Friday 27 September 2013

The Unpublished 15: América Tropical, Los Angeles

When I visited Los Angeles, USA, in June, I dropped into the newly opened América Tropical Interpretive Centre to research the story of a remarkable mural. 

The first draft of the resulting article for The Age newspaper was too heavy with historic background, so I rewrote its introductory paragraphs to emphasise the contemporary experience.

However, the original intro still makes a good backgrounder, so here it is - followed by a link to the final published story:

Courtesy of the América Tropical Interpretive Centre

In the centre of Los Angeles, a Mexican-born artist stages a protest against the evils of extreme capitalism, imperialism and racism, aiming his scorn directly at the USA.

Sounds contemporary, doesn’t it? The world is still struggling with the aftermath of the global financial crisis triggered by America’s sub-prime mortgage crisis; geo-political tensions between the US and China are growing; and recent outrage over the George Zimmerman trial demonstrates the brittle nature of race relations, notwithstanding the nation’s black president.

It could be today. But it isn’t. The date is October 9, 1932, and a crowd of celebrities, artists and reporters have been summoned to an unusual opening on a rooftop in the city’s El Pueblo district.

This was once the heart of Spanish LA, a village founded by 44 settlers in 1781. Over the centuries it’s become dwarfed by the ever-growing metropolis around it, especially now that the city is the hub of the world’s film industry. 

Rescued from demolition by a nascent conservation movement led by wealthy socialite Christine Sterling, the streets of El Pueblo have undergone a kind of Disney treatment, decked out with a colourful Mexican-style marketplace along with south-of-the-border restaurants.

The latest addition to this Hollywood-style fantasy of an idyllic Mexico of small villages and smiling folk in sombreros is about to be unveiled in the form of a mural by famed Mexican muralist David Siqueiros, contemporary of the great Diego Rivera. 

The América Tropical mural stretches across the upper wall of a building known as the Italian House, facing the beer garden where the glitterati are assembled.

Sterling and her associates are expected a colourful depiction of Mexican jungle and villages to sooth the eye while sipping a beer on a warm LA evening. What they haven’t been aware of – or perhaps haven’t factored in fully – is Siqueiros’ radical past. They’re about to have a big surprise...

Courtesy of the América Tropical Interpretive Centre

Now read on, by following this link to my final published article about América Tropical.

Disclosure time... On this trip I was hosted by the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board. You can discover more about the América Tropical mural here:

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