big.” The group still needs $1,400, he said.

The tapestry of the community needs to be restored, if the fabric of Los Angeles is lost, so is the community, said Ortega, referring to the decaying state of many of the City’s murals.

Andy Ledesma, one of the original muralists who now serves as the collective’s cultural ambassador, remembers the mural was created by artists who lived within walking distance of the then Arroyo Furniture store wall.

“The mural is living iconography,” said Ledesma, noting that the muralists were teenagers to young 30-somethings when they worked on the Ave 61 mural back in 1995. “It portrays indigenous religion, traditional religion, activism, …” he explained.

Over the years, the mural has been defaced with tagger monikers and paint-splatters. The largest local gang, the Avenues, however, has respected the mural because some of their family members helped paint it , said Ortega.

Recently, the mural was defaced with the word “care” accompanied by the nickname of a well-known local street artist. While no one seems to want to publicly accuse the artist, the desecration of the mural brought the collective back together to figure out a way to revive the faded murals in the area, and to teach upcoming artists about the importance of respecting existing works of art.

Ortega said they have to touch-up the mural more often, most of the time without funding.
The Quetzalcoatl Mural Project, named after the Mesoamerican feathered serpent god, once participated in a cultural renaissance aimed at inspiring cultural pride and Chicano empowerment through tributes to Mexican history and folklore. Today, the group hopes to restore the murals and revive respect in the community for both the art form and the hard fought history it represents.

“If you look at the history of Northeast L.A., over the years this community has combated graffiti vandalism…we need to save art, and do it by developing a social message [that will] open people’s minds to the contributions we made as Chicanos to the history of this country—and I think the mural explains that,” Ortega told EGP.

The group hopes to find private funding to avoid city bureaucracy in awarding grants. It can take a year to receive city money to restore a mural, an eternity when taggers bomb the streets daily.

Rafael Corona and Jaime Ochoa, two of the recently reunited original artists, are also working on the restoration.

Corona specifically worked on the Aztec calendar portion of the mural. For him, it is a labor of love.

“If I do this for somebody I would charge like $8,000,” said Corona, who complained there is little funding for mural up-keep. “This is for the community [benefit] but no one gives us money to keep it clean and nice and neat.”

Ochoa and Michael McDaniel were commissioned by The ZMS Academy to paint a scenery mural on the other side of the same building.

McDaniel has a realist point of view on deterring graffiti. He, like the other artists, knows it is no accident when taggers hit a mural.

“Tagging is what it is, and the culture is to do what they do—so the only thing that you can do [to prevent tagging on murals], is do something that is relevant enough in the community that it can be respected,” said McDaniel, referring to the message of the mural, not just the quality of the work.

The group is open to educating a new generation about mural art, but know that funding will be a challenge in these tough economic times when arts funding is a low priority in California schools.

Ochoa has experience working with young people and teaching mural art classes, his mother, Cristina Ochoa, is a former curator for Self Help Graphics & Art.

“If more activities were funded, you could put a paintbrush in every kid’s hands,” the artists said.

“A joystick, a brush or a gun,” added Ochoa who begins another mural restoration project on Livermore Terrace next week.

Other artists who contributed to the original mural include: John Zender Estrada, Dominic Ochoa, Isabel Martinez, Oscar de Leon, Mario Mancia, Jesse Silva, Jerry Ortega. The mural is dedicated to Daniel Robles and UFW founder Cesar E. Chavez, Ortega said.

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July 23, 2009  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

Comments

5 Responses to “Restoring the Chicano Dream, One Mural at a Time”

  1. Anthony Ortega on July 24th, 2009 1:49 pm

    Greetings! This is Anthony Ortega, the Chicano muralists mentioned in this present edition of the Mexican-American Sun on ThursdayJuly, 23,2009. My message to the viewers out there. If you want to help make a difference in this community when it comes to mural beautification; then I suggest people get involved with this project today. We need financial assistance, community suuport and most important securing this mural. We are out there on every Thursday’s from 12-5pm. Join us, and help us make a difference in showing our community pride in this restoration effort. Please contact Mr. Ortega by e-mail @ eagle1_35@hotmail.com – Thank you

  2. If It’s Old Is It News? « 90042 on July 24th, 2009 4:28 pm

    [...] Snap! I guess I was somewhat wrong about calling Steve Lopez mistaken about the mural. According to what I read over at EGP News, they ARE still restoring this mural. While the graffiti was completely painted over in January, [...]

  3. smartmen on July 26th, 2009 8:25 pm

    EGP News: Boyle Heights has many murals, did you note that the mural at soto and Brooklyn Ave. (I will call this Street its old name, because since they change the name this coredor has became a thash dumpping, and cooking oil dumping from all the iligal vendors that now they take this area), any way back to the murals, The Corrido the Boyle Heights was target, why? and the other at the Botica del Sol whats going on in the restoration?, will be a good report to anyone at your newspaper. take sometime and investigate. I do like art and those murals are free to all.

  4. Joanne Tawfilis on August 22nd, 2009 7:12 am

    These murals are World Cultural Heritage Treasures! These, like the San Diego murals must be preserved and the muralists deserve all the support they can get. I suggest you contact the US National Commission to UNESCO in Washington, DC and get this action moving forward, especially since we now have a new administration and Ambassador in place. The application process to get them designated as World Cultural Heritage Sites is DOABLE but will need support of the Mayors of the Cities to make it happen! Please be sure to participate in the Art Miles Mural Project and make the Chicano presence known in the Muralist Mile at http://www.artmiles.org and have your mural seen in Egypt in 2010 as part of the International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non Violence Among Children of the World.

  5. The Wall that Talks | on February 4th, 2011 12:24 pm

    [...] you have some time, check out the article I read about the mural.  Hope you all have a phenomenal weekend! This entry was posted in [...]

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