It has taken 80 years, but Los Angeles today does honor to its history. After a painstaking rehabilitation, a long-hidden mural by David Alfaro Siqueiros will be unveiled.
The mural has a rollicking history. It was once the center of controversy, and then it was shrouded for decades. Siqueiros was one of Mexico's great muralists — ranked with Jose Clemente Orozco and Diego Rivera. His radical politics and his bold use of color and arresting imagery won him renown. An ardent Stalinist, he conspired to murder Leon Trotsky after Trotsky settled in Mexico City. That plot failed, but the Mexican government tired of Siqueiros, and he was exiled, settling for a time in the United States. In 1932, while in Los Angeles, he painted three murals here, including "America Tropical" for a rooftop beer garden overlooking Olvera Street downtown.
The original unveiling of "America Tropical" was not exactly what its sponsors had hoped for. The mural's central image is of a Mayan peasant hung on a cross, with an eagle — similar to those Siqueiros had seen on American coins — perched above. It shocked viewers, and a nervous city leadership reacted as insecure leaders often do. Barely six months after the mural was first seen, it was painted over, literally whitewashed.