Great Wall of Los Angeles

There are few who would argue with the fact that Los Angeles is one of the most major metropolitan cities in the United States. Because of its preeminent status as an urban environment which is on par with (and in some ways surpassing) other dominant urban environments in the country such as New York, Chicago, and San Francisco, Los Angeles is representative of the general melting pot motif in which this country was founded. There are a variety of people and cultures living and expressing themselves within Los Angeles, all in relative close proximity to one another and all of them sharing the city and its resources in mutuality. This degree of variety found within the city is perhaps best expressed through art, which is a universal means of communication and voicing of feeling. As such, there are certain works of art created in and around Los Angeles that speaks to the many social and political issues that having such a wide range of people in as close a space as Los Angeles provides. In that respect, the Great Wall of Los Angeles expresses the social and political concerns of Los Angeles by celebrating its diversity and demonstrating some of the more salient points of interactions between its many different cultures.

Quite literally, the Great Wall of Los Angeles is representative of the pastiche that contemporary Los Angeles has come to manifest, as well as of California history in general (Wikipedia). The history of the creation of this mural certainly attests to this fact. In addition to portraying many different nationalities, ethnicities, races, and types of people, the mural was also created by the same set of variations of artists. The subsequent quotation readily confirms this fact.

Begun in 1974 and completed over five summers, the Great Wall employed over 400 youths and their families from diverse social and economic backgrounds working with artists, oral historians, ethnologists, scholars and hundreds of community members (SPARC).

This mural, therefore, is not only a celebration of diversity in terms of socio-economic factors of the constituents who were brought in to work on it -- it is also a celebration of the diversity of disciplines and scholasticism required to accurately portray such a lengthy and wide-spanning history of the city of Los Angeles. Artists worked side by side with historians to erect this work, and to ensure that there was a degree of accuracy in the legacy which it portrays. Formal academic scholars worked in conjunction with those who specialized in the study of particular ethnicities to reinforce the cultural veracity that the wall displays and for which it has come to be known. Therefore, the mural is the product of a composite of different disciplines. The fact that individuals from diverse areas of erudition combined to work on this project in conjunction with ordinary laymen ("community members") is indicative of the fact that this degree of diversity -- of which Los Angeles has a long history of -- is representative of the diversity that the mural's images celebrate. In this respect this work of art is a case in which its form (and creation) mimics its content.

The content of the wall itself is one of the most compelling indications that the wall not only takes pride in displaying the diversity that Los Angeles is emblematic of, but also illustrates some of the more eminent points of interactions between all of the different heritages and cultures portrayed within it. Since this wall renders various scenes in the lengthy history of the city, it is noteworthy that the compilation of these different time periods is in and of itself demonstrative of a diversity of scenes and temporal elements, all of which combined to make the city as varied (and at this point as integrated) as it is. Still, an analysis of some of the different historical epochs portrayed in the mural reveals some of the critical points of interaction between the various heritages that populated Los Angeles at a given point in time. One of the most prominent of these epochs is the 1940's, in which there was a plethora of intercultural activity. The 1940's was the time in which the bulk of World War II was fought. This war not only pitted conventional Anglo-Saxon/Europeans against one another in the form of Hitler and the Axis powers against the Allies (of which the United States was a pivotal partisan), but also involved a host of other cultures including Japanese and Japanese-Americans, African-Americans, and Jews -- all of whom called Los Angeles home at some point. The mural renders a terrifying replica of Hitler calling for global agitation and war alongside images of Jewish people fleeing from Europe to North America. It depicts U.S. Army forces composed of Japanese and Anglos flying overseas to engage Hitler during a time in which African-American men also would have a substantial involvement in the martial efforts of the U.S. Additionally, the time-honored struggle of race in America is also shown in this segment, as there is a particularly poignant scene of an African-American child who "dies unnecessarily because of the refusal of a southern hospital to treat him for loss of blood" (SPARC, no date). Other forms of racism -- such as the fact that Japanese-American citizens were herded into internment camps despite the fact that Italian and German one were not -- are also shown on the wall. All of these different cultures could be found in Los Angeles during this time period, and played a critical role in developing the legacy and history of this city.

Another fact about the mural that reveals that it is highly representative of the diversity that has come to encompass Los Angeles is the many different cultures that participated in the erection of the mural. Many of these cultures are depicted in the Great Wall, which emphasizes the fact that the wall is representative of the diversity and the social and political issues that attends such diversity within a major metropolis such as Los Angeles. The 1940's section of this wall was created in 1981. In a photograph of the artists and youths that were responsible for this section of it, one can easily view African-Americans, Latinos/Chicanos, Anglo Saxons, and Asian people. Although these individuals are not directly depicted in the mural, it is still very important to note that they painted this section of the mural to show the modern diversity that encompasses Los Angeles. There is a degree of preeminence associated with this fact because their collaborative effort is demonstrative of the sort of collaboration of cultures that the 1940's section of this mural illustrates. From a strictly social perspective then, the different nationalities and cultures involved in the rendering of the 1940's part of the Great Wall is representative of the fact that many of the cultures depicted in this city can work together, both for one another and for the greater good of Los Angeles -- which certainly is reflective of an underlying political value of their synthesis.

This political valuation of the collaboration between the different artists who worked on this section of the wall is also alluded to in other scenes illustrated within it. One may argue that the present population of Los Angeles is dominated by Latinos, and they are certainly figured prominently in the photograph of the laborers for the 1940's scene. If the waging of World War II was the most overt political event shown in the wall during the 1940's, the fate of Latinos involved in that affair -- and their treatment back home in Los Angeles -- is most representative of the political nature of this segment. Subsequently, there is a degree of emphasis on the so-called Zoot Suit riots which took place within this time frame and which occupies an eminent place on the wall. The political irony of the Zoot Suit riots is steeped in the social discord that was rampant in Los Angeles and in other parts of the country approximately 20 years before the Civil Rights movement began in earnest. The following quotation elucidates this social paradox fairly well and discusses the fact that the mural contrasts images of David Gonzalez, a local Chicano Congressional Medal of Honor winner, is shown standing with his mother…In the next panel, taxis bring servicemen into Los Angeles for the Zoot Suit Riots in which Mexican-American boys wearing Zoot Suits were stripped and beaten by marines with the consent of the police (SPARC).

Thus, it is quite apparent that the political and social concern addressed in this section of the mural relates to the fact that Chicanos or Latinos were deemed good enough to fight in wars for Americas, while domestically this same culture was subject to brutality and an organized form of police torture. These concerns go beyond mere social ones and hint at the political corruption apparent in a system that is ultimately condemning a group of people to die both overseas…