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The artist whose mural on LGBT love that has been vandalized at least four times said on Saturday at a community forum that he failed to foresee the impact and called the vandalism an attempt to “erase” the homosexuality that is a part of Latino and cholo culture.

“All of a sudden it got vandalized, and I realized I was in this bubble,” said Manuel Paul, a Los Angeles artist who came up for the forum held on Saturday morning and sponsored by the Galería de la Raza. “Once it broke out into the real world it got really scary.”

Paul drew inspiration from his personal nostalgia of growing up as a gay man in a Chicano household while creating a mural depicting queer ‘cholos’ – a strict taboo in the Lowrider culture that he aimed to challenge.

“What I learned (from the vandalism) is that they say it didn’t exist,” said the digital artist who is a member of the Maricón Collective, a group of queer Chicano artists and DJs that celebrate LGBT people of color through art and music. “But I was around it. I grew up with all of this, and they just want to erase it and keep erasing it — and they burned it down to try to erase it again.”

Vandals made their disapproval of the mural’s subject matter evident with multiple attacks in just a month’s time — the last resulting in a late night fire that destroyed a third of the mural and endangered residents who live above the Galería at 24th and Bryant streets. Others vocalized their opposition in a flurry of social media posts.

“The dialogue through social media really turned me off the internet because there was so much negativity being spewed out,” said Paul. “Reading all these comments, they’ve made their message really clear.”

Social justice artist and educator Nancy Pili, who was also on Paul’s panel at the Mission Campus of City College, called the destruction of the mural ‘reactionary vandalism.’

“All of the murals that I’ve ever worked on that have gotten on the front page have never been me painting flowers,” said Pili. “That’s part of the push that public art does – we take public space and we assert the fact that we exist.”

The panels on Saturday were meant to encourage a community conversation about art, the Latino community, homophobia and restorative justice. While some noted the absence of those opposed to the “Por Vida” mural, there were some noteworthy exchanges.

Among the accusations hurled at Paul in social media was one that the mural perpetuates ‘culture vulturism’ meaning the portrayal of the cholos culture by non-cholos and done by someone — Paul — who is not from the Mission.

“I do see cultural appropriation on 24th Street — every single day,” said Pili. “I do think that Galeria could take that space and criticism that there is more of a need for local folks to have a role in creating public art in that space.”

Those in the audience also spoke of the homophobia and others on the panels said it was rooted in a colonized mentality and fear that produced a machismo culture that needs to be addressed and deconstructed.

“When I came out to my mother, she said ‘I’d rather you be a heroin addict, a murderer, in jail…if it weren’t for your sister I’d commit suicide,’” said Joey Terrill, an AIDS cultural activist and and formative figure in the Chicano art movement. ”That was the response from my mother who I knew loved me very much — and I realize that this was the way my mother was raised to believe. She had to learn.”

Through her work as SF Goodwill’s Criminal Justice and reentry manager, panelist Joanna Bermudez-Hernandez emphasized the importance of building support groups for queer youth coming out, as well as making services available to their families who may be struggling with acceptance.

Bermudez-Hernandez founded Young Queens on the Rise, a support group for young at-risk girls struggling with gangs and the juvenile system. The youth advocate said that a restorative justice approach is crucial in dealing with the issues that are at the core of the Por Vida vandalization.

“The way we were brought up, homophobia is not something we talked about,” said Bermudez-Hernandez, adding that there were other things families wanted to hide. “When my son was incarcerated, my mother said– ‘Don’t’ tell anyone. Tell them he’s in Canada.’”

“Its not just about locking them up and throwing away the key — its about educating our young people about giving back to the community that was harmed. We need to have those blunt, forceful conversations,” she added.

At the end of the day, Ani Rivera, the executive director of the Galería, said she hoped it was “one of many conversations we will have.”

“Hopefully we can grow from here,” she added.

Panelist Joanna Bermudez-Hernandez speaks on restorative justice at ‘Por Vida’ community forum

Carlos (Kookie) Gonzales, a local artist and former juvenile probation officer, talking about homophobia in the Latino community.
At a public forum held on July 25th, 2015 at City College Campus in the Mission. Sponsored by Galería de la Raza to have a community conversation about the vandalism of the Manuel Paul mural, Por vida.