Chavez Center murals by kids tell culture’s story
In a dimly lit garage across the street from the Cesar Chavez Learning Community, 20 students painted panels that seemingly came to life with images of Native American mythology.
Others painted a scene of the U.S.-Mexico border. Behind them stood a finished painting of their new school building, relocated in January.
The murals, two of them are 15 feet by 6 feet, and the other 10 feet by 6 feet, will hang in the school. Students took turns on Tuesday painting the mural and talking enthusiastically as they worked.
“Every mural has its own story,” said Alex Guzman, 16, a junior.
The students attending the Cesar Chavez middle and Aztlan Academy high schools, which make up the Cesar Chavez Learning Community charter school at 802 W. Silverlake Road are dedicated to preserving “Chicano” heritage.
They were guided by David Tineo, one of the founding members of the Chicano mural movement in Tucson in the 1960s.
“They themselves are bringing to vision their school and their culture,” Tineo said.
In addition to teaching them about their culture, the scale and composition of painting helps students with other academic subjects, Tineo said.
The murals link students with current Chicano issues, such as border problems shown in the painting.
“People are trying to get over here and we are just blocking them out,” said Stephanie Hortado, 16, a junior.
Tineo suffers from macular degeneration, a disease of the eye that causes loss of vision.
To protect his eyes, the garage door is pulled half-way down to shut out direct sunlight.
Tineo has worked with children since the 1960s but his eye condition won’t allow him to paint for many more years. He plans to devote that time to his own projects.
However, he decided to work on this project because he has taught several classes at Cesar Chavez and agrees with the founding purpose of the school.
“The goal was to create possibilities for Chicano kids to know that they are as good as everybody else,” said Sister Judy Bisignano, a Catholic nun who founded the 150-student public charter school in 1999.
Most of the students come from low-income families and many dropped out of other schools before coming to Cesar Chavez, she said.
Bisignano lamented that the state government was planning to cut funding for Chicano studies.
“Connecting students with their Chicano heritage helps them find education worthwhile. Even though the school year is ending, they still want to be here,” Bisignano said.
The faculty also stresses this concept.
“Learning about my culture gave me the drive to do better,” said Veronica Galaz-Antonio, a middle school English and Chicano studies teacher.
Tineo and Bisignano view Chicano as something beyond ethnicity.
“Anyone who seeks the truth of history is Chicano,” said Tineo.
The Cesar Chavez Learning Community is linking itself with other schools around the world. Bisignano is trying to arrange a student exchange program with the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa.