Sprawled across a wall on Story and King roads were images of Aztec warriors, men in zoot suits, Chicano revolutionaries and leaders of the United Farm Workers movement.
The mural, painted on the side of a Payless ShoeSource store in East San Jose, illustrated indigenous and Mexican-American history.
On Thursday, residents of the community woke to the sight of the mural gone. In its place was a coat of gray paint.
The mural titled “Mural de la Raza,” Spanish for “Mural of the People,” was painted in 1985 by artist Jose Meza Velasquez. Meza Velasquez studied with famous artists like Diego Rivera, according to an article published by the Mercury News in November 1985.
Upon news of the mural’s defacement, Meza Velasquez and his wife Juanita Meza Velasquez said they were saddened and upset with the situation.
“It’s a big loss for everybody that was raised around the area,” Juanita Meza Velasquez said.
Under the California Preservation Art Act, property owners are required to notify artists before the removal or destruction of artwork.
Juanita Meza Velasquez said the property owners of the building failed to inform her husband of the mural’s removal.
The Payless ShoeSource where the mural was painted filed for bankruptcy in 2017.
According to ABC 7 News, the former property owner signed ownership of the space on Tuesday, the day before the mural was painted.
Meza Velasquez and his wife said they plan to take legal action, and will meet with San Jose city officials on Wednesday to discuss legal matters.
In response to the defacement of the mural, members of the east side community banded together on Sunday to express their anger.
Both Meza and his wife attended the demonstration.
“It almost felt like a wake,” Juanita Meza Velasquez said regarding the demonstration outside the vacant Payless store. “People were coming up and saying, ‘we’re so sorry this happened to you,’ it was like a funeral.”
Juanita Meza Velasquez said culturally significant murals are important to communities because they help teach young people of historical leaders.
The mural, which spanned 86 feet across a parking lot, depicted iconic Latino figures such as Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, Emiliano Zapata and San Jose State University alumnus and playwright Luis Valdez. Valdez is known for writing the play “Zoot Suit” and directing the movie “La Bamba.”
Jose Valle, a community organizer for Silicon Valley’s De-Bug, said that painting over the mural contributed to gentrification and erased Latino and San Jose history.
“It doesn’t say ‘mural of the property owners’ it says mural de la raza,” Valle said. “Mural of the people.”
Valle said that while he didn’t own the art or the property, he owns the memories he has of the mural and the significance the mural has had in his life.
He added that many of the people who live in the east side grew up with the mural.
“The mural has always had a significance to the Latino community on the east side,” behavioral science junior Mike Michel said. “Our culture cannot just be painted over.”
Michel was raised in east San Jose and said the mural was a message that empowered the Latino community.
While the Meza Velasquez are saddened and upset with the loss of the 32-year-old mural, they said they are determined to find a way to help other artists protect their work.
The couple released a statement on Friday that read, “The insensitive disrespect and loss of this art piece is against the law and a detriment to artists, the world of art and the community who proudly embraced it.”