Food, music, art! Boyle Heights on a Saturday morning. Add the enticing aroma of grilled chilis and sausages from a street vendor and we were in heaven!
Three of us had hopped the Gold Line (light rail) to visit Mariachi Plaza and to find a place to have lunch. Our standby, Seranata de Garibaldi had been closed for some time and we hoped to find an alternative.
Mariachi Plaza is a destination for those seeking performers willing to take on a gig. That day, there were four small groups of costumed mariachi with their instruments. The Gold Line station is actually a deep subterranean platform underneath the Plaza. The train spits out its passengers who then climb (or ride) three long flights of stairs into the colored lights of the station entry.
We headed away from the Plaza eastward on 1st Street, looking for the former restaurant and found the brightly painted Casa Fina. A quick check of YELP and we decided to head north to East Cesar Chavez. But not before we noticed the brilliant art on the storefronts nearby, los murales. It was a melding of traditions: Mexican muralists and graffiti art.
These murals, moreover, had titles and were signed by the artists. Whipping out our smartphones, we googled Sergio Robleto, the muralist responsible for “Street Tacos” and “Orale!” on both sides of the street. We learned that “Orale!” is an homage to a historically significant mural “Running on Ancient Energies,” that played an important part in establishing murals as works of fine art.
“Running on Ancient Energies” was commissioned by Union Shell, the owner of a gas station in l980, just about the time that the California Art Preservation Act set out to protect the rights of artists when their work is intentionally or negligently damaged or lost. In l988, the wall and mural were bulldozed in order to build a parking lot. The artists sued for damages and won in state and appellate courts, establishing an important precedent for muralists.
“Orale!” includes elements from “Running on Ancient Energies,” including a pre-Columbian figure, but most importantly, a blue convertible in which he placed senior versions of artists Wayne Healey and David Botello, members of Los Streetscapers, the creaters of “Ancient Energies.” But “Orale!” goes on to add a comment on a current issue facing the Boyle Heights Community: gentrification. The full title is “Orale! Lets Cruise on Over to Progression, Aye!”
We learned that Boyle Heights was the cradle of Chicano murals, that Los Angeles once had over a thousand murals, over 80% are gone and that Healey and Botello’s East Los Streetscapers continues as an art collective and fine art studio.
But we didn’t forget our mission, to find lunch, and we headed uphill and northward to East Cesar Chavez. Just east of the freeway bridge, Cesar Chavez began to look like Main street, with open storefronts, merchants and goods spilling out onto the sidewalks. Children were riding bicycles, families strolled to markets, took their children to MacDonald’s. The fragrance of grilling onions and chilis filled the air and we found even more beautiful murals.
“May you walk in beauty,” is a Navajo blessing I learned reading Tony Hillerman novels. (Don’t judge…you can learn a lot from murder mysteries beyond the homicidal.)
The notion was appropriate, for the murals we saw between State Street and Soto along the avenue celebrated the energies and culture of Boyle Heights in colorful, vibrant murals, again, many signed by the artists.
There was art everywhere…on one corner “Corrido de Boyle Heights,” originally painted in l983 by Los Streetscapers, covered an entire building’s east facing wall. On the next block, Ernesto de la Loza’s “Ressurection of the Green Planet” expressed hope for an environmental rebirth. Both murals seemed to face the sun, unprotected by shade from neighboring buildings. Nearby, facing west, Paul Botello’s “The Greatest Love” seems to explore spiritual themes and a wedding. There were murals on music stores, general stores, restaurants and the pool hall.
There was art even in Guisados where we finally stopped to eat. No one photographed the food: we were just too hungry and the tacos (with their stewed fillings) too delicious.
But we did enjoy the art on the walls. It included colorful pieces created by children and a poster by Vidal Herrera, “Welcome to East LA.” We read while munching. The poster celebrated streets, high schools, colleges, folklore, geography….all the things that make East Los Angeles home. It was created in honor of the East Los Angeles Moratorium.
I had never heard of the East Los Angeles Moratorium, so I asked my companions. And they explained, leaving me wondering how a reasonably informed resident of the Southland had to ask that question! But that is a story for another week. ( More about this later!)