The Great Wall of Los Angeles sits almost out of sight off a suburban stretch of road in the valley. It is probable that its fading colors catch the peripheral vision of passerbyers, maybe less of those who pass it every day. When the girls and I visited the mural today, it looked in need of attention; not just a touch up -- though it was graffiti-free and not as corroded as I thought it would be -- but just of some appreciation. It seemed alone out there.
Looking down the half mile of the painted flood channel that threads a lush-green pedestrian park was anti-climactic for the girls, I could see. The way I had pumped up The Wall may have warranted this reaction. Maybe they were expecting flashing lights and piped-in music; possibly a digital screen spelling out the mural's significance. I started walking along the chain link fence, telling them to come on. I explained what I knew of the different panels. I didn't know every story, but I hoped some of it, any of it, would be interesting to them. For the first 50 yards their minds wandered. I told them to pay attention. I told Mina to stop hunting for walking sticks, for Maya to slow down and take it in. After about ten minutes, The Wall enveloped us. Some of the stories were familiar to the girls. Some not at all. They slowly became engaged and the details of the mural started to stand out. Like the little seen image of the California lynchings, mainly of Latinos, others of Chinese and blacks, a lot done in the Los Angeles area starting in the 1850's and continuing into the 1930's. They are very aware of the Rosie the Riveter image. They know this symbolizes that women are capable of all things including keeping the country running as men fought in war, but The Wall's panel named Farewell to Rosie the Riveter was a sobering one because it symbolizes post WW II and how women were expected to stuff themselves and their capabilities back into a "traditional" and limited role once men were back to "handle things". After new concepts, Maya would usually only ask, "Why?" I gave Mina the camera and let her take photos how she wanted. And Maya and I talked about why oppressive history isn't told enough. She told me that she had recently learned about Pol Pot of Cambodia, but she learned of him and his massacres in English class. They have been studying poetry and her teacher introduces a lot of underrepresented stories through literature, and Maya wants to know why she doesn't learn about these things in history. Why didn't she know that Thomas Edison was Mexican, born in Mexico, adopted by white American parents? Why would the United States refuse to take in Jewish refugees during World War II like when we turned away the thousand people on the SS St. Louis?Why would the Los Angeles government force Latina families out of their homes in the 1950's without compensation , confiscating 300 acres of Chavez Ravine for their own projects that eventually led to freeways and Dodger Stadium? The girls and I looped the park and spent over an hour looking at the mural and talking. The girls, and me too honestly, are now so used to immediate information at our fingertips -- a history of events as well as the interpretation -- that the slow-building thoughtfulness of the art and the history telling through images was impactful, and long-lasting. We left filled and contemplative. And we hope we kept The Wall company for a little while too.
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