Mural honoring social justice icons unveiled in National City

Artist Mario Torero (left) and National City Mayor Alejandra Sotelo-Solis in front of a mural that honors the legacies of Dr. Martin luther King, Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta and Larry Itliong.(Eaton)

A new Mario Torero mural was unveiled on Nov. 22 at San Ysidro Health Center in National City, designed to celebrate cultural leaders Dolores Huerta, Cesar Chavez, Dr. Martin Luther King, and Larry Itliong.

Muralist Mario Torero is a founding and continuing member of Centro Cultural de la Raza in Balboa Park and the artist behind several murals at Chicano park, known for socially conscious mural work.

“I am honored to design and create an inspiring new mural celebrating cultural leaders Dr. Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, and Larry Itliong who paved the way for achievements in the areas of social justice and civic empowerment that we all benefit from today,” Torero said.

The unveiling was deliberately timed for “the season of thanks and reflection to honor leaders who championed widespread access to healthcare and equal opportunity to quality education” National City Mayor Alejandra Sotelo-Solis said, and to recognize those who continue to demand respect for our nation’s farmworkers.

“We were so grateful for people who kept supplying us with food through the pandemic but the idea of ‘essential workers’ has fallen by the wayside. However, they’re providing food for our plates every day, day in and day out. Those images of Delores Huerta and Cesar Chavez remind us we have the convenience of going to the store but somebody picked that food and it had to make its way down to us. We need to remember that,” Sotelo-Solis said.
Moving forward, she said, the conversation on equity and equality needs to be about the wage gap between ethnicities, about LGBTQ protections, about preserving the Kumeyaay language.

“Also, the mural is painted on a health center— let’s recognize a woman’s right to reproductive health,” Sotelo-Solis said.

San Ysidro Health President Kevin Mattson said the center, born out of the civil rights movement, has a commitment to the project that goes beyond its initial installation at the clinic.

“This community project shares the rich history of our country’s leaders who amplified the voices for all communities— it’ll be a central piece that unites the National City community and speaks to the collective work we do to build healthy communities that flourish,” Mattson said.

The project began with wanting to highlight Delores Huerta as a woman, labor leader and community activist, Sotelo-Solis said, as well as celebrate the civil rights movement highlighting Cesar Chavez and Martin Luther King, Jr.

“It evolved with different members of the community participating and students helping to paint as well as the representation of who was on there, Filipino Larry Itliong of the united farmworker movement, how we all came together,” Sotelo-Solis said.

A wall frequently tagged by graffiti was chosen for the mural, she said, because it needed beauty and could be transformed into a symbol of social justice, visible to local residents.
Blue Shield of California Chief Medical Officer James Cruz said it is important to promote art in the community so local residents can learn about important cultural figures whose historic work brought changes including improved access to health services for underrepresented Californians.

BlueShield Promise provided a $15,000 sponsorship to local non-profit arts and culture organization A Reason To Survive to assist with supplies and San Ysidro Health provided a $10,000 long-term investment that will support ongoing maintenance of the mural.
Now that the mural is complete, the mayor said, residents have said they’re “going to keep an eye on it,” which she sees as an indication of ownership and people seeing themselves reflected in the art.

“Art in the community… It lives beyond you, really sparks emotion, can be shared with generations to come. It allows the community to see something beautiful and know they share the same core values and will continue evolving, that they too can leave their legacy,” Sotelo-Solis said.

The new mural can be seen at San Ysidro Health Center located at 330 E. 8th Street.