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Aloha Mural Project

Teamwork, Diversity, Struggle and Unity on the Wall

In April 1998, a few friends and I set out to create a mural in the Venice/Culver area of Los Angeles. So I wrote a column in The Rafu Shimpo about the idea of a community mural, openly inviting people in the community to get involved in the project at Aloha Grocery.

That was the start of the mural entitled, “Aloha to the Neighborhood.” Immediately after the column printed, we began receiving phone calls and e-mails from people in the community expressing interest in the project. The Venice/Culver community came out to work as a team, offering their family stories, their ideas, their artistry, and their support.

It was so beautiful to meet all of the wonderful volunteers who came to the community meetings, participated in oral history interviews and spent time on the wall. We had 115 painters, almost all of whom had absolutely no experience painting murals, proving that anyone can be a muralist.

It was great meeting Ethel Sato, who showed such a flair for detail that she used toothpicks to fill the difficult stucco wall with paint. I met my husband Tony’s 4th grade students, Leonel Ontiveros and Cassandra Estrada, who came with their families to paint.

I enjoyed the challenge of juggling 60 painters in one weekend, including Girl Scout Troop 532 and students from UCLA’s Nikkei Student Union. I was also touched by the neighborhood kids like three-year old Christian, and teenagers Jeanine, Saul, Jose and Silverio, who were walking by, and decided to lend a hand.

In the content of the mural, we tried to include the idea of multi-ethnic history of Japanese, Mexican and Pilipino Americans who farmed and still live in the neighborhood. Farm and hotel workers joining hands and reaching for the sun are powerful images of solidarity and unity, which we should all strive for in our lives. The rainbow over the main images represents gay and lesbian pride and unity.

We included Japanese American history with images of Tule Lake, camp barracks, barbed wire, and the resettlement tents that people lived in after returning from camp homeless. Images of the gardener and garment worker remind me of my Issei grandparents, and are jobs held by many immigrant workers today. Family values and decades of entrepreneurship are shown in the images of Alice and Hiroshi Uyehara, who founded Aloha Grocery in 1956.

To me, this project showed the power of people of different ages, interests and backgrounds working together. Like fighting for redress and reparations in the 80s. I think we were also collectively able to create a public piece of art that tells our own stories, that can be seen while driving down the street, and not in some museum or someone’s private collection. And more than just paint on a wall, the mural process attempted to be inclusive, and the finished mural reflects values of teamwork, diversity, struggle and unity.

I am inspired to continue learning from and striving to follow these values. I would like to continue to see projects like the Aloha Mural where people work together, sharing their stories, where positive alternatives for youth are provided, and where creativity is encouraged.

Now that the mural is finally completed, we will be having an Unveiling party in the parking lot of Aloha Grocery on Saturday, January 15th, 2000 at 11:00 am. Along with thanking all of the volunteers, we invite the community to share in cultural performances at an event where teamwork, diversity, struggle and unity will be celebrated.

Jenni Emiko Kuida is the Project Coordinator of the mural at Aloha Grocery. The store is located at 4515 Centinela Avenue, between Washington and Culver Blvds. in Los Angeles. Portions of the original column have been published by permission of the author. The full article can be found in The Rafu Shimpo, 1/12/00.


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