LA History

UNCENSORED: Barbara Carrasco’s Mural L.A. History: A Mexican Perspective Returns to Union Station

Nearly 30 years ago, a portable mural about Los Angeles’s history by Chicana artist Barbara Carrasco was temporarily displayed during the 1990 Los Angeles Festival at Union Station. From September 1 to 16, travelers and local residents saw this mural depicting Los Angeles’s history—from its earliest settlements to the 1980s—through fifty-one scenes that unfolded in the strands of a woman’s hair (see legend below).

On View September 29–October 22, 2017
Union Station Ticketing Concourse
800 North Alameda Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012
Free admission; The Mural will be on display from 9:00 am – 7:00 pm, except for the following dates:
(Closed: 10/6 –  Hours TBD;  10/7 –  Closed; 10/13 – Closed; 10/14 – Closed; 10/15 – Closed; 10/19 – Closed: 12:00 p.m. –7:00 p.m; 10/20 – Closed; 10/21 –  Closed)    

Barbara Carrasco in Union Station with L.A. History: A Mexican Perspective, 1990 Courtesy Barbara Carrasco; photo: Harry Gamboa, Jr.

Barbara Carrasco in Union Station with L.A. History: A Mexican Perspective, 1990. Courtesy Barbara Carrasco; photo: Harry Gamboa, Jr.

Mural details, L. A. History: A Mexican Perspective, 1981 Courtesy LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes/California Historical Society Photos: Sean Meredith, Javier Guillen (copyright detail), 2017

Mural details, L. A. History: A Mexican Perspective, 1981 Courtesy LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes/California Historical Society Photos: Sean Meredith, Javier Guillen (copyright detail), 2017

Mural details, L. A. History: A Mexican Perspective, 1981 Courtesy LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes/California Historical Society Photos: Sean Meredith, Javier Guillen (copyright detail), 2017

Mural details, L. A. History: A Mexican Perspective, 1981. Courtesy LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes/California Historical Society Photos: Sean Meredith, Javier Guillen (copyright detail), 2017

Only a decade earlier, the mural was censored by the organization that had commissioned it, Los Angeles’s Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA), who objected to a number of scenes, including some that told troubling but true stories about the experiences of the city’s people of color. The mural was never displayed in its intended location at 3rd and Broadway in downtown Los Angeles during the city’s bicentennial celebrations in 1981.

Two panels of Carrasco’s mural are tested in their intended location near Grand Central Market, 1981. Courtesy of Barbara Carrasco

Two panels of Carrasco’s mural are tested in their intended location near Grand Central Market, 1981. Courtesy of Barbara Carrasco

L.A. History’s intended site, 2017. Courtesy LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes/California Historical Society; photo: Oscar R. Castillo.

L.A. History’s intended site, 2017. Courtesy LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes/California Historical Society; photo: Oscar R. Castillo.

The CRA objected to fourteen scenes, including the Zoot Suit Riots; Japanese American incarceration during World War II; and the whitewashing of América Tropical (1932), a mural by Mexican artist David Alfaro Siqueiros. The agency began voicing its objections to Carrasco’s carefully researched and selected depictions even before the artwork was completed.

Troubling scenes about the city’s history in L.A. History, 2017. (Top to bottom) Zoot Suit Riots; site of 1871 lynching of Chinese railroad workers (red background) and below it famous former slave Biddy Mason; relocation and incarceration of U.S. citizens of Japanese descent during World War II; whitewashing of David Alfaro Siqueiros’s mural América Tropical (1932); journalist Ruben Salazar, who died during the August 29, 1970 Chicano Moratorium march (top right) and urban redevelopment projects such as Dodger Stadium and Bunker Hill, which displaced entire communities of color. Courtesy LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes/California Historical Society; photo: Sean Meredith.

Troubling scenes about the city’s history in L.A. History, 2017. (Top to bottom) Zoot Suit Riots; site of 1871 lynching of Chinese railroad workers (red background) and below it famous former slave Biddy Mason; relocation and incarceration of U.S. citizens of Japanese descent during World War II; whitewashing of David Alfaro Siqueiros’s mural América Tropical (1932); journalist Ruben Salazar, who died during the August 29, 1970 Chicano Moratorium march (top right) and urban redevelopment projects such as Dodger Stadium and Bunker Hill, which displaced entire communities of color. Courtesy LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes/California Historical Society; photo: Sean Meredith.

Troubling scenes about the city’s history in L.A. History, 2017. (Top to bottom) Zoot Suit Riots; site of 1871 lynching of Chinese railroad workers (red background) and below it famous former slave Biddy Mason; relocation and incarceration of U.S. citizens of Japanese descent during World War II; whitewashing of David Alfaro Siqueiros’s mural América Tropical (1932); journalist Ruben Salazar, who died during the August 29, 1970 Chicano Moratorium march (top right) and urban redevelopment projects such as Dodger Stadium and Bunker Hill, which displaced entire communities of color. Courtesy LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes/California Historical Society; photo: Sean Meredith.

