Rosemary Vasquez Tuthill carefully applied black outlining to colorful archway art at Anaheim Independencia Family Resource Center as the project neared its end on a warm Saturday morning. Vibrant doves and flowers began to take shape by noon, restoring the center to part of its past glory. The original mural in La Colonia Independencia, an unincorporated Anaheim barrio, is a curious mystery with the artist behind the work the first time around remaining a polite disagreement.
There aren’t many clues save for an old photo showing the backside of a man painting the archway and the mural having carried the initials “E.V.” It’s not widely known, either, how the artwork came to be painted over.
The family of legendary activist Gloria Lopez, who helped found the center before passing away in 2004, and La Colonia residents insist that its the work of the late muralist Emigdio Vasquez, known as the “Godfather of Chicano art” in Orange County. Rosemary, his daughter, couldn’t find anything in her father’s records to suggest that was the case.
“He was pretty good at keeping his records,” says Vasquez during a break. “We went through all the newspaper clippings and all the material and nowhere did it show this building.”
When approached about a year ago by Jane Menchaca, a former La Colonia resident, Vasquez nonetheless agreed to restore the artwork. Since giving up an aerospace engineering career in 2014, she began focusing more time on her art and helped restore her father’s murals including a rediscovered canvas one at the Heritage Museum of Orange County in Santa Ana.
The center, which first began in Lopez’s garage in the late 1960’s before moving to an old mission church building in the barrio and finally to its current location on Garza Avenue, means a lot to Menchaca. In the past, it provided much-needed services for community members young and old.
“My husband and I were about 14 years old and we followed Lopez from location to location,” she says. “The center, at that time for us, was a good resource and a good place to go.”
Menchaca began advocating for the restoration of the mural with the Community Action Partnership of Orange County (CAP OC), which now runs the family resource center, about two-and-a-half years ago. With an artist finally on board, CAP OC teamed with the Brea-based Beckman Coulter Foundation to give the center some tender love and care on National Make a Difference Day. The foundation rounded up about 80 red-shirt-wearing volunteers on Saturday to lend a helping hand to numerous onsite projects, including the mural.
“It’s a half-day project,” says Marci Raudez, the foundation’s grant director. “They got an art lesson and a history lesson as well.”
Vasquez Tuthill appreciated the help as the project reconnected her with her Cypress Street barrio upbringing in Orange. She visited a community center there back in the day and knew how important a welcoming aesthetic can be, which is why the front of Anaheim Independencia’s building’s bland blueish-grey color needed a fresh coat of white paint before becoming a canvass again.
“Everybody that walks by it is very excited about it,” says Vasquez Tuthill. “It’s kind of nostalgic. You’ve got to make it special for people to want to come here.”
Once completely finished, the top arch will read “Anaheim Independencia” accompanied by leafy green branches. Menchaca, who is president of La Colonia’s women’s club and helps run the barrio’s municipal water company with her husband, felt like a dream had come true as the paint dried on the restoration project. She still feels in her heart that Emigdio Vasquez was the original artist but it’s beyond dispute now that his daughter helped revive the archway art.
“I wanted to see that mural back,” says Menchaca. “I don’t know why it was covered. Even though I was with Lopez at a very young age, what she did here never left me. The whole center is a tribute to her for what she started in her garage.”
Gabriel San Román is from Anacrime. He’s a journalist, subversive historian and the tallest Mexican in OC. He also once stood falsely accused of writing articles on Turkish politics in exchange for free food from DönerG’s!