If 15-year-old Isabel Peinado were to be asked to write an essay on what she did this summer, she could easily start it with “I painted my first public mural in Boyle Heights.”
In fact, the 10th grader at the Los Angeles County High School of the Arts spent about 600 hours –from late June to early August– painting 16 images of inspirational women on the side wall of Ray & Roy’s Market, on the corner of 4th and Camulos Streets.
“This is her 66th day,” her mother Judith Pulido said Saturday. “She’s been here seven days a week. She only took two days off [to go to the beach this summer].”
Judith beamed with pride as she and husband Ricardo and younger son Daniel celebrated with Isabel the unveiling of “Empowerment,” a mural that pays homage to an eclectic group of “inspirational” women that includes labor leader Dolores Huerta and Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, as well as civil rights activist Rosa Parks, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, the late singer Selena Quintanilla Pérez and comedian and TV host Ellen DeGeneres.
In the process of painting “Empowerment,” the budding muralist earned the Girl Scouts’ highest honor, the Gold Award.
“I am so grateful I got to paint this mural in Boyle Heights,” said the teen artist, who lives in Alhambra with her family. “This is an amazing community [and] you all motivated me to keep up with the hard work for such long hours.”
“Seeing the face of little girls passing by and asking questions about the mural gave me a sense of accomplishment.”
The unveiling ceremony, which got ample media coverage and was even a stop on an Eastside visit by a popular tour company, was hosted by 14th district city council representative José Huízar. On Saturday the councilman reminded attendees that Isabel was inspired to undergo the project one day she was walking in downtown Los Angeles with her friends, admiring the city’s murals. One of those friends is the councilman’s daughter Emilia, who shared her friend’s wish with her parents.
The councilman and his wife, Richelle Huízar, helped Isabel secure the wall on Ray & Roy’s, an 80-year-old local market that had recently undergone a change of ownership and renovation. Ángela Yolanda Díaz, the market’s new owner, had complained to the councilman’s office about the constant gang graffiti that appeared on her market’s freshly painted wall.
Once Díaz saw Isabel’s sketches for “Empowerment,” she agreed to pay for the license required by a 2013 city ordinance promoted by Huízar that lifted a ban on murals in public walls.
At Saturday’s ceremony, Díaz first paid “honor and respect” to the late Ray Takahara, the original owner the market, and then joked that Huízar was making the neighborhood look so good “that now everyone wants to live in Boyle Heights.”
Judith Peinado –who is also co-director of Isabel’s Girls Scout troop– said her family not only helped in the arduous painting process, but also in fundraising the $2,500 it cost in paint, scaffolding and other materials.
Judith said that originally the mural was to include only Latina figures, but that the young artist decided it was important to open it up to the more diverse group.
“I want women of all different races to feel they’re represented,” said Isabel, who said she consulted her choice of women with Díaz, her mother and her friends –several of whom also helped her paint. Among her choices, Isabel said she included DeGeneres because she wanted to represent LGBTQ pride and the Virgin of Guadalupe –the most ubiquitous image in Los Angeles murals– because she is Catholic “and she has been a part of my life all my life.”
The other historic figures in the mural are Mexican poet Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, astronaut Mae Jamison, author and activist Hellen Keller, Princess Diana of Wales, campaigner against slavery Susan B. Anthony and author Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston. The mural also includes two generic female figures: one a young girl and the other a mother and child.
The muralist, who began taking art classes at age 5, said she wanted her work to remind everyone of the importance of art education in public schools.
She also said she wanted “to remind people that we are a country of immigrants and that’s what makes us unique and beautiful, like the women in the mural.”
“I also hope this mural inspires little girls to choose any profession or calling that they decided,” she said. “I want them to know anything is possible if you are passionate, hard-working and dedicated to doing what you love.”
This post was rewritten and updated on Aug. 27.