By Len Ramirez

SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) — A muralist in the South Bay is vowing to fight back after a beloved piece of his work was recently erased in the dark of night.

69-year-old Jose Mesa Velasquez returned to the wall in East San Jose where he created an iconic mural 33 years ago.

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Last week, it was suddenly and possibly unlawfully erased when a work crew painted it over.

Within two days, graffiti taggers took advantage of the blank space as if to add insult to injury.

“Well, I’m very angry because they destroyed this mural,” said Mesa Velasquez.

It was known as the “Mural de la Raza.” It depicted 500 years of Chicano and East San Jose history.

It had become a local landmark.

Old newspaper reports say Mesa Velasquez donated $25,000, creating it over 8 weeks in 1985 with the help of area teens to bring peace to the streets.

“50 young people helped on this mural.  It was to stop the graffiti and you know, stop the gang fights,” explained the artist.

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Mesa Velasquez was joined by about 100 supporters on Sunday, many of them artists themselves.

“These walls have been painted for many many years now with historical murals that relate to our culture, our history and it’s being defaced,” said artist Carlos Perez.

The building has been vacant since the Payless shoe store went out of business.

Vice Mayor Magdalena Carrasco’s office said it recently changed hangs.

“We do have the property owner’s name. We’re trying to track down her contact information. It just closed escrow this week,” said the Vice Mayor’s Chief of Staff Frances Hebert. “Then she had her crew come over and paint over the mural without notice to the artist as required by the state law.”

The law does not prevent murals on private buildings from being destroyed, but the owner is subject to fines for not following the law.  Mesa Velazquez says he wants to file a case.

“I need the people who destroyed my mural to pay,” said the artist.

Although the community is very interested in seeing if they can somehow restore this mural, it doesn’t end there. There’s now talk of a movement being fueled to preserve and create cultural icons in San Jose.

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“I think that we can move this in a positive way to make sure that this doesn’t keep happening,” said Perez.