“One thing I learned from the program was patience. You have to take your time with painting, and catch your mistakes. Another thing I learned was practice makes perfect even though nothing is perfect in life, you try to make it that anyways. I enjoy painting now…I hope we will get another project after this one.” -Youth Muralist, Camp Rockey 2022
Photo credit: Noe Montes
The youth didn’t know what to expect, much less that they were going to be part of creating a 34 X13 feet mural called “Be Legendary” at a probation camp. Lead Teaching Artist Elvia Aguirre and youth mentor Kesau’c Hill from Tia Chucha's Trauma to Transformation program were present for nearly a full year and offered instruction and guidance on how to bring a mural to life. The From Trauma to Transformation (T2T) program facilitates a creative and “brave” space to bring in individuals who have been impacted by incarceration, to build community, ground oneself, and amplify narratives of change utilizing the healing power of cultural arts, literacy, and ancestral knowledge.
Oftentimes in our classrooms, youth are curious and ask questions such as, “Hey miss, why are you here?”, "Hey miss, what are we doing today?” When we ask if the youth will be joining us, sometimes they will say “No, I don’t know how to draw” or “Ah nah….next time.” But as they walk away, their heads turn over their shoulders, where they see paint and brushes on cold stainless steel tables and their eyes say it all. It is the reality of Tia Chucha’s lead Visual Teaching Artist and Muralist, Elvia Aguirre. Oftentimes we are met with walls as youth sometimes do not see themselves as artists yet or capable of being creative. But a reality that has been made evident is that eventually, youth will be open, they will participate, they have patience and can communicate. They are willing to work as a team. They are creative. They are ready to Be Legendary.
Our T2T Teaching Artists carry art supplies along with their welcoming, patient, and determined mindset as they walk past the security gates of Juvenile Halls, or Camps. There is no doubt that the youth they will meet there will be a great group of artists, though a majority of the time youth don’t see it in themselves yet. This is what drives the work of T2T. We know, as artists, as community members, as those who practice traditions, that culture, art, and community are essential elements to house an environment of imagination and healing. We come in bringing the spirit of Luis Rodriguez’s creative and unapologetic tia, to momentarily suspend us in the arts even in the midst of the most unforgiving environments.
Photo credit: Noe Montes
The youth’s hummingbird spirit moves their hands to create. Trying something new and being willing to express themselves takes a lot of courage in any environment, but even more in a probation camp. We see these youth as creative beings who are change makers with high potential to reach new heights and give back. We build together, as teachers we guide. We also learn. We reflect. We also grow. We witness the community has fire to be vulnerable to face challenges and soar with art and spirit.
The Mural Design Process
Photo credit: Noe Montes
The mural, “Be Legendary” is about the youth leaving their mark in a positive way, not just while at the camp, but also outside once they are able to return to the community. The image design was developed after several rounds of critical dialogue and sketching activities. The class discussions were on themes linked to their surroundings and ancestral indigenous knowledge, to challenge the common meanings of nature to that of bringing honor to the lands. For example, the snake is often portrayed as a negative symbol. In our conversations, we shared different meanings to snakes being closest to the land, and the importance of being connected and vigilant to the earth.
Since the initial design, youth came in and out of the camp, as they usually do. Throughout the 11 month process, we worked with youth who were willing to pick up the brushes where previous youth had left to move the mural forward. It was a proud moment for their teacher and muralist, Elvia Aguirre, to see the youth complete the mural themselves as they required less and less guidance. The group overall remained motivated to have ownership of their work, and adding their own customizations to the original mural design such as changing a hawk to a vulture.
Culmination to Honor and Recognize the Youth’s Process
On December 11, 2022, folks of many hats came together to celebrate the accomplishments of the youth who made the “Be Legendary” mural come to life. Among those who attended were families, advocates, Tia Chucha’s Co-Founders, Luis and Trini Rodriguez, staff, LA County Department of Probation, LA County Department of Arts and Culture, and the Arts for Healing and Justice Network (AHJN). The culmination was blessed with Mexica cantos and danza to symbolize the youth’s process led by various danzantes from Northeast San Fernando Valley Kalpulli’s, including members of Tia Chucha’s resident Danza group, Temachtia Quetzalcoatl.
These efforts were supported by the LA County Department of Arts and Culture, LA County Department of Probation and The Arts for Healing and Justice Network (AHJN). Tia Chucha’s would also like to thank everyone’s efforts, from attending meetings, to the hands-on work such as setting up and making this mural possible with our teaching artist team, Elvia Aguirre and Kesau’c Hill, and all the other Teaching Artists who stepped in throughout the year, including Monica Juarez, Maggie Uribe and Alejandro Molina. Thank you to all of the youth who were part of the process.
-Rebecca Gomez-T2T Program Manager