Once occupying a bare and lackluster wall on the side of the Student Center, Palo Alto High School alumnus James Franco’s mural depicted Paly football players, painted in strokes of black and white, with one player passing the ball while another tackled an opponent. Inspired by Paly’s 1993 yearbook, the mural was a staple of Paly landscape until January of this year.
Following recent sexual misconduct allegations against Franco, the Paly administration decided to remove Franco’s artwork, leaving the wall bare.
Now, to fill the blank space, the school has commissioned the Latinos Unidos Club to create a new mural to replace Franco’s. From illustrations of Martin Luther King to Malala Yousafzai, the new student-organized mural on the Student Center will depict important figures from different cultures around the world.
“A really big thing that we want to see is that the people painting the mural are just as diverse as the people that are on the mural,” says Ricardo Lombera, president of the Latinos Unidos club. “We hope that this mural will celebrate the rich cultures of all the people that attend Paly.”
“We hope that this mural will celebrate the rich cultures of all the people that attend Paly.”
— Ricardo Lombera, president of Latinos Unidos
Latinos Unidos has partnered with Black Scholars United, AP Studio Art and Social Justice Pathway students to create the new mural on the Student Resource Center, emphasizing the theme of diversity.
“It is also to have a lasting message on Paly that should be here for a couple years and to show the unification of different clubs and different groups,” says senior Naima Castaneda-Isaac, president of BSU.
Sophomore Pooja Akella, treasurer of the Sports, Arts and Movies of South Asia Club, praises the muralists for featuring traditionally underrepresented voices.
“They’re bringing in a lot of clubs from around campus which is great because you have an increase in the student participation and student voice,” Akella says. “It highlights a lot of the more underrepresented groups or the minority groups, which I think is definitely important.”
Some of these marginalized groups make their voices heard through three major clubs at Paly — Latinos Unidos, BSU and SAMoSA.
The Latinos Unidos club was founded in response to the lack of representation and minority voice for Latinos in the Paly community, according to Lombera. They also hope to bridge the gap between divergent cultures through hosting cultural events, showing the Paly community their values and perspectives from a minority point of view.
“People don’t really know who we are and what we stand for; what are our cultural and familial values,” Lombera says. “Showing people through celebrations, different holidays, fun activities, we really want to show them what we’re all about and that we’re good people.”
Since the formation of the club four years ago, the club has organized many cultural events.
But when trying to organize a celebration for Day of the Dead, a Mexican holiday in remembrance of family and friends who have passed away, they faced resistance from the Paly administration, who claimed that having images of the dead would be triggering to students struggling with mental health issues.
After making compromises with the Paly administration, they were able to set up an altar in a closed room. Lombera believes a misunderstanding of different cultures led to the disagreement.
“It really comes to miscommunication and misunderstanding of other people’s cultures,” Lombera says. “The best way to prevent it is through discussion, through getting to know people from other cultures.”
With photos of figures like César Chávez and Selena Quintanilla, the altar recognized the significant contributions in which Latino people have played a part. Due to the lack of minority representation in many classes, Lombera believes that the altar brought to light the impacts that Latino people have made on society.
“We wanted to show people that [Latino] people made a difference,” Lombera says.
Latinos Unidos continues to spread knowledge of contributions by Latino people, through events such as a march in honor of César Chávez and a celebration of Cinco De Mayo, the anniversary of a surprising victory for the Mexican military.
Black Scholars United
BSU, another cultural club on campus, takes a different approach to making their voices heard. According to Castaneda-Isaac, the goal of BSU is to establish a welcoming environment for minority students who often feel detached at a school with an overwhelmingly white and Asian population.
“I think that it’s just a safe place for everyone where we can share our experiences … and talk about our daily struggles,” Castaneda-Isaac says.
Despite how people tend to separate themselves into groups with similar qualities, Castaneda-Isaac believes that people with contrasting cultures can be united by understanding these distinctions. Like Lombera, she encourages people to step out of their comfort zones and interact with different people, particularly with minorities.
“I think that … talking to different people and embracing their differences [or] trying to create empathy between different groups can be really important, especially now with the political climate,” Castaneda-Isaac says.
“Talking to different people and embracing their differences [or] trying to create empathy between different groups can be really important.”
— Naima Castaneda-Isaac, president of Black Scholars United
Collaborating with Latinos Unidos to paint the mural, Castaneda-Isaac hopes to spread the significance of unity and compassion for others.
When it comes to overcoming burdens they face as minorities, SAMoSA Club’s approach is similar to that of Latinos Unidos.
As the only club on campus relating to South Asia, SAMoSA club aims to teach students about the culture of the region. SAMoSA club has organized many of its own events, including movie nights with Bollywood films and Indian food, carrom (a traditional South Asian game) tournaments and cultural trivia games.
Although SAMoSA club is not directly involved in the creation of the mural, it supports the message of diversity and unity that it conveys.
“They [minorities] are often looked down upon or they don’t have access to the same opportunities as perhaps anybody else and also historically speaking they’ve been underrepresented in America for such a long time,” Akella says. “I think it’s really important that we do give an opportunity for such groups to shine.”
She hopes the new mural, which includes important figures from around the world, will provide this opportunity. Specific to South Asia, the mural will include an illustration of Mahatma Gandhi, a well-known civil rights activist who led the Indian independence movement against British colonizers.
The creators of the mural intend to showcase Paly’s diversity and present inspirational figures that any student can see themself in. Regardless of the club they belong to, their ethnicity or their race, all students can look forward to seeing themselves represented on the wall of the Student Center.
“It’s really cool to see all these groups unite and create something beautiful,” Castaneda-Isaac says.