Removal of ELAC mural: censorship, ignorance

HASta La Vista— Mural by Roberto Chavez on the G-3 auditorium called “The Path to Knowledge and the False University” Photo Courtesy of Manuel Delgadillo

By Eddie Mike Garcia

It was upsetting to hear about the short-lived history of East Los Angeles College’s mural of 1979.

The mural put ELAC on the map of a growing Chicano art movement of the time.

In 1974, ELAC had an opportunity to merge its educational goals for Chicana/o students with those of the Chicana/o Mural Movement, a critical component of the larger Chicano Movement.

That year, Roberto Chavez, an art instructor for 12 years and chair of the Mexican American Studies Department, was awarded a $3,500 Instructional Development Grant to teach a class on painting murals.

Stimulated by the cultural and political ideas of the chicano mural movement, Chavez designed a mural that brought together images of nature with symbols of deceit, war and pollution.

Its title, “The Path to Knowledge and the False University,” suggested criticism of curricular activities within educational institutions.

The mural was a distinctive image of Chicano muralist paintings on L.A.’s eastside.

The span of ELAC’s west-facing façade of the G-3 auditorium building allowed Chavez and art students to paint a mural that was 30 feet high and 200 feet in length.

Its size made it the largest mural ever painted in East Los Angeles and could be seen driving east from downtown L.A. on the 60 Freeway before exiting on Atlantic Boulevard.

It took two years to paint and one weekend in 1979 to eliminate it.

The mural depicted images of war, industry, deceit, pollution, and death.

Even though the mural did not suggest or give reference to a specific educational institution, it raised some controversy.

The newly-elected ELAC president Arthur D. Avila ordered the removal of the mural without giving a valid reason.

The whitewashing of the mural was the beginning of the end for the Chicano Studies Department’s crusading spirit.

Some students and faculty believed that the mural was removed because of administrators’ concerns about Chavez’s connections to the Chicano political and social movements.

“It has become clear that the mural’s removal was part of a larger agenda by the new college president and the administration to dull the progressive, political, and ethnic edge that had developed on campus,” Sybil Venegas, who was the first female full-time staff member of ELAC’s new Chicana/o Studies Department, told a L.A. Times reporter back in 1979.

“Why had an institution that had supported Chavez, the mural, and the Chicana/o studies program taken away something many of us felt connected to in one fell swoop?” Venegas said.

It’s discouraging to know that an institution that promotes education and enlightenment has the audacity to silence the message of an artist and the mural.

The fact that this happened almost 40 years ago does not mean that it should be forgotten and that this type of censorship doesn’t exist today.

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