Sunday, July 25, 2010

Dreaming of Mosaic Mariposas en El Monte

Olga García Echeverría

All mosaic art in this blog by David Corral

I originally wanted to call this blog Tres Mujeres: Un Parque because it's a story about three community women who have been dreaming and fighting for the creation of a park in El Monte. Las tres mujeres, Estela Beltrán, María de JesúsValdéz, and María de Rosario Valdéz, form the Gibson-Mariposa Park Steering Committee and they've been en la lucha for a community park for the past decade.

In these past ten years, there have been, of course, other individuals involved in el esfuerzo (too many to name here), politicians who came and went, organizations, the City, trails of red tape, endless meetings, promises kept and promises broken, and a few false starts. Through it all, las tres mujeres (AKA Las Tres Tercas) have held on steadfast, steering their dream through the ups and downs, refusing to lose hope or vision.

Today, they are closer to realizing their dream than they have ever been. They have 4.3 acres of land reserved for the park (acquired by El City of El Monte in 2005). Thanks to Prop. 40, the Rivers and Mountain Conservancy, SGV Conservation Corps and LA County Prop A, they've been able to secure 3,110,000 thus far. Building and maintaining a park ain't cheap, y'all! Y todavía faltan fondos. In October, they'll find out if they've been awarded a community grant of 2.4 million (made available through Proposition 84). If all goes well, the construction of Gibson-Mariposa Park may begin in October of this year.

The park will include a splash pad, native plants, an outdoor classroom, a tot lot, youth playground, walking trails, basketball courts and other recreational amenities. In addition, the theme throughout the park is butterflies and will be represented in the playground equipment, signage, shade structures and mosaic tiles.

Enter artist David Corral, El Mosaic Mariposa Master who was invited to assist neighborhood residents to create mosaic pieces that will eventually be placed at the park. This weekend I visited Estela Beltrán at her home to learn more about the Gibson-Mariposa Park project. Aside from getting to kick it with Estela and María de Jesus of the Steering Committee, I ate the BEST sardine salad ever, and among the highlights I got to meet David Corral and see some of his colorful and captivating tile work.

Somewhat shy and unassuming, David doesn't really like photos of himself, but he said that if I took one when he wasn't looking, I could use it. Good enough. Had Estela's ensalada and salsa not been so delicious, I could have probably tried to steal more pictures of David over lunch, but it's hard to take pictures when you're fixating on a tender sardine and rabanos that have been cut into flowers. Here's my best and only shot of David. Finally, I can appropriately use the tile-picture effect on my Iphone in a blog!

Ay, to eat sardine after sardine and listen to an artist and women of the barrio talk about dreams and activism and mariposas and art. That's my idea of a wonderful and inspiring afternoon.

David Corral is one of those people who has art pumping through his veins. His father, Raymundo Corral, is a self-taught professional portrait artist who's known for his depictions of the Southwest. David recalls waking up in the mornings and seeing his father painting. "He used to put paintbrushes in our hands as children. He was a really really tough guy. I'm not sure I was able to do things as he wanted, but definitely I learned to value details through him. My grandfather was always taking me to the hardward stores in East Los Angeles as well. He was always fixing and building things and that also had an influence on me."

A union brick layer for 25 years, David's been laying down tiles and creating beautiful floors and tile pieces for businesses, churches, and individuals. However, tile is not just about business, there's passion and art in the cracked pieces and the patterns. In the last few years, David's branched out and begun doing his own artistic mosaics. He started making these in 2008, right around the time he was approached by the Gibson Mariposa Park Steering Committee. "I remember my first attempt at my own mosaic. I started off with a rooster. I was struggling with the piece when Maria called me about the mosaic tiles project at the park. I saw it as an opportunity to really express my artistry in the tile field. Also, it's an opportunity to work with kids. I know there's a lot of kids out there who need to learn skills and express their own talents."

About the mosaic art project David says, "We've just started to lay down the groundwork. We've had about 8 workshops. I've had my ups and downs in this project too. Right now we're waiting for insurance to start up the workshops again. But I'm still here. It’s an opportunity for me to grow as an artist, express myself, expose it and help others realize their talents as well. I grew up in East LA and I’ve always wanted to say to the world that there’s a lot more that comes from East LA than gang banging."

Like these mosaic flowers that David has been working on for the park. The goal of the workshops is to get children and adults in the community involved and teach them how to make these mosaics as well, so that they can eventually be displayed at the park.

To contact David about his tile and art work: or via phone (323) 385-1651.

I can't end this blog without saying a little bit about the women I've met from the Gibson-Mariposa Steering Committee. I first met Estela Beltrán earlier this year at a StoryCorps event where I read poetry. She came up to me after my reading and we hit it off immediately. At 86, Estela is full of chispas, a real firecracker. Aside from being passionate, she's charismatic, bien chistosa, and full of charm.

