A new mural by Watsonville-based artist Francisco Alonso is slowly coming together at Cabrillo College’s main campus in Aptos.
Funded by a grant from the Cabrillo Foundation and the Cabrillo College Student Senate, the mural project is part of the institution’s ongoing efforts to promote diversity and celebrate its status as a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI).
This past May, for the first time in its history, Cabrillo’s graduating class was 50% Latinx. Recent efforts of inclusion aim to celebrate that culture as well as other Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) students.
Alonso, who attended Cabrillo in the 1990s, said he wants to represent as many cultures and histories as possible in his work. Born in an indigenous community in Michoacán, Mexico, Alonso grew up in Watsonville, and was continually inspired by civilizations from all over the world.
“I’ve always been interested in different cultures,” he said. “Especially in the Americas. As I got older, after learning more … I started taking classes and doing research in libraries.”
Alonso dabbled in art from an early age—starting with graffiti, then moving on to different forms. A couple of years out of high school, Alonso was working as a dishwasher in Cabrillo’s cafeteria when a counselor began encouraging him to take art courses.
While at the school, Alonso helped establish a Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan (MEChA) program, aiming to bring educational and cultural events to the school that would help overcome racism. He eventually transferred to San Francisco State University, where he received a degree in art.
“I’ve always had close ties to Cabrillo,” he said. “This place is a home for me.”
Earlier this year, Alonso ran into a friend who told him about Cabrillo holding an open call for artists to do a mural. He applied and went through the process of rendering his proposal. Alonso’s mural, entitled “Unity,” was chosen by Cabrillo leadership after a committee of staff, faculty and students thoroughly reviewed each applicant.
“Our committee reviewed a total of 11 excellent proposals from local artists, ultimately narrowing it to a top five and sending those five out to Cabrillo’s student body for input,” Claudia Hernandez, academic counselor and member of the school’s Chicano Latino Affairs Council said in a press release. “The timing of this project and the message of ‘Unity’ conveys a positive vision and an important message.”
Alonso’s piece was inspired by totems, which he said, “represent a community’s history and memories, and their relationship to creation and the elements.” Represented in the work are symbols of indigenous ancestral wisdom and knowledge from various cultures.
You can learn about the meaning of each symbol in the mural here.
The mural will be located on the back of a campus elevator in front of the 500 building, just up the walkway from the statue of Martin Luther King, Jr. Two weeks ago, a “blessing of the space” ceremony was conducted at the site prior to work beginning.
Outlining kicked off Sunday, and by Wednesday Alonso was busy filling in sections. Spacing out to safely work has been a challenge, Alonso admitted. Originally they were going to bring in students to help, but with Covid cases once again rising, they chose to be cautious.
“Only about two people can safely work together on the mural, side-by-side,” he said. “It’s a bit of an awkward spot. So we’re scaling things down.”
Work should be completed by the time Cabrillo’s fall semester begins in the next couple of weeks, Alonso said. Then, they might bring art students by to hear Alonso speak about the mural and his process.
“The weather has been friendly, so I’m hopeful things will go smoothly,” Alonso said. “I’m just very honored to be selected to do this mural.”