Enough's Enough: It's Time to Save Orange County's Chicano Murals

Eric Hood
Detail from Emigdio Vasquez mural
Sometime in October, workers whitewashed a Mexican-themed mural in Santa Ana that had adorned the two-story offices of Spanish-language weekly Excelsior for more than a decade. It was a simple--even trite--thing, really, purporting to depict a day in the life of this most Mexican of cities: a mom with a baby stroller, fruit vendors and a student reaching for the sky, with everyone walking in front of yet another mural showing baile folklorico, a soccer player and a mariachi.

Hundreds of thousands of people saw this untitled mise-en-scène as they drove on Grand Street over the years. It became part of their daily landscape, so taken for granted that no one really noticed anything amiss until the Weekly broke the story in early November. Public shock, sadness and outrage followed, all hurled at the building's current owner, mega-developer Mike Harrah . . . and then, nothing.

Such is the sad state of Chicano murals in OC. They've been up since the 1970s and '80s, painted with much fanfare at a time when Republicans hadn't yet demonized public-funded art, when city officials blessed them as community projects that beautified barren walls in working-class neighborhoods. From Anaheim to Placentia, Irvine Valley College to Capistrano Beach, dozens of pieces dotted la naranja--some adorning garages, others spanning hundreds of feet.

And they're now slowly, collectively disappearing.

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Ignacio Lujano, Last of OC's Old-School Naranjeros, Passes Away at 91

Photo by Keith May
Lujano: Que descanse en paz

Ignacio Lujano, the last of Orange County's old-school naranjeros--the Mexican men who tended to the county's iconic orange industry for decades--passed away over the weekend in Lake Elsinore of heart failure. He was 91.

Lujano had taken care of orange groves in San Juan Capistrano since the 1950s, eventually ending up in 1970 on the 40-acre Swanner Ranch, which stood just next to I-5 South in the northern edge of the city. He lived there for the next 38 years, raising his family and making sure the groves stayed healthy. He irrigated, picked crops, turned on the smudge pots during frosty nights, and weeded. This bucolic life ended in 2008, when the city unceremoniously kicked him out to raze the grove for a maintenance yard.

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Terror in Little Saigon: An Old War Comes to a New Country

Illustration by Rob Dobi

By A.C. Thompson, ProPublica

The journalists were assassinated on American soil, one after another.

Duong Trong Lam was the first. He was 27 years old and ran a Vietnamese-language publication called Cai Dinh Lang, which he mailed to immigrants around the country. A gunman found him as he walked out of his San Francisco apartment building one morning and shot him, a single bullet piercing his pulmonary artery, just above the heart.

For magazine publisher Pham Van Tap, the end came more slowly. He was sleeping in his small office in Garden Grove when an arsonist set fire to the building. He was heard screaming before he succumbed to smoke inhalation.

In Houston, a killer chased pajama-clad Nguyen Dam Phong from his home and shot him seven times with a .45-caliber handgun. The murder marked the end of Dam Phong's twice-monthly broadsheet newspaper, Tu Do.

All together, five Vietnamese-American journalists were killed between 1981 and 1990. All worked for small publications serving the refugee population that sought shelter in the U.S. after the fall of Saigon in 1975. At least two other people were murdered as well.

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OC Register's Mexican Mural on Grand Avenue Gets Whitewashed, No One Cares

Gracias, source!
Exelcsior mural: Now just a memory

Orange County has a long, nasty history of whitewashing or destroying Mexican-themed murals, from a 600-foot-long wall that once stood in Fountain Valley to one inside the Plummer Auditorium at Fullerton High School to a wall in Old Town Placentia that was barely in the planning stages by Cal State Fullerton's MEChA chapter before some pendejo called it racist.

Now add to that ignominious list a large piece that graced the wall of the former SanTana offices of the Orange County Register's Spanish-language weekly, Excélsior. That's the mural above; below is the newly gentrified wall.

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2015 Bob Dornan Scary OC Hall of Fame Inductee: Curt Pringle!

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Photo by The Mexican
Longtime Los Amigos head Amin David (left) with Pringle: the alliance that sealed Anaheim's current political hell

When Curt Pringle assumed office as Anaheim's mayor in 2002, my beloved hometown of Anaheim sure was a wonderful place to live in. Oh, there were problems--an out-of-control police department, income inequality, Disney doing whatever the hell it wanted to do--but there were still jobs in the city that employed the working class, civility in City Hall, and a sense that, despite the then-recession, Anaheim would turn out all right.

Flash-forward to now. Things have gotten only worse--the police department remains out of control, while income inequality is getting to San Francisco levels. Disney has even more of a lock on City Hall than every before, and the city seems to favor hipster jobs that help only a select few instead of the Kwiksets and canneries, truck depots, and packing houses that once employed hundreds. The citizen unrest that the world got to see during the summer of 2012 was only a glimpse of your average Anaheimer's unease with the city's future.

And all of this is Curt Pringle's fault.

