Beloved East San Jose mural painted gray overnight

East San Jose residents are demanding answers after a vibrant, 30-year-old mural was obscured by gray paint on Wednesday.

Artist Jose Vesa Velasquez painted "Mural de la Raza" in November 1985 at 2100 Story Road in collaboration with the Eastside Youth Center. The mural depicts Mexican-American and indigenous history by showcasing local heroes, including Cesar Chavez, Pancho Villa and Dolores Huerta.

Juanita Meza Velasquez, the artist's wife, said he said he was "shocked" to learn it had been painted over. 

"The insensitive disrespect and loss of this art piece is against the law and a detriment to artists, the world of art, and the community who proudly embraced it," Jose Velasquez said in a statement. 

The couple lives in Oakland now, and Juanita said she remembers her husband painting in the hot sun to complete the mural. 

"He did it in record time, he's highly skilled," she said.

She said East San Jose was grappling with infiltration from Los Angeles gangs at the time the mural was painted, and Jose wanted to design a positive influence for children in the area.

When she would visit over the years, she heard children research the figures on the mural for school reports, and saw a mother place photos at the wall after her children were killed by gang violence. 

The mural also depicted Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., she said, inviting neighborhood youth to learn about figures who weren't Latino.

Magdalena Carrasco, San Jose vice mayor and city councilmember, said on Facebook Thursday that she is "devastated" by the loss of the mural. She said she took her children there on numerous occasions.

The building on which the mural is painted is owned by a real estate company, according to Jose Valle, founder of local advocacy group Souleros Ball.

"Not only did we lose our mural, our history and culture, we also lost our education, being that there is currently no mandatory Chicano studies in our public schools," Valle said in a statement published by Carrasco.

Carrasco said she has been communicating with the building's owner and found another place near the building for a new community mural. 

Juanita said Jose is well-versed in laws that protect artists, such as the Visual Rights Act of 1990, and said they are looking into restoring the mural. 

When she first heard about the mural being erased, she said she wondered whether the re-painting had been racially-motivated. 

"I just don't know who did it, or what kind of politics they have," she said. "The fact is, it could turn into a legal matter."