It’s a late Sunday afternoon in Culver City, California, and the air is filled with booming Spanish-language music and snatches of conversation. Today, the local high school is packed with onlookers waiting to witness the culmination of a process months in the making: the ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new mural full of real-life superheroes of color, from Bruce Lee to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King.
The mural is ensconced on the side wall of the ceramics classroom at Culver City High School, far towards the back parking lot. It’s large, spanning the wall’s full length and width – when people go up to take pictures, they will be dwarfed by its size. Today, it’s helped turn this otherwise empty back lot of the school into a place of joyous celebration.
Once Randy Santiago makes his way up to the front stage, the loud music and snatches of conversation give way to uproarious applause. An alumnus of Culver City High School, Randy is the lead artist of the mural, having led the project since May of 2019. The mural had originally started out as a response to an assignment in his Intercultural Literature class; now, over nine months later, this once-small school project is finally finished.
Santiago’s time on the stage is short – after briefly greeting the audience, he introduces Culver City Board of Education members Summer McBride and Leslie Lockhart, the first of what will be a long line of staff members and students alike. These speakers will touch on familiar themes, including, most prominently, that of the importance of diversity and the depth of Santiago’s passion as an artist and activist.
One of the most powerful guest speakers is Martin Sernaz. Sernaz, one of Santiago’s fellow artists, is twitchy and animated; his remarks are at once motivational and humorous. He wants to inspire the youth, he says – it’s his way of thanking God for his artistic gifts. It explains why he’s helping the younger Santiago with this project. In one of the more memorable moments of the afternoon, Sernaz quips, “I’m trying to show Randy the game, so that he can add game to his game.”
Shortly following Sernaz’s speech, Santiago returns to the stage. He gives his remarks first in English, then in Spanish – a testament to his dual heritage. Santiago, after all, is Oaxacan, and so is Sernaz. He says he dedicates this mural to his Oaxacan heritage, largely because of how “it was difficult to find superheroes who looked like [him]”. He never saw any Latin-American heroes, much less Oaxacan heroes, in his textbooks. He felt alienated. And so he decided to create.
Towards the end of his speech, Santiago, too, delivers a quote to remember, one steeped in his frustration over lack of representation of marginalized peoples – and victory in having, through this mural, taken a big swing for them: “History may be erased from our textbooks, but not from our blood.”
Santiago steps backwards, and the crowd bursts into applause. He wears a proud, victorious look – one that is mirrored on the faces of his audience.
Brandon Kim, Grade 11
Culver City High School