Immaculate Immigrant 8
Virgin of Guadalupe

Virgin Mary Guadalupe Judith BacaIf one were to describe a sense of community and commitment, spirituality and empowerment in gender form, Judith F. Baca would reflect just that. Baca has been the mediatrix for change with young people, politicians, and the community through visual arts in Los Angeles. Baca has integrated and created relationships between people in conflict. She is especially interested in teenagers: "I believe that they have a future, that they are the gauge of what the society is doing or not doing. . . . They are the barometer of racism." Baca's vision is all-encompassing, and she mobilizes all ethnic groups. She educates herself and her participants with cultural experts, research and inclusion of all minds, backgrounds, and ages. Baca's community artwork has produced harmony in their interrelationships and in the murals. Baca acts out her beliefs through public art.

Baca's mother's pioneering spirit and her grandmother's nurturance influenced her keen sensitivity to oppression and resistance. According to Baca, her grandmother gave her "a tremendous spiritual force. I think she became the ideal of what love should be." Baca was the first woman in her family to graduate from college. On graduation night she showed her artwork to her grandmother. Her grandmother asked, "What is it for?" Baca's vibrant mind was stirred into defining what her art should be about.

Her question really guided me from that point on. I knew I had to use this particular skill I had, but, that it had to be connected with something that had meaning or purpose beyond my self-gratification and could speak to the people I cared most about, my family and community.

Los Angeles is home to more people and languages, some 200, than any other place in the world, and "Baca has devoted her career to making these multiple cultures public and visible" in the Los Angeles community.

Recognizing her proud heritage, she also recognizes other people's heritage and contributions. Baca graduated from California State University at Northridge, and started teaching at Alemany High School in Los Angeles, her alma mater. Baca worked with students from different neighborhoods. For her first mural project, she organized a team of 20 young people from four different neighborhoods while confronting differences and establishing a common set of goals. In 1974, she proposed a citywide mural program to the Los Angeles City Council. This project produced some 250 murals in 10 years with Anglo, Asian, Black, and Chicano artists participating. Her interest in the forgotten ones has focused the attention of people who see the "Great Wall of Los Angeles" at the Tujunga Wash Flood Control Channel. She wanted this narrative mural to acknowledge the existence of ethnic pride in the California community. Two hundred fifteen young people were recruited, between the ages of 14 and 21, from varied ethnic backgrounds, including rival gang members. They received art instruction, attended lectures from historians, and learned to work together. One "Mural Maker," Todd Ableser, stated, "I left with a sense of who I was and what I could do that was unlike anything I'd ever felt before." The "Great Wall's" history took many summers to complete.

The Santa Barbara Arts Commission and the Santa Barbara County Parks Department then approached Baca to paint a series of murals in Guadalupe, California, a small rural town of some 6,000 inhabitants, located in north Santa Barbara County. It was named after the Virgin of Guadalupe and was called Rancho Guadalupe. This 32,408 acre Mexican land grant was given to Teodoro Arellanes and Don Diego Olivera in 1840. They introduced cattle to the region. Eventually the ranch was sold to Teodore LeRoy, a French trader who later founded the town of Guadalupe.

By 1897, Japanese farmers dominated the agriculture business and in the 1940s comprised over 51% of the population in Guadalupe, but in 1942 most of the Japanese were interned in Manzanar and Topaz during World War II. This created a labor shortage and in 1942-1964 the Bracero Program brought Mexican migrants into the fields and packing sheds.

In 1923, the Comité Cívico Mexicano de Guadalupe, a citizen's non-profit group, focused on promoting Mexican American traditions such as Quinceañeras; Sunday Tardeadas with music and food booths; Fiesta Patrias, commemorating Mexican Independence Day; a park and community center; a recreational place for the children; and a mural about Guadalupe's history and contributions of the Chumash Indians, the Chinese, Japanese, Chileans, English, Italians, Peruvians, Portuguese, Scotch, Swiss, Filipinos, and Mexicans.

By 1980, the Mexican population in Guadalupe changed from 18.6% to 75% and eventually to 83% in the 1990s.

Even though Santa Barbara County was one of the richest counties in the nation in the 1980s, the City of Santa Barbara also had an increasing homeless population. The denial of their voting rights sparked marches to the Reagan ranch and an appeal to the United States Supreme Court. In 1988, farmworkers struggled to survive earning $1,000 less than the federal poverty level of $13,416, even though Guadalupe's main subsistence was agriculture, and the farmworkers were underemployed and overworked. There was also a longing for redress and acknowdgment of the Community of Guadalupe through public art.

Baca moved to Guadalupe and lived there for several months at the Druid Temple on Main St. and saw the circumstances of the people living there and enabled them to express their "real" situation. Everyone was welcomed: public officials; civil rights activists; migrant workers; teenagers with their scrapbooks and school yearbooks. Family albums, historical data, and conversations in town meetings were also included. A mural about Guadalupe's history became a high priority and their dreams:uncontaminated water; a playing field for the children's recreation; decent housing and good schools. And more: day care and accessible medical care; non-toxic pesticides, and preservation of their cultures. Baca's Guadalupe Mural encompasses all of their wishes in four panels.

The third panel, "The Farmworkers of Guadalupe," emphasizes the farmworkers in the fields.

I want[ed] to convey the beauty of the farmworkers . . . while at the same time [revealing] the harsh conditions that this surface beauty belies - the low wages, health problems, and substandard living conditions.

Guadalupe's agribusiness is plentiful: cauliflower, celery, artichokes, and broccoli. The harvest crews are cutting, bagging, packing, and loading the vegetables. Above the imposing acres, Baca painted crates with labels depicting a typical work day. You can also see a mother working with her baby on her back; toxic pesticides; and the back-breaking stoop labor. On the lower right corner, the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is on a farmworker's scarf. According to Baca, "This scarf could distinguish them as being from Guadalupe and perhaps even develop a small industry for the people. . . . They could silkscreen those scarves, and they could end up being more economically independent of growers who are exploiting them."

Virgin Mary Guadalupe Judith BacaThe fourth panel, "The Future of Guadalupe," represents the unrelenting dream of the Guadalupans. Baca transformed their dream into art. It's not clear if the time of day is dawn or dusk, but the dream for the future of Guadalupe is eminent. A female angel welcomes you and offers the universal gifts that everyone desires for their children and communities. Unpolluted water as God gave it to us. Her transparent wings are enhanced with visions of a planned community; recreation and available doctors; a child happily playing soccer; decent housing and good schools to prepare for life.

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