By Samantha Olmos
The prideful phrase “Somos Boyle Heights” is boldly written on three new murals that recently appeared in the neighborhood. All within a one-mile radius near the neighborhood’s Western edge, they are painted on the walls of some of the neighborhood’s busiest streets. As residents pose to take photos next to their brightly colored images, the themes of food culture and resilience from the community are visible.
On the side wall of El Norteno de Savy Store, on St Louis St and Cesar Chavez, one of the murals depicts the hands of a woman making tortillas. Colorful patterns of cactuses, corn, avocados, and limes surround her hands. Kalli Arte, the collective made up by Boyle Heights natives Adriana Carranza and Alfonso Aceves, says on its Instagram page that the mural is dedicated to “everyone who feeds and cares for us.”
The second mural can be found on La Casa Del Músico on First St and State St, across from the famous Jim’s restaurant. It displays a papel picado with cutouts of mariachis playing the trumpet, horse shoes, palm trees, and one of the bridges that connects Boyle Heights to Downtown. The papel picado sits on an electricity line surrounded by monarch butterflies, which artist Hector Arias uses to represent individuals protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), also known as Dreamers.
The final mural can be found two blocks East, on First St and Boyle Ave, on the side wall of Cerda’s Upholstery shop across from Mariachi Plaza. This mural by Levi Ponce and Marlene Solorio contains portraits of ten chosen personalities from the neighborhood, along with food images of paletas, conchas, and street tacos. Those personalities range from owners of local businesses such as the Casa Fina Restaurant, the barbershop Boyle Heights Kutz, and La Casa del Mariachi store. There are also images of musicians and artists like Sammy Quetzalli, a spoken word poet.
Quetzalli believes the project is an attempt to “portray the neighborhood of Boyle Heights in a positive and beautiful manner” and says each individual who is depicted in the mural was intentionally chosen because of their engagement in the community.
“Somos Boyle Heights” is actually a campaign created by food delivery service DoorDash. It mirrors a similar short film project done in New York City that documents NYC restaurants and the role they play in their neighborhoods, titled “Soul of the City”.
“We hope the community feels proud of these interactive murals as a way of celebrating the people, spirit and vibrant culture of Boyle Height,” said Monisha Lewis, Senior Manager of Consumer Marketing at DoorDash.
She added that murals were chosen for this project because of the connection they share with the way individuals in the community express themselves.
Unlike traditional murals in the community, the three murals are meant to be interactive and feature a QR code that lead individuals to the website somosboyleheightsfilm.com, developed for the campaign. Asides from a short SBH documentary that “celebrates the stories of the barrio,” there are additional photos of local business owners with captions about their connection to Boyle Heights. Residents may also submit photographs of themselves at the mural sites and share similar captions of what Boyle Heights means to them.
Quetzalli, the spoken word artist, said he initially felt doubtful about joining SBH because he did not want to be part of a project that seemed like a form of advertisement for DoorDash. But aside from the QR codes, Quetzalli said he has yet to see any form of direct advertisement displayed on any of the three murals.
“I’m glad they are putting money into our neighborhood because I think our neighborhood deserves all the different kinds of funding from places like Doordash, with no strings attached,” he said.
Murals funded by corporations for strict marketing and advertising purposes are not a new concept in Boyle Heights. In late 2020, the “Culture is Power” mural appeared on the building adjacent to George’s Burger Stand on César Chávez Avenue. Sponsored by Cerveza Montejo, the mural pays homage to the lowrider culture popular among the Eastside.
Earlier this year, a short-lived mural was painted on the Southwest corner of State and First, to promote the premiere of the new season of the FX series “Mayans.”
Nonetheless, murals continue to instill feelings of pride within community members. A life-long Eastside resident who wishes to be referred to as Los Angeles Eyes, posted a video of the St Louis and Chavez mural on his Instagram blog adding: “Los Angeles murals have always spoken stories from our past and present generations. Somos Boyle Heights from the well known tiendas, long time community based residents, [and] the murals representing the roots of our long term established neighborhoods.”
Quetzalli says he has received positive feedback for his appearance on the mural and hopes it remains positive because “the faces that are up on the mural are people that are definitely from the neighborhood.”
Lewis said there is no plan for the DoorDash murals to be removed and that she hopes “they become permanent installations that are embraced by the local Boyle Heights community.”
This story was updated on Aug. 11 to correct misspelling of business name and add details.