Creation Story Mural brings Kumeyaay history to Chicano Park
The project is one artist Carmen Linares Kalo has been pursuing for over two decades
In August, a dozen artists and community members completed a Chicano Park mural depicting the Kumeyaay people’s creation story, designed and planned by artist Carmen Linares Kalo.
The process of creating it took just two weeks, but for Kalo, it’s been a work in progress for 26 years.
Chicano Park is famous for its murals depicting Chicano culture, Mesoamerican history and civil rights leaders on pillars beneath Interstate 5 and Kalo — an artist and spiritualist — first got involved at the Barrio Logan landmark in the 1980s. She worked with another artist on a mural in the park, honoring two deceased elders of the Barrio Logan community. However, when none of the central pillars in the park were available to paint on, her collaborator expressed his disappointment at their options.
Kalo had a different perspective. She instead suggested using the pillar at the intersection of Logan and Cesar Chavez Parkway (which was then Crosby), which ties together three different communities: Golden Hill, Sherman Heights and Logan Heights. She refers to this as the “Elders’ welcome,” and since she first worked on that project, she’s long wanted to use the other side of the pillar as a canvas to honor the Kumeyaay people, who are indigenous to San Diego and have lived in the region for upwards of 12,000 years.
“I had been hearing the Kumeyaay creation story for years, in different places told by different people. And it’s always stayed with me ... the birth of the people,” Kalo says. “I always went back to that pillar — it gets dirty sometimes — and every time I clean it I make a promise. I didn’t forget, I’m still working on this.
“This is Kumeyaay land, they’ve been here for 12,000 years, maybe more, and we definitely have to honor them,” she adds. “That was very important for me. It’s about culture, it’s about art, all these wonderful things we celebrate.”
Kalo, who has an indigenous background but is not Kumeyaay herself, wanted to go about the process of proposing and creating the mural in the most respectful way to the Kumeyaay community. To do so, she reached out to both the Kumeyaay Nation as well as the Chicano Park Steering Committee to present her designs and get permission to move forward. She received the blessing of the Kumeyaay, and the Chicano Park Steering Committee’s final approval came on Dec. 29, 2019, with the initial plan to get started in March. But then the pandemic slowed down the process.
Eventually, after seeing other artists getting back to work in Chicano Park, Kalo got the project — which she funded herself — back on track on Aug. 15. She finished two weeks later with the help of other artists and community volunteers: Isaias Crow, Irene Castruita, Isaias Lopez, Jr., Janney Cervantes, Kevin Yuen, Stephanie Cecilia Cervantes, Ouseli O. Gomez, Sandino Tizoc Beltran, Olympia T. Beltran, Paul Cannon, Armando de la Torre, Rahja Kalifah, Karla Garcia, Tomaz Perez, Jordan Baso Hamut and Xiomara Armenta.
A dedication ceremony with members of the Kumeyaay Nation took place on Aug. 28.
The mural itself features animals such as a crow, a snake, a coyote and a red-tailed hawk gathered around a blue heart. All of the animals — which are considered to be humans in the story — are mourning Creator which is represented by the heart. And though the animals have disagreements with each other, the common grief they share eventually brings them together.
“What you see on the mural, it’s a cremation,” Kalo says. “It’s got a lot of different little meanings. That always came back to me — out of death it united these humans, and even with our differences, we can work together and make life better.”
After 26 years, Kalo finally saw her vision to fruition, which is now finished and available to see in Chicano Park. It took some time for all of its moving parts to line up just right, but she says that she’s finally filled in something that she felt was missing.
“I just want to give homage and a presence here in the park,” she says. “We have all these other beautiful murals and a lot of Aztec and Maya (imagery), but we don’t have the Kumeyaay, and to me that always seemed like something was missing. I wanted to have an elder or a few work with me, and be there and I wanted the Kumeyaay to come and paint and stamp their hands and sing their songs. I got all of that, and even more than what I ever could have expected.”
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