PICTURED: Jennifer Lopez paints a new mural. Photo by Marcos Ruelas

“By the community, for the community,” is the promise and spirit of the Youth Summer Mural Program presented by the Oxnard Housing Authority Resident Services. The program brings together local youths and artistic mentors to create murals in the La Colonia neighborhood of Oxnard that celebrate the culture, history and future of the area.

The third and fourth installments of the program are now complete and ready to view. (The first mural, “Familia y Comunidad,” was created in 2017. The second, “Tree of Life,” was completed in 2018.) According to the program’s press release, “Latinx Empowerment,” the newest mural, “honors ancestral knowledge and depicts Latinx leaders in medicine, space, botany and literature.” The other, “De Colores,” “focuses on inclusion and diversity within Latinx culture and the Latinx community.” All four murals are located behind the Oxnard Housing Authority Resident Services Offices, at 1500 Camino Del Sol in Oxnard.

The murals, from concept to completion, are the work of a group of about 10 local youths, ranging in ages from 12 to 18 years old. The young artists were mentored, assisted and overall supported by lead artist and project manager Ana M. Carrillo, who grew up in La Colonia. Carrillo was joined by other artist mentors, including Mark Echevarria, Monica Torres, Jose Galvan, Zuleima Jimenez, Elisa Torres, Marcos Ruelas and Flavio Carranza.  

“Our target is to educate, motivate and show young people that there’s something out there for them,” says Rose Banuelos, resident services coordinator for the City of Oxnard Housing Authority. Banuelos started the program as a positive outlet for the young people of La Colonia because, she says, “I was running into youth that were getting into trouble.” To offer something positive for youths to be involved in, Banuelos teamed up with Carrillo and built the Youth Summer Mural Program from the ground up. They got support not only from the Oxnard Housing Authority and Resident Services, but from the Oxnard Police Department and organizations like Our Town Our Children and DJC Services and Installation. Looking at all that the young people of La Colonia have accomplished, Banuelos exclaims, “Oh my, they have a passion!”

Over the course of the six-week program, the participants gained artistic skills as they worked on the mural, and also took part in other activities. Each event was designed to help the youths see the world around them and find the best within themselves. Activities included having discussions about culture and diversity and meeting with guest speakers such as local authors Margo Porras and Sandra Porras, who wrote Growing Up in La Colonia: Boomer Memories from Oxnard’s Barrio. (In the past, local author Martin Alberto Gonzalez spoke about his book, 21 Miles of Scenic Beauty… and then Oxnard: Counterstories and Testimonies.) The young artists toured California Lutheran University, where they sat in on a student panel presentation. They also had the opportunity to visit an artist-led community garden and traveled to Olivera Street in Los Angeles for a docent-led viewing of the David Alfaro Siqueiros mural at the América Tropical Interpretive Center. At the end of the summer, they enjoyed a day trip to Lake Casitas to celebrate all that they had accomplished. 

The benefits of the Youth Summer Mural Program last long after Labor Day. “Kids come to build a rapport with their mentors,” Banuelos says, and that is a relationship that doesn’t end. The artists who work with the participants are “still their mentors,” even after the last paint brush is packed away. There is also the pride that comes with seeing a work of art that they helped create in their own neighborhood; art that speaks to and about life in their own community.  

A fifth, sixth and possibly seventh mural are slated for the next couple of years. If next summer seems far off, the City of Oxnard Housing Authority has plenty planned for the non-summer months. Highlights include Dios de los Muertos, Las Pasados, and a large toy giveaway program for the holidays. As Banuelos says, there is something happening year-round. 

With the completion of “Latinx Empowerment” and “De Colores” and another job very well done by the young people of La Colonia, the Youth Summer Mural Project proves once again that the road to somewhere begins right at home.  

For more information about the Youth Summer Mural Program and other Oxnard Housing Authority Resident Services programs, contact Resident Services Coordinator Rose Banuelos at 805-385-7574 or rose.banuelos@oxnard.org.