Originally from Zacatecas, Zacatecas, México, Estela came to the U.S. in 1928. "I was a little girl in the time of the depression. There were many things we didn't have, but we were creative. We didn’t have a ball to play with, but we stuffed a paper bag and played volleyball. In many ways, we didn’t know we were poor because everyone was poor. But when I found out that other people had radios and other stuff, I thought ¿Y por qué nosotros, no? So, I’d go out to the churches and learn to sing En la luz que te da Jesus and I'd bring back milk and bread for my younger siblings. I’d go out to the railroads too. Back then they’d throw carrots, papas, cebollas from the trains and I’d take whatever I could get my hands on. The adults got the bigger vegetables, but as a child I was able to get pieces/scraps and carry them back in a mochila that my mother had made me just for this specific purpose. Even though we were very poor, I remember that near the railroad, under a bridge there was always a pot boiling and you had to put something in the pot. A vegetable or two, whatever you could. This was for the homeless. It made an impression on me. There are always those who need and even when we don't have a lot, we can give and help one another."

Estela worked as a community liaison at Shirpser Elementary for over 30 years, where she met with parents, organized trips, held garage sales, and generally looked out for the needs of the local children. "I originally wanted a boys & girls club, where the kids in the area could play chess, take classes, explore, do things that children are supposed to do in order to grow and feel confident in the world. Some of our kids had never been to the beach, never been to the music center, never been camping, so we organized, got parents involved and we made all of these things happen." Ten years ago, the desire for a boys & girls club eventually led to a community effort for a local park.

Enter María Jesús Valdéz and María de Rosario Valdéz, two of the parents who began working with Estela and eventually got involved with the park effort. Unfortunately, María de Rosario couldn't make it to our small gathering, so I had to eat her share of the sardines, but I did get to chat a bit with la otra María. María Jesús Valdéz was born in Jerez, Zacatecas. In 1962, when María was 5 years old, her parents migrated to the U.S.

Although María grew up during the Civil Rights Movement, she recalls her parents were very protective. "Mostly we stayed at home. I didn't really get involved during that time. I never imagined myself as a community activist of any kind. I got married very young, at 17. I have six children, ranging from 34 to 14. My husband was a bit old fashioned and he didn't really like me going out. When I first met Estela at Shirpser Elementary school she was always pushing me, Ándale María. Muévete. She'd ask me What are you doing at home? She wanted me to get out of the house and do other things. I would answer I have housework and kids. She didn't accept my answer. She'd tell me to do the housework early, so I'd have time to do other things, like get involved with the community at the school."

Eventually María de Jesús did just that. When Estela invited her to be part of the steering committee for the park, María's first reactions was "I don’t want to be a metiche. We laugh about it now," she shares. "Estela said, Is that what you think of me? It’s been an a great experience. I never would have imagined I’d be doing this work and for so long. Sometimes my sisters are surprised to see me active and in the newspaper. We didn't grow up like that and they ask me, What are you doing?! I laugh. I don’t know, I tell them. I’m involved!"

It's a beautiful thing to be involved. Felicidades a estas mujeres who have not given up on their dream. I'll say goodbye with a story that Estela shared about a little boy in the community who came up to her many years ago when they had just begun the struggle for the park. The young boy was riding his bike and said, "Ms. Beltrán, when we get the park, le voy a dar un ride en mi bika." Gotta love the Spanglish. 10 years later, she ran into the same boy, now a young man. "Are you still going to give me a ride in your bika when we get the park?" She asked. He laughed. "Ah noooo. Now it will have to be a ride en mi motorcycle!" I can't wait to see Estela riding circles around the park on the back of a motorcycle. I can see her wearing one of her fancy hats, brindando gritos y ajuas a El Monte. "I'm gonna be so happy," she adds. "I may even do a blackflip, so have the ambulance ready, okay?"


Anonymous said...

Your writing is so lame.

Anonymous said...

to "Anonymous" - get a life pendejo/a!

My mother, Estela is "La Major Terca". My daughter Mary, Estela & I met you at your reading for Story Corp at KPCC a few months ago. We love your writing!
Estela is with me now dictating a response to your Mariposa blog. She says to tell you,"Preciosa Olga, que gusto me dio en leer el articulo que presentaste. Estoy muy agradecida, y hablo de parte de las otras dos! Happy to see a photo of David, a very private and special man, and because of your article we hope he is back with us on our project. Looking forward to having you back to be with us, me, my frends and my family. Hope you are well. Please call me!". Estela

Mom of 5 said...

I’m reading this almost 9 years after it was published, I went to Shirpser Elementary School in El Monte way back in the 80’s I don’t remember all of my teachers but I do remember Mrs. Beltran.... Wow I’m so glad I came across this article it took me back to my elementary school days now I’m a 42 year old married mother of 5. Thanks for publishing.