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In 1968, while San Antonio was hosting the world’s fair downtown, just a few miles away a group of students was protesting at Edgewood High School. They carried signs saying “Better Books, Better Education,” and “College, Not Vietnam.” More than 50 years later, some of the participants of the Edgewood walkout were present to unveil the Changing the World mural that depicts the journey and hardship of equity in education.

The massive 7-foot-by-36-foot mural was commissioned by Northwest Vista College and created by award-winning artist Adriana M.J. Garcia. The mural features images of current Northwest Vista College students who have gone back to school later in life, come from immigrant parents, are first-generation college students or have parents who made sacrifices to support their children’s educational journey. The artwork reflects the stories of creative survival, symbols of support, and political activism that lead many students to fight for equal education.

The project’s theme emerged from community research and student surveys conducted at Northwest Vista College.

Garcia said the project’s focus on education is important to San Antonio because of its high rate of high school dropouts.

“I have had the privilege of hearing so many unique and non-traditional journeys of education from so many students,” Garcia said. “One young woman shared with me how after school she would help her mother clean houses and once they were done, they would go home, and her mother, who only spoke Spanish, would help her with her homework. She [the student] would translate the homework in[to] Spanish so her mom could help [her] and then translate it back into English in order to turn it in. This is indicative how family plays a critical role in our success.”

The mural received additional help from longtime San Antonio artist Roberto Sifuentes. He painted the iconic image of student protesters first printed in the San Antonio Express-News. Sifuentes’ wife, Herlinda, participated in the Edgewood walkouts and graduated from Edgewood in 1968.

San Antonio has a rich history of educational activism. Mario Compean, a well-known activist, also participated in the first meeting in planning for the mural to provide context and history. He is the co-founder of the Mexican American Youth Organization and the Raza Unida Party.

While Garcia has the distinction as the lead artist and guide on the project along with her assistant Michelle Love, numerous middle, high school, and college students also participated in painting the mural. This project, funded by an Arts Engagement in American Communities grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, is a collaboration of two Northwest Vista College academic programs: Mexican American Studies and the Fine Arts departments. 

Garcia, who was a former student and faculty member of Northwest Vista College, is also an award-winning artist, muralist, and scenic designer from San Antonio’s West Side. She is a winner of the Jose Cuervo Traditional Mural Project, a national art competition, and presents at national conferences. 

Sandra D. Garza, coordinator of Northwest Vista College’s Mexican American Studies program, said at the unveiling that her path to getting an education had many curves from earning a GED to graduating from San Antonio College, and eventually earning a doctoral degree from the University of Texas at San Antonio. Her story resembled many of the students’ stories that were compiled in preparation for the project. Even the cactus in the mural had a special meaning.

“For example, the living rock cactus in the mural represents a story shared with us by an NVC student who spoke about the lessons he learned from his mother about resilience in the face of adversity,” Garza said. “The living rock cactus blooms in the harshest conditions and is native to this region that we call the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. It’s proof that this is one of the things that connects us with nature.”

To view the mural, visit the Cypress Campus Center at Northwest Vista College or see the full image on the college website.

Melissa Monroe-Young, APR, a former journalist, is the manager of Marketing & Strategic Communications at Northwest Vista College, one of the Alamo Colleges. She’s an advocate for multicultural issues...