Hoping A Vandalized Mural Becomes A Call To Action
June 13, 2012

Mural Vandalized in Sherman Heights

Residents of San Diego's Sherman Heights neighborhood woke up recently to find an important mural in their community had been vandalized. The graffiti had signs of a neighborhood or gang rivalry, and that's come as a wake-up call to one neighborhood activist who says she's taking the vandalism as a call to action — to encourage more young people to take pride in their neighborhood. KPBS Fronteras reporter Adrian Florido has the story.

SAN DIEGO -- On Sunday, residents of San Diego's Sherman Heights neighborhood woke up to find an important community mural had been vandalized.

The mural adorns the outer wall of a Market Street store, where for more than 30 years it's depicted scenes from the neighborhood’s Mexican-American community.

But on Tuesday, Liliana Garcia-Rivera and another community activist were working to remove the spray-painted letters they discovered splashed across the mural Sunday morning.

Garcia-Rivera is one of several people depicted in the mural. She and other neighborhood youth painted it in 1980, under the tutelage of local muralist Mario Torero, and she says this is only the second time it’s been maliciously defaced in all that time.

Sherman Heights has long coped with graffiti and gang problems, but this stretch of wall -- filled with symbols of Latino pride and activism -- has always been respected even among taggers.

Garcia-Rivera said the vandals were from a different neighborhood, because they painted an “X” across a depiction of a young man shaping his hands into the letter “S” –- a symbol for Sherman Heights -- an act suggesting a neighborhood rivalry may be the motive.

And she said that act, more than the vandalism itself, was what concerned her, because it's a sign that for some of the area’s youth, the mural -- with its themes of Latino unity -- may no longer hold the symbolic importance that has led so many previous generations to respect it.

As she stood in front of the mural Tuesday afternoon, she said it was a wake-up call that even in her community, with its share of Latino activists, the need to cultivate youngsters' respect for their community persists.

“The adults are organizing. Even young people, college students, are organizing. But nobody has really reached out yet to the homies," she said. "And that’s what’s needed and that’s why we’re seeing this, because so many generations have come now.”

She said she wants to embrace this as an opportunity. She’s hoping to ask a nearby store owner if he’ll allow kids to paint their own mural, with their own message, on one of his walls.