Update: The Emigdio Vasquez mural will be included in the Getty Center’s 2017 Pacific Standard Time exhibition, a vast series of linked exhibitions that will open across Southern California in September.
As if he can trace the years through his latex glove, artist Higgy Vasquez runs three fingers over a patch of stucco warmed by the winter sun. “This is our neighborhood,” he says, pulling a paint brush from his hip pocket. “We grew up here.”
Vasquez recently did return home for a time – to North Cypress Street in Orange, just west of Chapman University’s main campus – to restore a 34-year-old mural created by his father, acclaimed artist Emigdio Vasquez. The mural on two outside walls of an apartment complex “tells a story of struggle, of history and of the daily lives of the people in the neighborhood,” Higgy Vasquez says.
Chapman purchased the property as campus housing and hired Vasquez to restore the mural in the same spirit of historical stewardship that gave new life to the 1928 Cypress Street Schoolhouse a few blocks away. That site is the last remaining Mexican-American segregated school in Southern California, and it now houses Chapman’s Early Human and Lifespan Development Research Facility. The site “reminds us of where we started and how far we have all come,” says Leo Castro, president of the Orange Barrio Historical Society.
Similarly, the mural has an iconic presence in the neighborhood. It illustrates 450 years of Mexican-American culture, depicting an Aztec warrior, immigrant farmers and labor leader Cesar Chavez among its scenes. The mural has had some sketchy moments in its own history, but now that the restoration nears completion, there’s comfort in knowing “it will be around for a very long time to come,” Vasquez says.