Santa Ana family shows solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement while sheltering at home

Albert Lopez Jr.
Albert Lopez Jr. and his family completed a rooftop project on their Santa Ana home to support Black Lives Matter.
(Courtesy of Albert Lopez Jr.)

“Change starts within the home,” said Santa Ana-based artist Albert Lopez Jr. over the phone.

He’s talking about the responsibility as a parent to engage with their children on issues of equality and social justice. Yet in a coronavirus era, what we can and can’t do in the home is a daily question.

When protests over the killing of George Floyd started sprouting across Southern California, Lopez struggled to figure out how his wife and four daughters could participate in the events while remaining safe.

“I’m 48 years old,” he said. “All these things occur over and over again. It just doesn’t seem like there’s an end to it. If you feel defeated, what do you do about this?”

“What I can do is make sure that my children know the best way they can empower themselves.”

He didn’t want to take his elementary school-age kids to protest in what seemed like a potentially dangerous situation. And he couldn’t risk getting hurt or sick and not being able to work to support his family.

Lopez settled on a simple gesture — emblazoning the family’s rooftop with large and bold “BLM” lettering. Their Santa Ana house is located under the flight path of the John Wayne Airport. He imagines out-of-towners and residents alike flying in and out on vacation or business will see the rooftop sign.

“I was thinking about how we influence people who come into our community after all the protests settle down. People will still be flying over Orange County,” Lopez said. “So I proposed it to my daughters as an opportunity for us to make a statement. It’s very important that this isn’t something that just goes away after the protests.”

Last week, the family picked up black paint from the store, propped up a ladder and spent half the day under the hot sun completing the project.

Pilar, Cecilia and Viviana Lopez paint "BLM" on the rooftop of their home.
From left, Pilar, Cecilia and Viviana Lopez paint “BLM” on the rooftop of their home.
(Courtesy of Albert Lopez Jr.)

“I wanted to show that we care about the people who are going through this, so they know that we’re here for them and we’re supporting them,” Viviana, 10, chimed in.

His two younger children, Viviana and Pilar, 7, are enrolled in a dual immersion charter school that advocates for social justice. He said they are exposed to the raw issues that are currently happening but there are also gaps in education.

“When you have academia at major university levels saying we’re post-culture, post-race, post-identity issues, it’s difficult to digest something like what we’re going through when you know that’s not the case we are living,” he said.

One of his older daughters Cecilia, 18, came home from UC Berkeley after the campus shut down in response to COVID-19. At college, she was rallying in support of UC Santa Cruz student workers demanding living wages. She continued with activist work by going out to the Santa Ana protests on May 30 even though she has asthma and recovered from pneumonia in the fall.

She recalled being on her knees and chanting peacefully along with other protesters when police started using tear gas and shooting rubber bullets. She breathed in tear gas and was pushed but not seriously injured. She stuck around to help other protesters with her own supply of water and baking soda.

When Cecilia came home, she found her parents watching broadcast news worried and her sisters crying. While there may have been contentious moves on both sides, Cecilia said she was frustrated by the embellishment and one-sidedness presented in the news compared to what she saw firsthand on the ground.

“I had to show my support by physically being there because I feel like there’s still a lot of anti-blackness in the community,” she said. “Not only in Orange County but also in the Latinx community.”

She points out colorism, not reckoning with white-passing privilege and the rampant use of the N-word among the Latino community as signs there’s more work to be done.

Cecilia attended additional protests throughout the week and plans to continue along with her sister Catalina, 19.

Like her dad, Cecilia is focused on education as a solution. She sees advocating for increasing the budgets of ethnic studies at universities as an act of protest and a way to archive erased history.

The sociology and Chicano studies major is also working on launching a virtual exhibition of Black artists that address systemic racism, police brutality and sexism in their work.

“A lot of people don’t know where to look for information,” she said. “I hope that whatever I post and share not only amplifies the voices of Black lives, but also exposes people to things that they’re not seeing.”

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