The painting shows every president for more than 50 years — dating back to the opening of the restaurant. In the middle stands diminutive Mama Ayesha herself, the matriarch of the family that owns the restaurant. She died in 1993 at age 103, Abu-El-Hawa said.
“She’s truly the American dream,” Abu-El-Hawa said. He said that she immigrated to the U.S. in the 1940s, and scraped together the money to open her own restaurant and eventually to bring her two nephews to the U.S. as well.
One of those nephews was Abu-El-Hawa’s father. In 2008, the family decided to honor Mama Ayesha by commissioning the mural. The D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts also contributed to the painting by artist Karla “Karlisma” Cecilia Rodas Cortez.
He said the painting represents Mama Ayesha “paying respect, welcoming all the presidents to D.C.”
“It’s not just our mural. This is everyone’s mural,” he said.
D.C. police spokesman Paul Metcalf said police are aware of the vandalism. Abu-El-Hawa said that the restaurant has a security camera, and he will be able to access the footage on Thursday.
But he said he does not think it likely that police will find the vandal. Instead, he wants to collect donations through a fundraising website so that the artist — who visited the restaurant Wednesday when she heard that the work it took her three years to paint had been defaced — can get to work on repairing it soon.
If the vandal is reading, Abu-El-Hawa said he has a message for him or her: “Come help clean it up.”