A couple of years ago, I called Armijo High School to ask them if they knew anything about the mural that was once on A-wing, featuring scenes from Mexican-American history. It faced Washington Street and was eye-catching because of the bright colors and images painted on it. No one there had ever heard of it.
During the summer of 1980, several students from the Mexican American Youth Organization painted the mural. Celestino Galabasa was not an Armijo student – he lived in Rio Vista – but he had cousins in MAYO.
“They knew I knew how to draw so they recruited me,” Galabasa said. “Raquel Ortega Rodriguez headed the whole thing and she went to the school and got the approval.”
The youth group got a professional muralist named Juanishi Orosco (he did the butterfly mural at Macy’s K Street mall in Sacramento) to do the layout and the actual painting took most of the summer.
“We had meetings and discussed what we were going to put on each panel and I was the main artist involved and showed them where to put, say, a face here or a car there,” Galabasa said.
Since the canvas they were using was first a wall, there were some obstacles. There was a bell and a grating that had to be somehow incorporated into the piece. The bell become a sun and the grate was used in a clever way.
“We made it the grill of a truck. It was the one owned by my cousin Cathy Ortiz and she was painted in driving it,” Galabasa said. “If you look at the license plate it says ‘BABA’ because we used to call her ‘Baba Looey.’ “
The mural depicted people from Mexico’s history, including revolutionaries Emiliano Zapata and Don Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla. It also included a poem called “The Chicano” and a caravan of vehicles featuring, like Galabasa’s cousin, real vehicles of MAYO members and the members themselves.
“There is a ’66 Chevelle and that was my car. I’m in that car and my girlfriend at the time is in the car with me and her little sister, too,” Galabasa said. “It was a fun summer.”
Creating the mural was a group effort. Even a stranger helped.
“A lady who came by and saw it said she wanted to add the Aztec calendar to it and it took her a long time because it was very detailed,” Galabasa said.
The mural was dedicated Sept. 27, 1980, to the Armijo student body. Many students of all races did enjoy it, but soon vandals repeatedly defaced it with paint.
While not condoning criminal behavior, Galabasa could understand why some may have wondered why there was only a mural depicting Mexican-American heritage and not others. Still, Armijo did have other walls. Panels were touched up and even changed after being vandalized.
“Where the Aztec calendar once was, I instead added a guy in a Zoot suit with a really sexy lady,” Galabasa said. “I also tried to incorporate faces of people from different races to try and make it more multicultural.”
The repeated vandalism to the mural was devastating to MAYO club members.
“Monday would come and we would go to school and hope that the mural was still intact. I remember how disappointing it was when we would get there and it would be defaced again,” MAYO member and class of 1984 graduate Margarita Lopez said. “It was very upsetting. Some of us were angry and some of us were scared. We wondered what was going to happen next. Was there going to be some sort of a fight?”
No matter how many times it was touched up and repainted, the mural was repeatedly vandalized. The 1981 Armijo La Mezcla yearbook featured a gatefold picture of the then-new mural and the next year’s edition included a picture of it defaced with paint.
Galabasa also worked on a mural for Vacaville High that was never vandalized (although there is now a new mural painted over the original), partly because it was behind two fences.
Eventually the MAYO mural was painted over and today many never even knew it was there.
Reach Fairfield writer Tony Wade at firstname.lastname@example.org.