APTOS—Cabrillo College’s Aptos campus came alive Tuesday evening as the community celebrated the installation of a new mural designed by Watsonville artist Francisco Alonso.
The event drew scores of dignitaries and representatives from Cabrillo, local governments and arts organizations, as well as everyday residents from across the county.
Entitled “Unity,” the mural, which Alonso created with fellow artist Jeronimo Sanchez, was the result of an effort by numerous groups at the college to promote diversity and celebrate its status as a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI). It was funded by a grant from the Cabrillo Foundation and the college’s Student Senate.
The Pajaro Valley Ohlone Indian Council performed a special blessing ceremony at the start of the event. Guests were also treated to dance performances by Cabrillo students and Watsonville’s White Hawk Aztec Dancers, a poetry reading, a DJ and free Mexican food in the school’s quad.
“Today is a wonderful day of celebration,” said Cabrillo’s president Matthew Wetstein. “Today we celebrate, for the first time ever, a Latinx-inspired mural at Cabrillo’s Aptos campus.”
It is also, Wetstein said, the first time the college has officially observed Hispanic Serving Institutions Week, a national effort to recognize institutions of higher education that are Hispanic-serving, defined by the U.S. Department of Education.
To get the designation as an HSI, a college must serve more than 25% of students who are Hispanic. Today, these students represent 45% of Cabrillo’s student body. This past spring, the school reached a historic milestone of 50% of its graduating class being Latinx.
Wetstein also broke the news Tuesday that they had been notified by Congressman Jimmy Panetta that Cabrillo will be the recipient of a $5 million, five-year HSI grant that will help promote STEM education at the college.
“We can aim as a college to foster a greater sense of belonging among our diverse student body, celebrating the rich tapestry that our students bring to our campuses,” Wetstein said. “We are better for that diversity—a better college, a better community.”
But Tuesday’s focus was on the power of art, specifically, the art that is now displayed on one of Cabrillo’s elevator towers on upper campus, just past the statue of Martin Luther King, Jr. The effort to bring a mural like “Unity” to Cabrillo began in 2019, when the Student Senate and other on-campus groups voted to approve and fund the project.
While the pandemic delayed things for a while, an open call was finally sent out by Cabrillo’s Mural Committee in early 2021. That was when Alonso caught wind of the project and submitted his piece.
Alonso, who was born in Michoacán, Mexico and grew up in Watsonville, is an alumnus of the school. He began as a dishwasher in the cafeteria before faculty and staff encouraged him to start taking art classes. He eventually transferred to San Francisco State, where he received an art degree.
Prior to the mural’s completion, Alonso explained that the piece was inspired by totems, representing symbols of indigenous ancestral wisdom and knowledge from various cultures, from the Native inhabitants of California’s Central Coast, to Chinese, African and more.
On Tuesday, both Alonso and Sanchez thanked everyone who was involved in making the mural project a reality.
“I am so happy to be sharing with you this vision of unity,” Alonso said.
Watsonville muralist Yermo Aranda also spoke at the event, reminiscing on how he and Alonso had worked together on murals in the 1990s. Aranda discussed the importance and power of art to culture.
“Art has a way of empowering us,” Aranda said. “We realize we’re capable of doing amazing things we never thought we could do. It shows the world we have something to offer.”