By Angela Guglielmino
Winners were announced on Monday in the competition to paint Highland Park’s next major mural: Ernesto de la Loza, an esteemed Chicano muralist, and Sandra de la Loza, an artist, mural expert and Ernesto’s sister, will work together to bring Ernesto’s design, Earth Mother, to the side wall of the new Planned Parenthood health center at Figueroa Street and Avenue 59.
Earth Mother was chosen from among 78 submissions to the competition, sponsored last fall by Planned Parenthood of Pasadena and San Gabriel Valley in partnership with Avenue 50 Studio, a hub of Latinx art and culture in Highland Park. The selection committee first narrowed the submissions to nine finalists and then invited the public to vote for their favorite design. Nearly 4,000 people weighed in.
For Ernesto de la Loza, Earth Mother will be the latest of several dozeon local murals he has painted over nearly 50 years, dating back to “Organic Stimulus,” in 1975, a mural in Boyle Heights that is considered an exemplar of the Chicano Arts Movement of the 1970s.
For Sandra de la Loza, Earth Mother will be the latest project in a lifetime of work on mural art, interpretation and preservation: She has created mural retrospectives for the L.A. County Museum of Art and is the founder and driving force of the Pocho Research Society of Erased and Invisible History, an organization dedicated to commemorating places of cultural and historical signficance to the Chicano community in L.A.
Ernesto and Sandra de la Loza also bring to the project deep experience and understanding of Northeast L.A. They were raised in El Sereno, where Ernesto now lives. Sandra lives in Highland Park, a short distance from Planned Parenthood.
“It’s a big honor for the mural to be in Highland Park,” said Ernesto de la Loza. “I’ve traveled to many streets, countries, mountain tops and everything,” he said in an interview with the Boulevard Sentinel, adding that for him, Northeast L.A. is “the motherland.”
The mural is also the De La Lozas’ way of honoring the community. Sandra de la Loza told the Sentinel that the mural’s central image of an independent woman is of Soraya Medina, a well-known community leader who died in December, age 42, of breast cancer. Referring to Medina’s tireless advocacy on behalf of her community, Sandra de la Loza noted: “We lost one of our warriors, but she will be honored in the mural itself.”
The nine finalists in the mural competition could not have been more varied, more striking, more worthy. The selection of Earth Mother came down to the interplay of several factors. “Ernesto’s murals have a soul you can feel,” said Kathy Gallegos, founding executive and artistic director of Avenue 50 Studio and a member of the nine-member selection committee. Gallegos believes that the community’s strong support for Earth Mother came about because the design “spoke to their hearts.”
Selection committee members also cited the ways in which the mural’s imagery evokes a sense of respect for women — a core principle of Planned Parenthood. In addition to the central independent figure, there are women of different ages, different pairings, healthy and engaged in life, an inviting scene.
At the same time, the mural’s meaning extends beyond the wall on which it is painted. Gallegos recalled a point in the selection process when a staffer expressed a hope that many committee members believed could be fulfilled by the Earth Mother design. “Our community has been so devastated by gentrification and displacement,” said the staffer. “I want my grandmother to walk by this mural and be able to see herself.”
Selection committee member Isabel Rojas-Williams, the former executive director of the Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles, summed up the meaning of the selection for the community. The collaboration of the De La Lozas on Earth Mother, she said, will result in a mural that is “a testament and a reminder of the past, a representation of the present, and a look into the future in rapidly changing Highland Park.”
In its search for a mural for its new health center in Highland Park, Planned Parenthood was looking for a design that reflected the Highland Park community and Planned Parenthood’s values of individual empowerment, inclusion and health. With the help of Avenue 50 Studio and some 4,000 members of the community, it has found what it was looking for in Earth Mother.
Ernesto de la Loza and Sandra de la Loza expect to begin work on the mural in the fall of this year.
Angela Guglielmino, a sophomore at Occidental College, is a participant in the NELA Neighborhood Reporting Partnership, a collaboration of the Boulevard Sentinel and The Occidental campus newspaper.