Gente Del Maiz (2012)



Last year, Distinguished UCLA Professor Judy Baca’s UCLA students of the UCLA@SPARC Digital/Mural Lab “Beyond the Mexican Mural”courses (at the request of Maria Elena Durazo, of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations–AFL-CIO) collaborated with the UCLA Labor Center, Professors Kent Wong, Janna Shaddock Hernandez, the Miguel Contreras Learning Complex (MCLC) High School Students, and SPARC to produce a new 18ft by 33ft Digital Mural for permanent placement in Downtown Los Angles. The work, sponsored by the Miguel Contreras Foundation, is installed in the Miguel Contreras Learning Complex Cafeteria. The UCLA students took on the task of developing a mural (Within a 20 week period) that would not only commemorate the legacy of labor leader Miguel Contreras, but also illuminate stories of labor, struggle, social justice, determination, and triumph of the Miguel Contreras Learning Complex community.

The quest for the development of “Gente Del Maiz” began with a collaboration between the UCLA students and the Miguel Contreras students in which a series of workshops on the high school campus as well as the UCLA@SPARC Digital/Mural Lab took place. In conjunction the group of students mutually exchanged their stories and knowledge. The UCLA students captured a glimpse at the unique and rich experiences of the Miguel Contreras students and their community. These experiences include but are not limited to the constant struggle of achieving dreams of success while facing numerous obstacles. Such struggles enclose insufficient academic resources, gang violence, police brutality, financial hardship, and facing the pressure of prioritizing their families’ well being as opposed to personal pursuit of graduation and higher education.

In addition to the students’ perspectives, the UCLA students had the privilege of speaking to parents who shared their struggles and hopes for their children. They also expressed their struggles and victories as undocumented and documented immigrants in the United States. The parents explain that among their greatest concerns lies the limited resources they could offer their children due to monetary scarcity and lack of information. The parents of the Miguel Contreras community persistently encourage their children to do well in school and pursue a higher level of education that could finally provide the “American Dream” for which they migrateed.

UCLA students highlighted reoccurring themes in the community’s experience through the testimonies provided by the parents and students of the community. The Miguel Contreras Learning Complex students were then invited to the Digital Mural Lab to materialize these themes into visual stories. Utilizing state-of-the-art computer technology at SPARC, students were able to produce important imagery representing the reality and unique beauty of their community. These elements were then woven into an image that intertwined the community’s experience with the history of Miguel Contreras, labor leaders, social justice struggles, and aspirations for the future.

The extensive development of “Gente del Maiz” resulted in a piece that commemorates the legacy and work of Miguel Contreras and promotes community ownership, elevation of women, honor of past struggles, and empowers youth to be the planters of seeds of future dreams into the local soil. The 1) corn trinity, 2)urban environment, and 3)agricultural fields represent key elements in conveying the experience of the Miguel Contreras Learning Complex Community. The completion of this work is merely the initiation of a new journey to empowered generations to come.

Professor Baca teaches for the Cesar E. Chavez Department of Chicana/o Studies and World Arts and Cultures Department

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