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Interview with Xochitl Guerrero

By Aniya Grimm

Photoshoot by Doug Zimmerman

Celebrating the life and culture of the community, local artist Xochitl Guerrero’s mural pays tribute to the past, present, and future on the walls of the Oakland Public Library’s César Chavez branch. Given this branch’s rich history, it was only fitting to have someone who was raised in Oakland and with a reputation for creating beautiful murals since 1972, commissioned to enhance the 240 sq ft wallspace. Guerrero’s piece includes elements of corn and cactus, hands of various colors, farmers in a field, learners old and young, and of course books.

Guerrero was born in 1954 and was first mentored by her father, a self-taught artist and activist known as Zala. She continued to cultivate her passion and hone her craft by studying at Laney College, Peralta Community College, and the University of California, Berkeley. In 1980, she received her bachelor’s in fine arts from California State University Hayward, now CSU East Bay. Throughout her career, Guerrero has painted the murals A Vision of Our Ancient Ways, Healing the Past, Present, and Future (1977) at La Cliníca de la Raza in East Oakland, Youth of the World Let’s Create a Better World (1984), and a well-known curandera (medicine woman), restoring the health of another woman by laying her hands on her forehead for the mural Maestrapeace on San Francisco’s The Women’s Building in the 1990s. In 2013, she opened her own business, Taller Xochicura, to provide more people with access to experience creating art.

Guerrero’s artistic style is a perfect fit for the César Chavez wall space. The branch is located near the Fruitvale BART station and part of the Fruitvale Transit Village. Every month, the branch serves 3,000 people as a neighborhood library with an extensive historical collection of Chicano Studies texts, a city-wide latino resource center, a space for social and community services such as tutoring services, open chess games, and youth events. As a member of the community herself, Guerrero enjoys these services as well.

During the creative process, Guerrero decided to do the work of priming, outlining, gridding, and painting mostly herself. She pushed herself to ensure viewers can connect with her as the artist and the moments in history that inspired the mural. “Creating art [requires] energy. If you don’t have enough energy, it’s really hard to put your all [in]…I like to put my all in…”

Guerrero started this piece by visiting the branch and providing several designs before one was decided upon. Because of the gardening program, she incorporated seeds of rosemary and chamomile. The myriad of books represents learning about life and the heritage regardless of age. Remembering family that has passed is an important element of latino culture so she included items used to celebrate the Day of the Dead. The images of César Chavez and the Pyramid of the Sun represent strength, power, and contagious energy–all of which Guerrero felt when meeting Chavez and visiting the pyramid. The work she has done will live on in the community, and serve as a reminder that knowledge is power, especially when we know our history.

The mural is scheduled to be showcased at the César Chavez branch on May 24 at 5pm. After the piece is complete, Guerrero will go back to enjoying DIY activities, painting with her husband, and continuing meditative practices that fuel her creative spirit.


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