On Sept. 9, students, faculty and staff, alumni, and other community supporters gathered near the Loker Student Union at California State University, Dominguez Hills for the unveiling of “Manifest Diversity,” a mural that was created under the guidance of muralist Eliseo Art Silva. The large-scale work with its depiction of a multiethnic view of American history as painted by students and volunteers from the university community is now on view in the Multicultural Center.
“Manifest Diversity,” which was inspired largely by the writings of historian and social activist Howard Zinn, features approximately 95 images of individuals and iconic scenes in American history, from Pre-Columbian Native Americans to the present-day struggle for social justice in health care and immigrant rights. When viewed from a distance, the shapes, details and colors of the singular images combine to form the profiles of Sojourner Truth, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Cesar Chavez, President Barack Obama and Filipino patriot Dr. Jose Rizal.
In partnership with the Chicana/o studies department, the MCC conducted a special multicultural history class in fall 2009 for the purposes of creating the mural. Lessons were given by Silva on the history of murals as a tool for social change. Students were charged with conceptualizing the theme of the mural and the scenes and figures from American history that would be depicted on it. Painting of the 8′ x 32′ mural took much of the spring semester and summer. In addition to students enrolled in the mural class, alumni, faculty and staff, students from the MCC’s Diversity in Action internship program, middle and high school youth in the Zimmer Museum’s YouTHink program, and patrons at the South Bay Pavilion mall participated in the mural’s painting, making the project a true community effort.
President Mildred García and Lui Amador, MCC coordinator, welcomed guests to the mural’s unveiling, including Speaker Emeritus of the California State Assembly Karen Bass (Class of ’90, B.S., health sciences), whose image is depicted in the mural. Johnny Itliong, son of late United Farm Workers of America labor leader Larry Itliong, also attended the event to celebrate the commemoration of his father’s accomplishments in the mural.
“As we celebrate this magnificent work of art, what we’re celebrating is the richness of our community… and the richness of all of the people who come to California State University, Dominguez Hills and the leaders who helped us to be where we are today,” said García. “It brings to light the one important asset that I say is what makes us so special: the multicultural, multiethnic environment that is Cal State University, Dominguez Hills.”
Amador dedicated the unveiling celebration to Zinn and to one of his personal heroes, the late educator and activist Jaime Escalante, both of whom died during the mural’s production and are depicted in the work. Amador related the irony of planning to bring students to what would have been Zinn’s last speaking engagement had he lived to deliver it.
“It is today that we recognize them and say that their passion and commitment to education continue to inspire students everywhere,” Amador said.
Bass said that she was very touched by the inspirations that were drawn upon to create “Manifest Diversity” and told the students that she was “very moved to think that I had anything to do in terms of inspiring you.” The first African American female speaker of the California Assembly and the first African American woman to serve as speaker of any state assembly, Bass congratulated the students and volunteer artists.
“To me, one of the most important jobs that I have is to do whatever I can to inspire young people and to contribute to the building of the next generation of leadership in our community,” she said. “I know that has been done right here.”
Silva recognized the students and volunteers who created “Manifest Diversity” and said that through the experience, “A lot of people realized the mural is just an excuse to get people together and be able to tell their stories and to create something beyond the project.”
“It is our hope that [students] will be able to discuss stories that oftentimes are ignored in the classroom and that they could have a sense that all of us are struggling and … have our own unique part in this country we call the United States. This will help us acquire new eyes, new ideas, and new narratives for our own community here at Cal State Dominguez Hills.”
Art department alumni Eunice Gearhart (Class of ’09, B.A., studio art) and Nestor Alas, (Class of ’10, B.A., studio art) contributed their time and talent to finishing “Manifest Diversity” for the unveiling, with Alas working on the mural until midnight the day before. Both had worked on the Watts Mural Project for the Watts Health Center. Gearhart says that the training and leadership they both received from art professor Gilah Yelin Hirsch during that project helped them to approach the MCC project with a professional attitude and to share again with other students and artists the value of community engagement through art.
“The experience of our art classes helped us to get through the crunch time of this mural because there was a lot of really heavy detail that went into it,” she said. “If we didn’t have that experience behind us, we couldn’t have done it. Plus, it allowed me to express to other artists the importance of volunteering and sharing and gave me the opportunity to talk with the other artists of what we have been in the past and where we are going in the future.”
Kim Nguyen, a student in the mural class, said that she joined the mural project in order to become engaged in student life while putting her mark on her university. She said the diverse CSU Dominguez Hills population “is what made the mural really rich… everyone coming together and embracing what the purpose of this mural [is].”
“One of the things that we discussed and embraced was that we are a salad bowl, not a melting pot,” Nguyen said. “It is important that we celebrate each other’s heritage and culture because we are different and unique and [all] have something different to bring to the table. This mural is not only a site of public memory. It is… images and events that we can all connect to and discover.”
For more information on the MCC at CSU Dominguez Hills, click here.