“Life’s a Risk Carnal” is emblazoned on the side of the tortillería and restaurant named after Los Cinco Puntos, a historic site located at the crossroads of Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles.
It’s an iconic phrase that’s now part of a new mural on the side of the business that pays homage to the cult classic “Blood In, Blood Out,” a movie depicting Chicano culture that features scenes in and outside Los Cinco Puntos. The film — which turns 30 years old this April — focuses on three young men and highlights the different paths they take when it comes to gangs, family, and prison.
Although the film is revered for representing East L.A., it’s also criticized for perpetuating negative stereotypes of gang life in Chicano culture.
Los Cinco Puntos owner Stephen Sotelo commissioned the mural to honor the film that, even after 30 years, continues to attract fans of the movie to visit their business. Sotelo himself was asked to be an extra in the film.
“They paid me fifty bucks,” he said. Taking part in the movie, he felt the need to show his gratitude for the success it brought the business.
“I had no idea what this movie was gonna bring,” Sotelo said.
The mural features one of the main characters, Miklo Velka, who in an opening scene stands in front of the restaurant and declares, “It’s good to be back.” The scene marks his return to East L.A. after leaving Las Vegas following a violent confrontation with his father.
In the mural, Miklo is throwing the fictional “Vatos Locos” gang sign, against a blue and yellow background with another quote that reads: “when you expect nothing and get everything, that’s destiny.”
To Sotelo, the words on the mural mean that “you choose to make what your life is … you can’t blame anybody else, you choose your path.”
The mural, said long-time Cinco Puntos employee Rudy Escote, “helps people know a little bit more, not where Los Cinco Puntos came from, but where that movie has led everything to what we know about East L.A. today.”
Los Cinco Puntos is not just a place to eat, it’s also part of a historical landmark.
The site is a reference to the five points of the intersection of East César E. Chávez Avenue and Lorena and Indiana Streets.
It’s home to two memorial plots honoring Mexican American veterans of World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, where annual Veterans Day ceremonies pay homage to the Eastside’s war fallen soldiers.
In 1969, the site also marked the starting location of the first Chicano Moratorium march against the Vietnam War in East L.A. Since then, other protests have taken place there, including a demonstration by a local group opposed to the construction of a traffic roundabout at the intersection. Some fear the roundabout is a threat to the 75-year-old monument’s original intent.
“I’ve always coined Los Cinco Puntos as the heart of East L.A.,” Sotelo said.
Jorge Parrales, the Nicaraguan-born artist behind the mural, was raised in Boyle Heights and said that being surrounded by graffiti and traditional sign painting has influenced his artistic style.
“I’ve tried to combine the life that I’ve lived, the culture, la raza,” Parrales said. “Something that’s kinda unique, but somewhat commercial at the same time.”
Parrales did receive some criticism on Instagram about his portrayal of Miklo as an “inaccurate” resemblance to Damian Chapa, the actor who portrayed him in the movie. Parrales said he takes pride in his work despite the criticism, and others in the Eastside have positively reacted to the mural.
Through his art business, Casual Living Murals, Parrales has also created murals for local schools. At Felícitas & Gonzalo Méndez High School, Parrales recently painted a mural honoring Sylvia Méndez, a civil rights activist who as a child played an instrumental role in the landmark desegregation case Mendez v. Westminster.
To Parrales, who battled with drug addiction, doing art is also about “getting a second chance.”
Asked why he has chosen to practice his art in the Eastside, Parrales said: “I don’t think there’s anything like Boyle Heights.”
A testament to that is seeing people from outside of California traveling to Los Cinco Puntos.
“It’s really famous in Mexico, for the movie ‘Blood In Blood Out.’ It feels like a dream that we’re here,” said Antonio Hernández, who came from Mexico to visit the restaurant.
On the film’s global impact, Hernández said, “It feels like a hug from Mexico… A very close embrace to all the community.”