Brenda Perez is an Indigenous Mexican-American/Chicana, born and raised in Highland Park, Northeast Los Angeles. She graduated from California State University, Northridge with a Bachelor's degree in both Chicano Studies and Sociology. Brenda is a graduate of Pepperdine University with a Masters in Clinical Psychology with an emphasis in Marriage and Family Therapy. As a research assistant for Pepperdine University's Culture and Trauma Research Lab, she conducted research on the cultural context of interpersonal/complex trauma recovery and investigated self-esteem improvement strategies for Latino adolescent youth. Brenda is currently pursuing a Ph.D at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Depth Psychology focusing on Community psychology, Liberation psychology, Indigenous psychology and Ecopsychology.
Brenda investigates gentrification as a form of internal colonialism in the historic Mexican neighborhood of Highland Park, which currently feeds L.A.’s homelessness crisis. In many urban areas of Los Angeles, murals and community art continues to offer images of Indigenous survivance. In recent years, our neighborhoods beloved and legally registered murals are being systematically erased as part of gentrification efforts. My research looks at Highland Park as a case study with the recent whitewashing of the Cesar Chavez Foundation funded mural at Garvanza Elementary and the now threatened sacred mural called Tenochtitlan featuring sacred imagery, Indigenous images, and displaced artistic heritage. Brenda shows how whitewashing Indigenous iconography in community art and constructing fenced walls or “gentrifences” around gentrifier homes exemplify the defenses and disavowal of the neoliberal psyche. Gentrification is a form of cultural homogenization that measurably increases disparities in community health. Furthermore, this participant artivist research shows how the psychological shock of gentrification is an ecopsychological injustice that severs ties between people and the land, thus violating one’s well-being. In Indigenous paradigms, psychological sense of community often includes relationships with place, plants, animals, spirits, and so on. For communities facing de-indigenization and displacement, art-making is a means for cultural survival, not just therapy.
In response to this erasure, Brenda Perez founded a grassroots community project Restorative Justice for the Arts, which was mobilized as an artivist platform to preserve murals and sacred imagery, cultivate decolonial pedagogies and creativity, and to protect cultural monuments and identities narrated through community art. Making, memorializing, and maintaining murals and graffiti art can open portals for decoloniality and decolonial praxis. Our community’s art has the power to undo border walls in the psyche. Me and my neighbors look through our murals as windows into the spiritual landscape that gentrifying commercial terrain seek to demolish.