Troubling scenes about the city’s history in L.A. History, 2017. (Top to bottom) Zoot Suit Riots; site of 1871 lynching of Chinese railroad workers (red background) and below it famous former slave Biddy Mason; relocation and incarceration of U.S. citizens of Japanese descent during World War II; whitewashing of David Alfaro Siqueiros’s mural América Tropical (1932); journalist Ruben Salazar, who died during the August 29, 1970 Chicano Moratorium march (top right) and urban redevelopment projects such as Dodger Stadium and Bunker Hill, which displaced entire communities of color. Courtesy LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes/California Historical Society; photo: Sean Meredith.

Troubling scenes about the city’s history in L.A. History, 2017. (Top to bottom) Zoot Suit Riots; site of 1871 lynching of Chinese railroad workers (red background) and below it famous former slave Biddy Mason; relocation and incarceration of U.S. citizens of Japanese descent during World War II; whitewashing of David Alfaro Siqueiros’s mural América Tropical (1932); journalist Ruben Salazar, who died during the August 29, 1970 Chicano Moratorium march (top right) and urban redevelopment projects such as Dodger Stadium and Bunker Hill, which displaced entire communities of color. Courtesy LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes/California Historical Society; photo: Sean Meredith.

Troubling scenes about the city’s history in L.A. History, 2017. (Top to bottom) Zoot Suit Riots; site of 1871 lynching of Chinese railroad workers (red background) and below it famous former slave Biddy Mason; relocation and incarceration of U.S. citizens of Japanese descent during World War II; whitewashing of David Alfaro Siqueiros’s mural América Tropical (1932); journalist Ruben Salazar, who died during the August 29, 1970 Chicano Moratorium march (top right) and urban redevelopment projects such as Dodger Stadium and Bunker Hill, which displaced entire communities of color. Courtesy LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes/California Historical Society; photo: Sean Meredith.

Carrasco had created the mural with broad community support. She had interviewed historians and community groups about important aspects of the city’s history. Students from the Summer Youth Employment Program, fellow artists, and even family members had modeled for and helped create the mural. Little did Carrasco imagine that her work would be caught up in a conflict between an institutional version of Los Angeles history and her Chicana, feminist viewpoint.

Carrasco based the mural’s main figure on this photograph of her sister, Frances Carrasco, c. 1981. Courtesy of Barbara Carrasco

Carrasco based the mural’s main figure on this photograph of her sister, Frances Carrasco, c. 1981. Courtesy of Barbara Carrasco

Youth workers paint sections of L.A. History, 1981. Courtesy of Barbara Carrasco.

Youth workers paint sections of L.A. History, 1981. Courtesy of Barbara Carrasco.

Artist Yreina Cervantez paints a section of L.A. History, 1981. Courtesy of Barbara Carrasco.

Artist Yreina Cervantez paints a section of L.A. History, 1981. Courtesy of Barbara Carrasco.

The CRA requested that Carrasco revise L.A. History, but Carrasco refused to change her work. When the agency tried to take ownership of the mural, she moved it to a location in East Los Angeles for safekeeping. After a long dispute, she received legal possession of the mural and control of its content. But because of the controversy, the mural was not shown publicly and remained unseen in its entirety until its two-week display at Union Station during the 1990 Los Angeles Festival.

The forty-three wood and Masonite panels that make up Barbara Carrasco’s censored mural, L.A. History: A Mexican Perspective, currently reside in a Pasadena storage facility, unseen by the public and awaiting a permanent home. Courtesy LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes/California Historical Society; photo: Oscar R. Castillo

The forty-three wood and Masonite panels that make up Barbara Carrasco’s censored mural, L.A. History: A Mexican Perspective, currently reside in a Pasadena storage facility, unseen by the public and awaiting a permanent home. Courtesy LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes/California Historical Society; photo: Oscar R. Castillo

The people of Los Angeles never saw the complete mural again—until now. With no permanent, public home, its forty-three panels are kept in storage at Carrasco’s expense. The mural’s display at Union Station for the first time in more than twenty-five years is an important step in bringing it back to the public—and in recognizing the importance of Chicana/o art in Los Angeles’s public spaces.

Legend, L. A. History: A Mexican Perspective by Barbara Carrasco (click to enlarge). Courtesy LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes/California Historical Society

Legend, L. A. History: A Mexican Perspective by Barbara Carrasco (click to enlarge). Courtesy LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes/California Historical Society.

The installation Uncensored: Barbara Carrasco’s Mural L.A. History: A Mexican Perspective Returns to Union Station is part of ¡Murales Rebeldes! L.A. Chicana/o Murals under Siege, presented by the California Historical Society and LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes in conjunction with the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA initiative.

Above: Barbara Carrasco, L.A. History: A Mexican Perspective, 1981 (censored 1981).
Acrylic on wood and Masonite panels; 16–20 x 80 feet; intended site: 330 South Broadway, Los Angeles
Courtesy LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes/California Historical Society; photo: Sean Meredith, 2017