It was hard to deny the raw ugliness of the moment when students and staff arrived at Cali Calmecac Language Academy last month to find their school defaced by racist graffiti, some of it referencing President-elect Trump. But thanks to the vision of former Cali students, the ugliness of that act has been overtaken by something beautiful: a series of hand-painted murals.
It started when a former Cali student, Alex Jimenez Gonzales contacted principal Jeanne Acuña about wanting to do something for the students at his former school. Gonzales, now at Santa Rosa Junior College, is a member of the local chapter of Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanista de Aztlán (MEChA), which according to its national website is “a student organization that promotes higher education and culture.”
“Alex got the idea of a mural and then started talking to other people in his community who are artists either at the JC or former MEChA members, and they all agreed,” Acuña said “We started talking and came up with a concept. They wanted to do something that would show the roots of where people come from. How did the kids get here? How did we get here to Windsor? We sat down and talked some ideas out and he went back to the artists and they came up with sketches and shared them with me and got the thumbs up.”
The four-panel mural depicts migration and learning. It starts on the left hand side with images from the Aztec view of the creation of the universe (with a woman and a rabbit in the moon), then a flock of butterflies symbolizing migration leads the way to a depiction of the Pomo tribe, which is the nearest local indigenous tribe to Windsor. From the Pomo, it moves to a depiction of hands picking grapes, symbolizing the effect of agriculture on local migration and finishes with an image of a student reading about the roots of his culture.
Acuña points out that the mural can also be read from right to left, with the students leading the way into explorations of the past. “It’s a beautiful story. But they didn’t want to just put up a story, they wanted to replace something perceived as really ugly, an ugly affront to the school and put something beautiful in its place and to really drive that message home to the kids — that the good is always going to take over the evil. That good is always going to replace something that is bad. And that their community believes in them and is here to support them. We’ve seen that over and over and over again in the past couple of months,” Acuña said.
Acuña said the feedback from students and staff has been overwhelmingly positive, as much for the speed of the work as the quality. “The littlest ones think it’s magic because it was not there on Friday, and it’s there on Monday,” she said. “They thought that was pretty exciting.”
The team of SRJC students primed the wall in the pickup area on Wednesday, and then worked around the clock on Friday, Saturday and Sunday to complete the work. “It was fortunate that one of parking area lights just happens to shine right there on the wall,” she said. “It was dark by five but they painted until 7:30 or 8 and then were back the next morning. They were working around their own school and their jobs and family obligations and stuff to do this. It was just an awesome and generous contribution. We were really touched.”
On Saturday morning, four artist volunteers were at Cali painting. Hernan Raí Zaragoza Lemos identified himself as one of the organizers of the mural project. As vice president of Advocacy at Santa Rosa Junior College, Lemos gathered donations for paint and supplies, noting that the Kelly-Moore paint store in Rohnert Park was particularly helpful with donations.
“The concept is resilience,” said Lemos. “After what happened, we’re still here and we’re not going to fight back with anger, we’re going to fight back with love and art.”
According to Acuña there have been no arrests or suspects identified in the graffiti incident, despite a $600 reward for any information. But, she hopes this mural will help heal the scars.
“What stands out to me more than anything is the generosity and the caring for the kids,” Acuña said. “Teachers dedicate their lives to children and you get kind of hyperfocused on what’s right here in front of you, and at times it’s easy to forget that the rest of that community is out there. It’s really a beautiful thing to see it all come together and really support kids when they need it.
“This has been a really tough time for children,” she continued. “Because they hear the rhetoric that’s going on around them and they don’t have the information to filter it and figure out how it’s going to affect them. It’s a really scary time for a lot of families and a lot of kids. We are fortunate that we have this incredible amazing staff here that are doing everything they can to work through that and to impart to children that the community part is really what matters around here; that this is who is here to take care of you and protect you.”
–Ray Holley contributed to this story