Letter to the Editor: Community vigil to mourn Migrant Farmworkers mural whitewashed during Hispanic Heritage Month

Letter to the editor

Dear friends,

This letter is to inform stakeholders, community leaders, organizations, artists and constituents that another iconic mural has been erased in Highland Park, Los Angeles. The beloved mural, known locally as the Migrant Farmworkers mural and located at Garvanza Public Elementary School in Highland Park, was whitewashed between mid-September and mid-October during National Hispanic Heritage Month. Our community is brokenhearted at the loss of this widely acclaimed work by Daniel Cervantes that celebrated the vibrant cultural history of our migrant farm laborers by depicting their love and care for the land.

The Highland Park community is further outraged that institutional sponsorships and legal protections did not save this mural from erasure. The Migrant Farmworkers mural was approved by local organizations, funded to completion in 2004 by The Cesar Chavez Foundation, and should have been registered with the LA Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) which states that murals created before Oct. 12, 2013 are defined as Vintage Original Artist Mural (VAM) or “grandfathered in” by the mural ordinance. The principal at Garvanza Elementary did not follow the federal Visual Artists Rights Act, which gives 90-day prior notice to artists whose work will be erased (whether it’s registered or not), nor the DCA’s protocol to report any plans to alter community artworks. Furthermore, the local community was not notified nor included in the decision-making process around the fate of Cervantes’ mural.

Despite claims otherwise by the LA Unified School District (LAUSD), students and parents of Garvanza Elementary confirm that the mural was in good condition since being restored intermittently by the community since 2013. This latest vandalization at Garvanza Elementary perpetuates the injustice against indigenous histories and struggles, which have historically been left out of public school curriculum. Indigenous art, mythologies and symbols are essential in preserving and maintaining cultural health and community well-being. These underlying spiritualities provide “a participatory experience of empowerment, authenticity, and enlarged self-identity when illness threatens their sense of intactness and connection to the world … Indigenous healing can offer a cultural holding environment … Indeed, suffering and injustice are spiritual issues” (Comas-Diaz, 2007).

To address the collective trauma of losing cultural and artistic heritage, Restorative Justice For The Arts (RJFTA) is organizing a community vigil to memorialize the lost Migrant Farmworkers mural. Please stand with us at 4 p.m. Oct. 25 at Garvanza Park (6240 Meridian Street, Highland Park, 90042) for a procession to the mural site at Garvanza Elementary. Speakers and participants will include visual artists, stakeholders, artivists, mural advocates, students, parents, families and social justice allies. Together, we demand that LAUSD support the restoration of the Migrant Farmworkers mural. We also propose a new policy of alerting local neighborhood councils prior to the erasure of any murals so that the DCA and neighborhood constituents aren’t neglected in the future. RJTFA is currently piloting this community-driven public policy with other grassroots organizations in hopes that neighborhood councils become official monitors of community artworks by enforcing the federal, state and local protocols already in place to protect them.

However, we need your support to send a stronger message. Our last public vigil to mourn the whitewashing of John Zender Estrada’s beloved 1993 Aztec Warrior mural brought attention to the mural by Cervantes at the Southwest Museum of The Native American that had been whitewashed in 2013. This other Cervantes mural is currently being restored by artist Pola Lopez, serving as proof of the power of community action. We are asking for letters of support from local neighborhood councils, businesses and any individual or organization that supports the restoration of the Migrant Farmworkers mural by Cervantes and other grassroots efforts to protect community art. Please email your letter of support with letterhead to restorativejusticeforthearts@gmail.com. Your solidarity, compassion and support are greatly appreciated.

In solidarity,

Brenda Perez, M.A.

Founder, Restorative Justice for the Arts