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Activists and Family Members Keep the Memory of Alex Odeh Alive, 30 Years After His Unsolved Assassination

Statue of Alex Odeh in Santa Ana
Brian Feinzimer
If you were able to identify your and others' misfortunes
I would have brought out an extraordinary human being of you
--from a poem by Alex Odeh

On the morning of Oct. 11, 1985, Norma Odeh made breakfast for her husband, Alex, in their Orange home. The night before, KABC-TV Channel 7 had interviewed Odeh, West Coast regional director for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) and one of the U.S.'s most prominent Arab-American activists. The interviewer wanted his opinions about the Achille Lauro hijacking and the subsequent killing of 69-year-old wheelchair-bound Leon Klinghoffer that had happened just a couple of days before.

A camera crew filmed Alex at the ADC offices in Santa Ana. He condemned the hijacking, as well as terrorism in general. But he also claimed the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) wasn't responsible for the attack and called Yasser Arafat "a man of peace" for helping to secure the release of hostages.

"After he came home, we watched it together," Norma recalls. "I hope to God nobody does anything to you," she told him then. Alex's sister also phoned him with her worries after seeing the news segment. He moaned to his wife about how KABC had simplified his nuanced statements into a soundbite about Arafat, then went to bed.

The interview was still on Norma's mind the next morning when Alex kissed her goodbye. A long day awaited him, including a speech at Congregation B'nai Tzadek, a Jewish synagogue in Fountain Valley.

Odeh arrived at the ADC's second-story offices in Santa Ana around 9 a.m. His assistant usually opened up in the morning, but she was running errands that day for an upcoming banquet. As Odeh turned the doorknob, a rigged 30-pound pipe bomb exploded, blowing off his legs. Shards from the shattered windows rained onto the street. Only the concrete floor saved the debris-strewn office from total obliteration. Paramedics hoisted Odeh's charred body onto a stretcher and rushed him to Western Medical Center in Santa Ana; doctors pronounced him dead roughly two hours after the attack. He was 41 years old.

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The 20 Most OC Things to Ever Happen in Orange County History

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OC Weekly archives
Nice Christian girl at a Chapman Undie Run? That's SO OC...

Cover Orange County for 20 years, and you learn to love the awesome hypocrisies, oxymorons, contradictions, and flat-out HILARITY that define us. Yes, some of our stories, trends, and issues could happen anywhere in the United States--but some are absolutely, only OC. So, in honor of our 20th anniversary, behold the 20 most OC things that have ever happened in Orange County history (or rather, during OUR history, which is when OC really started). Enjoy, and make sure to rant in the comments section!

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Irvine Valley College to Rededicate Emigdio Vasquez Mural THIS THURSDAY

Courtesy of Irvine Valley College
El maestro's work

Irvine Valley College ain't exactly thought of as a Chicano mural stronghold, but it's one of the many places in Orange County that hosts a mural by legendary artist Emigdio Vasquez--a 40'x8' beauty called La Educación y El Trabajo (Education and Work). And, unlike the rest of OC--which keeps letting the maestro's work fade away or tries to criminalize it--IVC cares enough about its treasure to not only take care of their Vasquez mural, but to restore it, and rededicate it in a ceremony this Thursday.

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Re-living the Great Disneyland Cast Member Strike of September 1984

This week's feature story, "David Koenig Has Exposed the Disneyland Secrets Mickey Doesn't Want You to Know About," mentions how much the September 1984 strike by cast members was a gut punch to employee morale, resulting in many of the stories that turn up in the author's books.

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An Oral History of OC Weekly, Part 1: Sept. 15, 1995-Sept. 2000

Stern Publishing--owned by Leonard Stern, a pet-food magnate whose Hartz Mountain corporation controlled 70 percent of the pet-supply market--bought the Village Voice, the nation's oldest alternative weekly, in 1983. In 1994, Stern purchased the LA Weekly, which then set its sights on Orange County. . . .

Michael Sigman, LA Weekly/OC Weekly publisher, 1983-2002: The crass but simple answer [why OC Weekly was created] is that big advertisers in LA Weekly like Tower Records said they'd advertise in an Orange County edition. Before Leonard bought us, there were several years of exploratory machinations and research, but we never had the funding or authorization. And even though other people had explored it and had decided it wasn't such a good idea, it seemed obvious to us that it had potential. There was never any question in my mind that we could do a successful paper. After we were bought, the mandate was "Let's get OC Weekly started as soon as possible." I remember having serious conversations with [the late New York Times media critic] David Carr about the position [of editor], and there were probably one or two others, but I can't remember anyone else being a serious candidate. And then there was Will.

Nathan Callahan, OC Weekly contributor, 1995-2004: Will and I had worked on a little zine back in the early '90s, The County, and we tried to cover OC as much as we could. It came out sporadically and slammed everyone from Irvine City Councilman Dave Baker to Jerry Brown. And when [Will] heard about the editor job, it went from there.

Will Swaim, OC Weekly founding editor, 1995-2007: I was working at Entrepreneur, a business magazine, and a friend of mine said she had heard of LA Weekly starting something in Orange County. At the time, the landscape was littered with a whole bunch of attempts to start alt-weeklies here, and they had all been grotesquely underfunded or weren't very good.

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