• Gabriel San Roman

Slingshot: 'Poderosas' Mural in Costa Mesa Pays Homage to Latinas!

Updated: Oct 12


A residential brick wall facing Baker Street in Costa Mesa will soon be fully transformed into "Poderosas," a rare work of public art in Orange County honoring Latinas. An all-women crew led by artist Alicia Rojas is busily applying  the finishing touches ahead of the mural's big unveiling. That's when the gallery of portraits will take center stage against a verdant backdrop. 


Camilo Romero first conceived of turning the six-foot wall of his mother's house into a seventy-four feet wide canvas. The former Orange County resident now works as a lawyer with ReGeneración Colombia, a peace-building initiative he co-founded. Back home amid the pandemic, Romero had two upcoming birthdays on his mind, that of Isabel, his mother, and Frances Muñoz, the first mexicana judge in California. 


"This wall here at my mom's house has always been bare," he says. "Then I thought, 'what if we actually do a mural on it.' But then, the wall is too big for just two women."


When searching for an artist to bring the idea into being, Romero turned to Rojas, a fellow Colombian American. "The heart of his vision was to celebrate the immigrant women in his life," says Rojas. "At this moment in time, it's really important to do a project like this." 


Most of the portraits are dedicated to Romero's family, including his abuela, mother, sisters and nieces. The others are history-making Latinas the likes of Modesto Avila, Sylvia Mendez, Dolores Huerta, and Muñoz, who Governor Jerry Brown appointed to the Orange County Harbor Judicial District in 1978. 


Cristina Prada, Romero's abuela, arrived to the United States from Bogota, Colombia on a visa. She raised her daughter Isabel while working as a housekeeper at Newport Beach's Hoag Hospital, Anaheim Resort hotels and John Wayne's home. Prada's sacrifices gave opportunities for her grandchildren to become professionals in the trades of law and medicine. 


"She's been the epitome of that story of the American Dream, which can often be a nightmare," says Romero. 


On experimental treatments, Prada has survived the odds of terminal cancer for the past two years heading towards her 90th birthday. In other words, she's a poderosa. 


The mural also gave Rojas the opportunity to pay homage to Avila, one of her heroines. After obstructing the pathway of a Santa Fe Railroad track by her San Juan Capistrano home in protest, Avila became OC's first felon in 1889. 


"I've always wanted to honor Modesta," says Rojas. "She's an important part of Orange County's history. I would like for more people to know her story even if we're still trying to figure out her story." 


The only known image of Avila remains her booking photo, one that Rojas reimagined in "Poderosas" by adding color to it. 


Work on the mural began in earnest on September 14, Isabel's birthday. Just three days later, the crew unveiled Muñoz's portrait, a surprise for her 90th birthday.


"All these women are guerreras," says Rojas. "To me, they're luchadoras, son chingonas! I see myself in these women and these stories." 


The portraits are works of digital art, pushing Rojas outside her comfort zone. They're affixed to the brick wall, but not permanently. For the backdrop, a multigenerational squad of mujeres (Adriana Martinez, Briyana Negrette, Maria Reyna, Yenny Bernal and Marina Aguilera) assembled. 


"I thought it would be beautiful to have the women in between plants, bees, and butterflies," says Rojas. "The portraits are going to be temporary until the end of the year. Mi anhelo es que el mural tiene alas and is going to fly to different neighborhoods."


Funding for the mural project itself came from Community Engagement; Rojas credits board member Yvonne Flores for helping to make it all come together. Photographer Jenny Lynn is capturing the creative process along the way through a timelapse. 


Part of the Poderosas project will also include a companion coloring book. Romero penned bilingual poetry that will accompany the portraits, very much in line with his humanitarian work with ReGeneración Colombia. A thousand copies will be printed up through the Dolores Huerta Foundation. 


"The messaging on the mural is, 'Cuál es tu paz?", says Romero. "Each woman has her peace underneath her. We build community as we create projects like this." 


CORRECTION: Poderosas will be unveiled on Monday, Oct. 12 at 10 a.m. on the corner of Baker Street and Killybrooke Lane in Costa Mesa. 


- Gabriel San Román


Like what you're reading so far? This independent newsletter in OC depends on readers like YOU! To keep the Slingshot! flinging the truth Venmo: @Gabriel-SanRoman-2.


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Your Mouse Muckraker / Photo by Federico Medina


Mouse Muckraker


After six months of being rendered useless by the pandemic, it finally happened: my Disney annual pass expired for good.  Yes, you read that right. I'm a "passhole" (or at least, I was). Prior to going back to the park in 2017, I abstained from Disneyland for about 20 years, if not longer. When I finally returned, I wondered if the Skyway still hovered above. As it turns out, those darn Disney execs took the attraction down long ago!  When asked once by a trio of Disneyland Resort employees from the Harbor Point office if I visited the park or had an annual pass, I didn't flinch in answering yes to both. One busted out in laughter. What? I've been a lifelong Angels fan, too. That doesn't mean I jump up and down like a rally monkey for Arte Moreno's stadium swindles.  Besides, I've run into many activists, community organizers, unionists and even a Chicano Studies profe at the theme park. And unleashing my inner Disnerd allowed me to be a much better living wage reporter and columnist instead of sounding like a wokoso.  But that's the past. If the park ever reopens in 2020, I'm staying outside the gates and have no interest in a pandemic-related extension for all the months missed out on.  A few months ago, I endured almost an hour of Disney pop songs on the phone to speak with a cast member. She kindly processed my refund requests. Even passes paid in full are eligible. Monthly payment passes are a bit different, with requested postponements allowing for payments to resume when the parks reopen.  Here's the kicker, though. Even with my pass already expired, the Mouse House won't start processing a refund until the parks finally re-open. I can't complain too much. Getting my pass turned out to be mistake, even before the pandemic, as OC Weekly ended up shutting down just a few weeks afterward. Oops! 


Pro-tip: if anyone hasn't sorted this all out for themselves yet, here's the number to call: 714-781-4567. Hang tight! 


Naranja Notes


Whether it comes to the history of the Ku Klux Klan or the so-called "Kropke files," Brea sure doesn't like to interrogate documents with any whiff of intellectual rigor. Ever since pulling the Slingshot back on the smear campaign against Keri Kropke, a Brea Olinda Unified School District trustee, I've been following up with the city's police department. 


As readers recall, a letter by the interim police chief to the city council insinuated that Kropke used profanity against police officers and the law enforcement profession. A more detailed after-action report prepared by Captain Dickinson further claimed that a woman believed to be Kropke berated Sgt. Bob Haefner with expletives, an exchange he relayed to Sgt. Celmer.


With that, I pressed Lt. Philip Rodriguez to send me digital audio recorder files from Haefner, especially since none were uploaded to the Kropke files. After much back and forth, Rodriguez claimed that no such audio files existed from the June 30 protest. 


That's convenient! 


Following up, I requested more files from Celmer's device, since none of the existing files on record corroborated the Dickinson memo. Rodriguez responded by telling me that no additional files from his device existed. 


Taken all together, no audio or video files can corroborate the claims that Kropke used profanity against a policeman or engaged in anti-cop chants. 


As to why Sgt. Haefner didn't have his DAR device turned on at all during the protest? Rodriguez pretended not to see my question on more than one occasion. 


Stay classy, Brea! 


Lead image: Work in progress / Courtesy the Coalition

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