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The community of Watts is now home to a 200-foot mural entitled “Unity Under the Sun,” which aims to promote unity and fight hate and discrimination. The unveiling of the mural, which took place at the Watts Historic Train Station earlier this month, brought together community and city leaders, activists, artists and residents, most of them Latino and Black.
“Unity Under The Sun” depicts many cultural and historical symbols that reflect numerous peoples, cultures and movements that have been rooted, nurtured and grown in Watts and its surrounding areas. Historical activists and revolutionary groups such as Malcolm X, the Black Panthers and the Brown Berets, all of which have brought unity and resistance to communities like Watts, South LA and East LA, are also featured in the mural.
The colorful and highly visible mural was a collaboration between the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations initiative, LA vs Hate, and Build Plus Community Marketplace, a non-profit organization dedicated to the general welfare and economic development of low-income people in the greater Watts area.
As part of the LA vs. Hate initiative, the mural intends to be an art installation used to report, unite against and heal from hate, as well as to empower people of color and bring communities from different ethnicities and cultures together.
The mural was spray-painted by local LA artists Showzart and Misteralek.
Showzart is an artist from Skid Row who focuses on doing community murals and community-driven art. Showzart was once homeless and did not want to help create a mural if there wasn’t a co-muralist from the community where the mural was going to be located. After hearing about the mural project, MisterAlek, who grew up in the community of Watts, almost immediately became interested in offering his artistic services.
“Painting the mural has been a journey of wisdom acquired through my research of history, deep self-reflection and finding atavistic connections between my community ancestors and myself,” said MisterAlek, at the mural unveiling ceremony, “sparking a strong feeling of purpose in me to communicate and illustrate through my art the ancestral knowledge I once knew and have now invoked.”
The opening remarks on the mural unveiling were given by Robin Toma, Executive Director of the LA County Commission on Human Relations. He said the unveiling of “Unity Under the Sun,” was a “historical moment.” He also mentioned that, as the County government, the LA County Commission on Human Relations receives taxpayer funds to fight hate and one way is through murals like the one unveiled in Watts. “We are using that [money] to fight hate and fight discrimination because hate cannot survive unity, hate cannot survive love, power or compassion,” Toma said.
Toma also talked about the importance of art in communities that have been overlooked or under-resourced. “LA vs. Hate, since the start, invested in community art as a key strategy because we know art helps us make sense of the world, it helps us understand each other and our shared experiences, and it definitely helps us understand things that sometimes we cannot communicate,” he said. “We see art as a tool that can spread love, it can heal, and it can help convey a shared painful history.”
The mural, which spans through the walls surrounding the 103rd Street/Watts Towers train station, has one focal image in the center: a Black and Brown hand intertwined, holding each other. Fidel Rodriguez, Senior Human Relations Consultant on the LA vs. Hate team and the driving force behind the mural, said this centered image was very well-thought-out. “This image shows that there has always been unity between Black and Mexicans, between Black and other Latinos,” Rodriguez told CALÓ NEWS.
Other images throughout the mural were also planned and discussed before being painted by Showzart and Misteralek. Rodriguez said that the images, or as he called them, “symbols,” are all part of Black and Brown history, which he wanted the community to learn about before the painting of the mural. “If we are eradicating hate, we have to talk about the origins of hate,” he said.
In order to inform the community about these images, Rodriguez organized a community teach-in with university professors or historians. “We had people contextualize the social justice movement, revolutionary movements that happened in South LA, Watts,” Rodriguez said. ”Out of those teachings, we gave notes and information to Showzart and MisterAlek, and they began to come up with sketches and ideas.”
Creating the mural in front of the Watts historic train station was also an important decision, as the station carries deep significance in the African American history of LA. “The Watts historic train station was the only station in LA that African Americans, coming from the South, coming out West to escape Jim Crow, were able to come to,” Rodriguez said.
Showzart also told CALÓ NEWS that the mural was supposed to be much smaller than what it is today. He said the mural was supposed to only be the held hands located in the middle. “The mural first started with only that section, that is what the funds were for, and that was it,” Showzart said. “Fidel Rodriguez and the community of Watts raised more money to make the extension of the wall.” He also mentioned that the painting of the mural began last year in October, but that the plan for it began over a year ago.
The mural features celebrated members of the Watts community such as Arturo Ybarra, a Latino leader and Executive Director of the Watts Century Latino Organization, an organization founded in 1990 in response to rapidly changing demographics in the city of Watts. As more Latino families moved into the neighborhood, “community leaders believed it was necessary to establish an institution dedicated to empowering and amplifying the voices of Latino residents,” as stated on the organization’s website. Ybarra has been a community organizer and activist tackling issues such as housing, violence, education reform and local environmental issues.
Toward the left side of the mural, LA Mayor Karen Bass is also depicted in the mural. Fidel Rodriguez said the community’s choice to have Bass in the mural was not because she was the new mayor of the city, but rather because of her legacy as a community activist in South LA.
Another Latino artist who was present at the mural’s unveiling ceremony was Luis Javier Rodriguez, a poet, novelist and major figure in contemporary Chicano literature. Javier Rodriguez was born in Texas but grew up in the community of Watts. He said returning to such an important place and seeing a mural of unity and love, was priceless. “This captures the [Watts] spirit. At least when I was around, it was always a Black and Brown [community],” Javier Rodriguez told CALÓ NEWS.
One of Javier Rodriguez’s most popular poems, “Watts Bleeds” was featured in the mural behind the image of a Brown Beret’s leader. He said this was a poem that honored the Watts rebellion and “honored that resilience and spirit of the people standing up.” For Javier Rodriguez, having a piece of his poetry portrayed next to the Brown Berets is very significant. “It’s an honor because I was in a gang, I was on heroin for seven years, I was homeless for three years and the Brown Berets and the Chicano movement saved me,” he said.
The “Unity Under The Sun” mural is just one of the many pieces of art that LA vs. Hate aims to create to fight hate and discrimination. The mural will soon have QR codes throughout the images and paintings that, if scanned, can give the viewer information on that part of history and how it is connected to the city of LA.
For Rodriguez, the message that he hopes people take is one of unity. “That we are all the same, there is no difference between us, that we are all one race: the human race and that we can heal ourselves with the abundance of love,” Rodríguez said. “That’s what I’m putting out there to the world for people to receive when they look at the images in the mural.”
Anyone may report anonymously and receive access to additional community-based and crisis care resources. In addition, information about hate crime incidents or crimes may be submitted anonymously online or by calling 2-1-1. Visit the LA Civil, Human Rights, and Equity Department’s resource page HERE for additional state and legal resources.
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