Artist Juana Alicia to create mural for SF's Mission Public Library celebrating Mexican heritage

Lyanne Melendez Image
Tuesday, September 21, 2021
Artist Juana Alicia selected to create mural for SF library
The Mission Branch library will feature the work of a prominent artist who continues to leave her mark in that community.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The Mission District of San Francisco is known for many things, including its vibrant and colorful murals. Now, the Mission Branch Library will feature the work of a prominent artist who continues to leave her mark in that community. As part of Hispanic Heritage Month, ABC7 spoke to muralist Juana Alicia.

To know where Juana Alicia finds her inspiration, you have has to go back to the plight of the migrant worker.

In the early 70s, she first heard labor leader Cesar Chavez speak in Detroit. Inspired, within a few months Juana Alicia moved to California's Central Valley, she says, in part, to find her roots.

"I had grown up in Detroit with not much of a Mexican community around us at that time and it was nice to be in a community there and have that experience," she told us.

The excessive use of pesticides ultimately took a toll on her health when she was pregnant with her first child.

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"That was making people very sick, losing the skin on the linings of their respiratory tracts and their hand were peeling. It happened to me and it happen to everybody," she revealed.

That experience began fueling her work as an muralist. "Las Lechugueras," the Women Lettuce Workers, showed a pregnant woman working alongside other women in the fields. Not everyone liked it, at first.

"Oh that won't fly. You need a low rider car, you need other popular culture images," she explained. "And actually a lot of people living in the Mission at that time, had had the migrant experience, had lived and worked in the fields."

That mural was later replaced by another, named "La Llorona," the weeping woman, a mural showing women from all over the world protecting the environment.

The Maestrapeace at the Women's Building in the Mission District is one of her most famous works. In fact, she and six other female artists collaborated to paint this entire building. At the top center is a picture of Rigoberta Menchu, the human rights activist from Guatemala who won the Nobel Peace Prize.

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Tuesday marks the start of Hispanic Heritage Month, a chance to celebrate the Latino community. There is a lot to celebrate, from the culture and sense of family to the pursuit of the American dream.

Bringing these female muralists together was like an arranged marriage, but one that worked.

"The Rigoberta Menchu figure, Miranda Bergman did the design and did the drawing. I painted the portrait of Rigoberta, Susan Cervantes did her " huipil" so we mixed it up," she explained.

The building is dedicated exclusively to the well-being of all women.

"Rigoberta Manchu said this when she came, she said I've been all over the world but never have I felt so vindicated as when I visited this building," she added.

She showed us a piece of painted glass. "Yes, it's a "vitral". It's a glass window. I'm not familiar with it. I've never worked in glass," she expressed.

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Her latest work is called " Nopal de la Mision." Nopal means cactus.

"Beauty and resilience and resistance under harsh conditions," she reminded us. The glass panels have blooming cacti and show references to the founding of Mexico City.

The art work will be placed at the center of the main room at the Mission District Library Branch. It was recently approved by the 14 members of the San Francisco Art Commission.

"We have to support artists that live here and make sure that they have prominent places in our community so that they can show off their work so other people can really see they vibrant culture that we have here in San Francisco," said Suzie Ferras, from the San Francisco Arts Commission.

"I didn't know how to go about being a muralist or a feminine artists or any of those things. We all make the road by walking it," she said.

For Juana Alicia, the journey has been her inspiration.