Roots for Peace students at All People’s Community Center (APCC) have been involved in the designing process of this mural for months, interviewing community members, and creating their own collages that were representative of the messages heard during those interviews. With the guidance of AFSC’s Roots for Peace staff and Ana Ruth Yela Castillo, the artist behind the mural’s design, the mural is ready to be shared with the community!
During the designing process, community members were consulted in order to come up with major themes used in the murals. One of these themes is gardening as a source of freedom. The freedom to garden not only promotes a healthy lifestyle, but it also connects to the ancestors of the community–a history that can be passed down to future generations. With the hopes and aspirations of the future in mind, it was also important to incorporate the opportunities available to children in the community, and the sacrifices parents make to provide their children with these freedoms. Struggle and sacrifice are major themes in the mural, evident by the various imagery of campaigns advocating for community justice. Other themes include promotion of justice, education, and hope.
We asked Castillo about her personal belief in why it was important to involve the community in the creation of the mural’s design. Her answer?
“As a community based artist, the community input is the most important aspect of the design because this is where they gather, where they live, garden, and continue to be. As an artist, I might come and go, but this wall is forever present here the way the community is. I do my work with respect for their message and their stories.”
Through these community collaborations, the artist explained some changes or additions that added to the mural. One of these additions includes the forced relocation of the Japanese American community in 1942. APCC holds a strong history of Japanese American ancestry, having once been a Japanese Christian Church. “The profoundness of a forced relocation of an entire community can not be ignored,” stated Castillo. Imagery of a young Japanese girl now finds its place on the mural as she waits with her belongings to be relocated to an internment camp. “This happened here,” declares the artist, “and changed the community forever.” This history will now forever be present in the community on the wall of APCC.
Throughout the mural, many symbols are representative of the community. What is stressed, however, is the importance of personal interpretation. As community members coming from different backgrounds pass the mural everyday, the images on the wall will speak to their personal stories and reflections. Pollinators are an important symbol incorporated by the artist. Bees and monarchs decorate the entirety of the mural, representative of their presence and importance in the garden. “People may or may not know that our bees are dying due to chemicals used as pesticides to grow food,” explains the artist. She continues to express the importance of living harmoniously with nature as different species rely on each other. Without bees, gardening and essentially our food source will suffer immensely. Other than pollination, the monarch butterfly also represents migration and the need for species to move from one place to another in order to survive. The monarch is a symbol of the struggle that humans and other species must go through in their journey to better their lives and that of their families. During the painting of the mural, students were informed about the trip from Mexico to Canada that monarchs make every year. Unfortunately, these migration journeys are dangerous and denied for many due to the human barriers we have created as a society for migrant communities and with the use chemicals and pesticides for plants, or walls and immigration restrictions for people.
Many of the symbols continue to reinforce the main theme of struggle and sacrifice in this country. However, the struggle of the community is not without fruit. In the mural, there is a picture of a runner holding a staff with a feather attached to it. “He is known as a spirit runner and what he is holding is a prayer for his community,” Castillo explains. She explains that it is in our hopes and prayers that we truly find what we desire for our community. In order to bring about change and influence within our society, temporary sacrifice is necessary. The fruit is also represented at the right side of the mural as two students with their parents are graduating from school. Many times, parents and family sacrifice their own lives through long hours of work for the hope of a better future for their children. At the same time, the young people from Central High School and Santee Education Complex interrupt the false idea that youth do not have power, and this is exemplified by the completion of this mural piece. Without their hard work, this mural would not be here today.
After students painted the final pieces of the wall, I asked them what they wanted the mural to mean to those walking by it. Their responses included hope, motivation to surpass stereotypes, hard work, a healthy lifestyle, and solidarity. Castillo’s personal desire for the community is:
“GROW SOMETHING! Your mind, your community, your food!”
Come by this Sunday, April 12th from 12-3PM, and decide what the mural means to you.
Special thanks to All People’s Community Center (APCC), American Friends Service Committee Los Angeles (AFSC-LA), the Roots for Peace program, and Ana Ruth Yela Castillo for their contribution to the community! For more information, check out our Facebook event page.
Written by Cayla Bradley