The Mural de La Raza was My Mirror

Editor's Note:

In late August one of the longest standing murals in San José was removed. The Mural de la Raza was personal to many people and J.M. Valle responded like many in our neighborhood - like a caretaker of that mural and all it represents. In community, he immediately worked to find the artists and bring folks together around the work of restoring the mural.

As a third generation Chicano, son of farmworkers, grandson of a bracero and as a born and bred East Side San Jonero, being saddened after the removal of the Payless Mural de La Raza is an understatement.

My parents were both farmworkers who moved to San José to work on the tech assembly line. Growing up near King and Story Roads during the 1980’s and 1990’s, Payless Shoe Source was the store my jefita bought me a pair of shoes from before being able to afford name brands. King and Story Roads have been the epicenter to low-riding dating back to 1977, and protests dating back to the 1960’s Chicano Movement to present. I can proudly say that I have both cruised and marched on King and Story. I shopped for my groceries, ate tacos, hopped on the bus, washed my clothes and bought my first pair of Dickies on King and Story.

Chicano Studies until present day, is only for the privileged who are able to make it past high school and pursue a college education. More importantly, in college, Chicano Studies is an option, not a mandate. As a high school drop out, like many young Chicanos growing up on the Eastside, the Mural de La Raza was my initial source to Chicano Studies, having inspired me to self educate and crack open the books. More importantly, it was not an option as there was no way to avoid this monumental mural standing at 16’ x 82’.

The Mural de La Raza was my mirror, and pulled my heart into the books that my public school teachers dared not to touch. As I became a youth worker and father, the mural acted as a real time Chicano Studies course. I personally utilized the mural to point out historical figures like Padre Hidalgo and Joaquin Murrieta to my children, barrio youth, and the community. I also pointed out Eastside locals such as Luis Valdez, Jim Plunkett, and Cesar Chavez.

During the past 15 years, there has been a chain of Chicano Murals that have tragically been removed, largely due to redevelopment and gentrification. The only advantage San José has had compared to neighbor cities, San Francisco and Oakland is that during every wave of gentrification, immigrant Mexican families started moving in. But without any Chicano families with generational connections to our murals, murals started disappearing without anyone to defend them. I too can no longer afford to live back home in East Side San Jo.

As soon as I heard that Payless was going out of business, I personally acted in public interest to preserve the mural beginning April 6, 2017. I posted my concerns on social media, sent emails, made phone calls, and left voicemails to the property management firm and property owner. I along with another member of the community emailed the Vice Mayor’s office at the time, who is also the representative of East Side San José’s District 5 (King and Story District).

On the afternoon of Wednesday, August 29, 2018 I was notified that the mural was unlawfully removed. There were social media rumors stating that the mural was removed before day break that very morning. I rushed immediately to confirm if the rumor was true, and as I approached the old Payless wall, all that was left of the mural was La Virgen de Guadalupe. The first round of goons hired to paint Nuestro Mural de La Raza didn't have the heart to paint over the Virgin.

The Payless Mural de La Raza stood in the heart of East Side San Jo for over three decades. At the center of rival varrios Poco Way, Capital Park, Kollmar, Foxdale, and Palmas... as well as surrounding varrios Lockridge, Las Casitas, Virginia, Rio Seco, Meadowfair and Pensacola Projects. The mural represented our pride and history regardless of the neighborhoods we came from. On the Sunday September 2, 2018 I was fortunate to meet master muralist José Meza and his wife, Juanita Velasquez for the first time at the former mural site. Local businesses and a crowd of over 100 people gathered to express their loss. A local business owner even ran up to the artist to express her loss, concern that taggers will begin to vandalize the new blank canvas and donated some funds. At first glance, the graffiti on the wall looked like random vandalism done by misguided youth. It was later pointed out to me that the graffiti read: “Down 4 My Raza.”

Although I disagree with the youth’s approach in expressing their loss, this proves just how traumatized our youth and community is in response to the removal of Nuestro Mural de La Raza. This also builds more of a case on how much a mural like this is needed. This mural was created in the 1980’s when barrio warfare first began to hit the streets in our city. This mural saved lives, united rival barrios, embraced graffiti youth artists; they became a part of the mural itself with their images on the wall. Since the City invests so much funds in the Gang Investigations Unit and the Mayor’s Gang Prevention Task Force, there should be no reason why our city can’t invest in this mural.

Since the removal of nuestro mural, our Raza, our barrios have experienced an awakening and have organized. Teachers, artists, and barrio youth have come together in this crisis as El Emergency Comité for the Preservation of the Chicano Arts.

In violation of the California Art Preservation Act and Visual Artists Rights Act, El Comité for the Preservation of the Chicano Arts, asks that you sign the online petition to build public interest in a civil suit underway to restore Nuestro Mural de La Raza.

Sign the online petition at

List of Chicano Murals Removed in San José*

  1. Mural de La Raza - Year: 1985
    Artist(s): José Meza Velasquez
    Dimensions: 16’ x 82’  
    Removed: 2018
    Location: Payless ShoeSource, 2048 Story Rd, San José, CA 95122 off of historic King and Story Rds

  2. Mexicatlan - Year: 2004
    Artist(s): Yermo Aranda
    Dimensions: 22′x107′
    Removed: 2014
    Location: 1998 Alum Rock, San José, CA 95116 in the historic barrio Sal Si Puedes

  3. El Tarasco - Year: 1986
    Artist(s): Alfonso Salazar
    Dimensions: 13’ x 20’
    Removed: 2011
    Location: El Tarasco, 170 E Taylor St, San José, CA 95112 near 4th Street by new city hall

  4. Chaparral Mural - Circa 1970’s-1980’s
    Artist(s): Unknown
    Removed: 2010's
    Location: Chaparral, 1001 E Santa Clara St, San José, CA 95116 in barrio Roosevelt Park

  5. Daliesque Crucifixion Mural - Year: 1979
    Artist(s): Alfredo Diaz Flores, Saeed Mahboab
    Removed: 2005
    Location: Chevron, 135 E Santa Clara St, San José, Ca 95113
    Background: Located in Downtown San Jose’s “The Strip” near new city hall

  6. Miller Elementary School Mural - Circa 1980’s
    Artist(s): Gustavo Bernal
    Removed: 2004
    Location: Miller Elementary School, 1250 S King Rd, San José, CA 95122 located off of historic King and Story Rds

  7. East Side Story - Year: 1990
    Artist(s): Aladdin
    Removed: 2002
    Location: Casa Vicky’s, 1107 King Rd, San José, CA 95122 located on historic King and Story Rds

*part of ongoing documentation by El Comité