By Anthony Fleg, Native Health Initiative
Albuquerque – Empowered youth, hot summer sun, paintbrushes and the north-facing wall of the Albuquerque Center for Peace and Justice. These are the ingredients of an ambitious mural art project that contrasts iconic images and struggles with their modern-day counterparts. The goal is to tell “ourstory”, the heroes, events, and cultures of New Mexico often forgotten in textbooks.
Taking a break from the mural work being done outside, I had the chance to sit down with both students on the first day that the project began.
We envision the art as a space to come together as a community and represent who we are,” says Liz, a graduate of the South Valley Academy who is headed to UNM to study political science.
Lillian sees the project as an extension of her love for art. “I think that this project, led by youth activists and artists, shows the power art has to improve our world.” A graduate of Nuestros Valores High School, she will be attending La Sierra University in Riverside California, planning to become a veterinarian.
“The mural is going to have images that you would not normally see together – the Virgin de Guadelupe reaching down to help a mother in need, an Aztec dancer who is break dancing…we will have freedom fighters from the past such as Dolores Huerta, Jeanne Gauna, and Geronimo alongside our struggles of today, such as the Statue of Liberty and a family on their knees, both detained by immigration,” says Liz.
Curious to hear about how the project got started, I asked them to explain.
“About 6 months ago, the youth with SWOP decided we wanted to create a mural project,” recalls Liz. They decided to connect it to the book 500 Years of Chicano History, and hoped that the mural would help re-tell the story of this land.
“We also got a boost by a project called the South by Southwest Experiment, a collaboration between Latino and African-American grassroots social justice organizations and one that SWOP has helped organize,” says Lillian.
Adds Liz, “Then we held community meetings to educate youth about the history of our land, including the rich Indigenous and Chicano roots, and important political events that might not be emphasized in schools. These sessions were also to build a sense of community and ownership in the project.”
Add in local artist Francisco LeFebre who was commissioned to help with artistic elements, and the stage was set.a first-time collaboration between Latino and African-American grassroots social justice organizations in Mississippi, Texas and New Mexico
I asked them about some of the challenges and rewards of undertaking the project
“As youth, it was great to work with our adult allies like Emma Sandoval [youth organizer for SWOP] and the older activists that we do not always get a chance to interact with”
“It definitely showed us how difficult it can be to get people to commit to a project”, comments Lillian. “A lot of people would tell us they were interested in helping out, but having people committed to doing the work is a different thing.”
The youth also discussed concerns about whether the final content of the mural will come under censorship from the City of Albuquerque, and know that the project may continue long after the paint dries.
Okay, Liz and Lillian, how can folks get involved?
Lillian spoke first. “We will be out there every Friday and Saturday in July, working hard to make the mural a beautiful thing to add to our Albuquerque community. Even the content of the mural is still being decided as we go, so folks should show up, ready to work, and with an open mind and heart.”
“And even if you can’t draw or paint, as long as you can color in the lines [that Francisco has drawn for us], you can be a part of helping us tell ourstory,” smiles Liz.
Note: The ABQ Center for Peace and Justice is located at 202 Harvard SE. If you would like to make sure that the project is still going on before heading over, contact SWOP at 268.9557