New mural coming to West Long Beach, honoring faith and student success

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The mural design for “Sacred As the Sun” was a collaborative effort between artist Jose Loza, the nonprofit Centro CHA and West Long Beach community members. (Emma DiMaggio | Signal Tribune)

By January, West Long Beach will receive its newest mural, courtesy of local artist Jose Loza in collaboration with the nonprofit Centro CHA.

On the afternoon of Saturday, Dec. 19, Loza was hard at work on the piece. The skin of his hands peeked through fragments of dry paint that enveloped his palms.

It’s a familiar look for Loza, whose murals speck Long Beach and Los Angeles County. He’s become known for his focus on immigrant narratives, a theme that rings true in “Sacred As the Sun.”

“It runs parallel to what I do. I’m just very curious in trying new things every time I do a new project,” Loza said. “For me, just doing something new, especially like this mural, always finding a challenge and bringing in these community aspects.”

Artist Jose Loza and community member Alfredo Gomez work on the mural “Sacred As the Sun” on the wall of Gonzalez Tax & Insurance Services on Saturday, Dec. 19. (Emma DiMaggio | Signal Tribune)

The mural is currently in progress, coming to fruition one stroke at a time with an expected completion of Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021.

Loza drew inspiration from the community, who were consulted in the design process of the mural.

“The main focus is the image of the Virgin Mary,” he said. “The reason that’s up there is because it has religious and cultural significance.”

The mural is located at 2000 Santa Fe Ave. in the heart of a community with high populations of Latino and Filipino residents, both of whom practice Catholicism.

The visage of the Virgin Mary is framed by images of two graduates, alluding to “aspirations for the future, for goals,” he said, “especially for a lot of the youth.”

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“It has to do with, not [specifically] just graduating high school, but also going further if one wants to,” he said.

The mural is adjacent to Cabrillo High School and is less than a block away from the Mary Molina Community Garden.

“The cool thing about these projects is that we also work with the community,” Loza said. “It’s also about, not just me painting it and getting out of here, it’s about how we involve people with the project.”

Artist Jose Loza works on the mural “Sacred As the Sun” in West Long Beach on Saturday, Dec. 19. (Emma DiMaggio | Signal Tribune)

Though Loza is heading the mural, the piece is a collaboration with the community. He and Centro CHA organized times for kids to help paint the mural, three at a time to adhere to social distancing guidelines.

On Saturday, Alfredo Gomez, who Loza jokingly referred to as the “Mayor of West Long Beach,” came to help him paint. Armed with a canopy to fight off the sun and woven brimmed hats, the pair paced back and forth between the shaded paint table and their 12-foot canvas.

As the smell of asphalt and gravel wafted through the air, the two laid down oranges, purples and greens to the once-barren wall.

“It’s the neighborhood where I lived all my life,” Gomez said. “It’s something that I can drive by and show my kids that I was a part of, and that’s a big win for me.”

This is Loza’s first mural in about two years and he’s thankful for the opportunity to reconnect with the community after months of self-quarantine.

“While you’re taking breaks, people come in. We had Alfredo’s mom bring us tacos right now,” he said. “People walk up, they start talking to you, they tell you their stories. It frames the whole experience and makes it really unique.”

The mural is expected to be unveiled on Jan. 9, 2020. To keep up with the mural’s progress, readers can follow Jose Loza on Instagram at @jmloza_art.