Posing with the tomato she meticulously painted with a toothpick, Ethel Sato, right, joins other artists and well wishers at a dedication for the community mural Saturday, January 15, 2000, at Centinela and Short Avenues in Mar Vista.
Attention Community Shoppers
Community in the Mar Vista-Marina adjacent area laud marketplace painting at a weekend unveiling.
By JOHN LEE
RAFU SHIMPO STAFF WRITER
What goes into a mural?
Displayed in all its brushed acrylic grandeur, the answer sprawls across a 75-by-11-foot stucco canvas facing Centinela Avenue near the border of Mar Vista and Culver City.
"Aloha to the Neighborhood" is the title given the mural work gracing the streetside facade of Aloha Grocery, a project that ran the course of nearly two years, and culminated in efforts by 115 painters, designers and community organizers, between the ages of 3 and upward to 80 years old.
Equal parts community-building project and gift to the grocery's loyal customers, the mural rests outside the business founded 44 years ago by Hiroshi and Alice Uyehara.
Since 1956, the Uyehara family has prepared Japanese American and Hawaiian food for patrons in the Venice-Culver area. Once known for the bean curd of fabled master tofumaker, Hiroshi Uyehara, the grocery is now operated by son and daughter-in-law, Wayne and June Uyehara.
Through research, historical inquiry and public meetings, mural organizers pieced together the area's shared multi-ethnic past, including images and personal histories of the Mexican, Pilipino and Japanese American residents.
To convey the area's history, images were created of an Issei gardener, an immigrant seamstress and several figures representing farm and hotel workers who form a hand-clasped human chain that suggests shared struggle and unity.
Also on the mural is a portrait of Pilipino writer and labor leader, Carlos Bulosan, and the image of Tule Lake camp barracks that recollect the days of wartime captivity when Aloha's founder Uyehara was an internee and No-No Boy (one of the Japanese Americans who responded in the negative to two specific questions on loyalty questionnaires circulated by the U.S. government during World War II).
Jenni Kuida, project co-coordinator, spoke on the mural-making process, commenting on the generosity of spirit that went into the nearly two-year-long process. She also gave shouts out to friends and muralists in the audience who spilled into the grocery's driveway, where the unveiling celebration was staged roadside.
The actual painting process took place over a period of two months ending in September, with volunteers turning out during the course of six weekends, Kuida said. Aside from painting, original sketches had to be translated into wall-sized renderings—at a scale of one inch to one foot; in addition to prepping the "thick stucco" siding with gesso whitewash, Kuida said.
With toothpicks in hand, volunteer Ethel Sato paid particular attention to filling tiny gaps posed by the topographically challenging medium presented by the market wall's thick stucco. Sato's pinpoint accuracy resulted in the speck-free, hothouse red finish of the mural's centerpiece tomato.
Venice Koshin Daiko provided the ceremony's opening beats, followed by the R&B stylings of Jules Ino, who performed songs from a self-produced CD recording called, "Karma, Heart and Soul." Ino said during introductory remarks that she is a 20-year resident of the area.
Nobuko, artistic director of the performing arts group Great Leap, blessed the gathering with a dedication. The day's turnout illustrated a larger point about the mural and its collaborators: that the work is vested in not just physical results, however striking, but speaks to a sense of neighborly care for each other's aesthetic and mental well being.
Describing early impressions of the area and Aloha Grocery, poet Emily Porcincula Lawsin, recounted a tentative first trip taken with then-friend, now-husband, Scott Kurashige, to the Pinoy and JA businesses of the Centinela Avenue strip.
In a poem dedicated, at turns, to author Carlos Bulosan and an unnamed auntie, Lawsin enraptured places once explored, foods tasted and people met, all of which and whom left Lawsin with a familiar feeling in what was, at the time, a new place.
"Something told me that this was home," Lawsin said.
In addition to having volunteered for painting duties, and providing sound tech duties for the weekend program, community recording artists Lee Takasugi and Glenn Suravech performed two songs during the Jan. 15 unveiling. The program was produced by Centinela Community Coalition, Aloha Grocery, Great Leap and Katalyst Productions.
Mural funding came in part from the Los Angeles City Public Works Dept., Operation Clean Sweep, Neighborhood Matching Fund. The artists were particularly appreciative of assistance offered by Angelica Hernandez and Jaime Pacheco-Orozco.
Design and production of the mural was organized by Sergio Diaz, Ayako Hagihara, Tosh Ikiri, Steve Koyama, Darin Kuida, Jenni Kuida, Saori Matsuo, and Tony Osumi. Venice Buddhist Church, Venice Japanese American Citizens League and Venice Japanese Community Center also provided space for the community meetings and oral history organizing which took place prior to painting.
Aloha Grocery is located at 4515 Centinela Ave., Los Angeles, between Washington and Culver boulevards, and is open for business seven days a week. The market offers fresh sushi Monday through Saturday, and by special order. The market recently opened Aloha's Kitchen, home to plate lunch specials, chicken and teri bowls, lomi salad and more.
"I didn't know it was going to be two years," said Jenni Kuida, on the duration of the project. "It was a big project. I don't want to say never (again). But I could use a break. It really was a big project."
A moment of reflection passes, and the hint of weariness in Kuida's voice quickly disappears. "Which just makes me think," she muses on the subject of what the future holds. "If we can do a mural, what else can we make together?"
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