Column: Advocacy, education and uplifting of others is a priority for muralist Salvador Barajas

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Ask Salvador Barajas which of his murals he considers his best and you might be surprised by his answer.

The San Diego artist certainly has no shortage of options.

His work is featured throughout Chicano Park. Barajas, 77, not only painted one of the park’s original murals in 1973, but also contributed to three other murals in the decades that followed, and he played a central role in the project. restoration of the Chicano Park murals in 2012, which restored some of the 72 murals 40 years ago after being painted.

Among other places, his work also adorns the walls of the Lincoln Acres Library in National City and Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, where Barajas painted a mural in 2004 that depicts some key figures and cornerstones of social justice movements. , such as portraits of Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr. and illustrations of the Bill of Rights, the Statue of Liberty and the Ten Values ​​by César Chavez.

But the mural that Barajas highlights when he talks about his best work is from the King-Chavez Primary Academy, at 415 31st St.

On the one hand, Dr. King, his mentors and marches, his wife Coretta, the US Constitution and the Freedom Riders, and on the other, Chavez, his values, the farm workers, including a portrayal of slain Latinos and Filipinos. in the fields.

“From a history preservation standpoint and stuff like that, this is probably my best mural,” Barajas said in a recent interview at his home. “It’s important and it had to be done. “

In many ways, this mural blends much of what made Barajas such a prominent local artist and a staunch advocate of Latinos, immigrants, and other disenfranchised groups.

Barajas’ work, in murals and other mediums, often speaks of the struggle for social justice and civil rights, or emphasizes the value and pride one must have in one’s culture. His work is also frequently aimed at promoting and supporting education and highlighting it as a springboard for young people to improve their situation.

“We are not just artists; we are artists – a combination of artists and activists, ”Barajas said. “There is nothing wrong with getting involved.

Born in Nio, Sinaloa and raised in Tijuana, Barajas moved to San Diego in 1961, where he attended high school. He had already started learning English in Tijuana but completed it by taking evening classes in San Diego.

Shortly after his arrival he also decided to join the Air Force, believing that it could be a promising path for his future if he could use the advantages of the IG to go to school. art and realize his dream of becoming an architect.

Initially, Barajas worked in a warehouse at an Air Force base in Illinois, but later became a technical illustrator for the Air Force, using his artistic skills to design training aids and technical manuals to help other soldiers.

“There was something dormant that came alive at that point,” Barajas recalled of the experience.

After leaving the service, Barajas used his benefits to attend Los Angeles Trade Technical College before returning to San Diego to study art at San Diego State University, when he first became involved in Chicano Park and the original mural project.

Although Barajas had spent much of his career working in corporate art advertising for agencies, art studios and others in the business community, he knew there was also a lot of other things he wanted to say with his art.

And it’s safe to say that Barajas didn’t shy away from doing plays of a more political nature.

For example, one of Barajas’ most important pieces is a mural he painted in Chicano Park in 2017 that highlights the plight of the undocumented worker.

The mural depicts a worker returning money to his family in Mexico while being strangled by two hands, one representing US immigration and customs and the other representing the Mexican government.

The ICE is responsible for deporting people from the United States, but Barajas also singled out the Mexican government because he felt its corruption forced Mexicans to migrate for work.

The mural, which has been well received by frequent visitors to the park but criticized as “anti-American” by Trump supporters outside the neighborhood, also shows a cross that reads “No Border Wall” and contains the phrase ” Love has no borders ”.

“Diversity is what made this country, so why try to prevent this from continuing,” Barajas asked. “It’s amazing that most politicians are educated people, but what do they do with their education? “

While perhaps best known for his mural work, Barajas’ artistic works go beyond this, including some public installations that honor Mexican culture and heritage, such as a Dia De Los Muertos exhibit. He also produced baseball memorabilia, such as a pair of spikes honoring San Diego icon Tony Gwynn and a series of baseball bats honoring Latino players. He hopes to someday work with the Padres to create a special item that can be gifted to fans at the team’s next Hispanic Heritage Night.

Another area in which Barajas has been heavily involved is education.

Barajas previously served as president of the PTA in schools attended by his children and was a bilingual advisory president. He has also been a strong supporter of state-supported bilingual education efforts. And his company, Motivational Designs, provides educators and parents with posters, wall clocks, and printed materials that encourage students with hand-colored images and bilingual messages.

Some of the posts written in English and Spanish say “University is my goal”, “Education is key”, “Be bilingual, be smart”, “Parents make a difference” and “Diversity achieved. “

“My main interest is in promoting education, making sure children go to school and graduate. Said Barajas.

After spending several hours chatting with Barajas at his home and learning a little more about his perspectives on art, Chicano culture, and the value of education, it’s hard not to be struck by how he tried to uplift others using the skills he was given.

“I use my talents, whatever my talents, to try to make a difference,” said Barajas.

I think we would all be better served if more of us gave this idea a higher priority.


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kurt watkins

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