By Joe Rodriguez
Article Launched: 09/03/2008
"Oh, Tony, the color of the cement is all wrong, it will wash out the
arch,'' she told Tony Valenzuela, the campus facilities director. At
the same time, she praised the workmen for setting an intricate
ribbon of Byzantine tile into the same miscolored cement.
The yellow around the arch was too bright and loud, more like the
school's gold logo than the subdued color of maize Baca was looking
for. No problem, Valenzuela agreed, it'll be repainted.
By now, 15 years after Chavez's death, nobody is quite sure how many
schools, libraries, streets and parks have been named or renamed
after the man who organized farmworkers, led the famous boycott of
grapes, followed Gandhi, and joined the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
and Robert F. Kennedy as a voice for social and economic justice
during the 1960s.
But when it comes to commissioned, artistic memorials, says Chavez
family spokesman Rudy Medina, Baca's Mayan-inspired arch is the
largest and most impressive.
"There's nothing bigger than this one," Medina said. "I think it's
great. It reflects a lot of roots to the Latino community and to
About seven years ago the student body proposed a monument to Chavez
on campus. The idea was to have art that showed the university's and
San Jose's roles in the political and social activism of the 1960s.
"We see the Chavez archway as reflecting the university's and this
area's history in making social progress,'' university spokesman
Larry Carr said.
For example, anyone who has visited the campus can't miss the tall,
imposing sculptures of San Jose State track stars Tommie Smith and
John Carlos, caught in their black-power salutes at the 1968 Olympics.
Baca's arch joins other pieces of such representative art on campus.
I can look at this sculpture and say, "I'm proud to be a Chicano,''
said continuing student Adam Castellano, 44. "And that's not a word a
lot of people use or even know today. I think this monument will get
a lot of young Latinos to think and ask questions about their roots.''
Baca hopes so, too, saying "the purpose of monuments is to preserve
the past, inform the present and change the future. ''
She didn't hesitate to apply when San Jose State asked for proposals
five years ago. As a college student in the '60s, she met
representatives of Chavez's fledgling United Farm Workers and was so
impressed she signed up to paint murals for the union for $5 a day.
She went on to create one of Los Angeles' first public mural projects
and become a prominent city muralist. Baca now teaches at the
University of California-Los Angeles in the Chicano studies department.
As a scholar of monumental art, she knew the material of choice for
memorials to heroes is bronze. And she also thought about the rounded
European memorial arches that commemorate events or serve as
gateways, but she replaced them with the pointed Mayan version to
reflect Chavez's ancient Mexican roots.
The arch also sits in a small plaza with a fountain and some
curiously non-political Chavez quotations set into the cement floor.
Baca has a spiritual, earthy strategy here. She wants visitors to
read one quote, "Soon, the grapes will be sweet once again,'' and
make their way past murals of two ordinary, anonymous farmworkers,
two more of Gandhi and UFW co-founder Dolores Huerta, and finally a
mural inside the arch featuring Chavez and another including Robert
Kennedy. Baca ends the circular walk with this Chavez quote: "The end
of all education should surely be service to others.''
Contact Joe Rodriguez at firstname.lastname@example.org or (408) 920-5767.