Chicano Park muralist Victor Ochoa: “My love for education started in the barrios”

June 20, 2014

By Pablo J. Sáinz

Victor  Ochoa spent his career bringing the joy and understanding of art to the community.

Victor Ochoa spent his career bringing the joy and understanding of art to the community.

After almost a quarter of a century teaching art in formal educational institutions, Chicano Park muralist Victor Ochoa retired from traditional classrooms last week, when MAAC Community Charter School ended its school year.
Ochoa taught art at MAAC for 13 years, but before that he had taught at Grossmont College for almost 23 years, and several more years at UCSD and San Diego Mesa College.

“I never wanted to be a full-time teacher, as I saw this as a death blow of sorts to my art career and community activism,” said Ochoa, who was born in East Los Angeles in 1948. “But I think I got a reality check 24 years ago, when my son was born. I was nervous about getting a steadier job.”

But what he saw as a day-job to pay the bills soon became a passion for Ochoa, who added that even as an artist he sees his artistic work as a way to educate the public.

“I think teaching became an outgrowth of painting murals as a Chicano activist in many barrios,” he said.

During his 13 years at MAAC Community Charter School, a non-traditional high school for at-risk students in the Sweetwater Union High School District, Ochoa was able to create a culture-based curriculum that catered to the Latino students at the school. From silk-screening to airbrushing, and from lettering to graphic design, the courses he taught at MAAC always had a focus on promoting cultural and historical pride among his Mexican students.

“The best part of teaching at MAAC was being able to design a special curriculum for my gente that was entirely bilingual,” Ochoa said. “The students could relate to it and complied with state standards, never forgetting about the Chicano perspective of preparing the next generations of students to take on the situations.”

Ochoa came to San Diego as a teenager, and he was one of the original activists who took over the land of what was to become Chicano Park, a world-renown park with dozens of murals created during the Chicano Movement, more than 40 years ago. He was a co-founder of the Centro Cultural de la Raza, in Balboa Park. Today, Ochoa is a widely recognized Chicano painter and muralist long considered to be one of the pioneers of San Diego’s Chicano art movement.

When he first came to MAAC Community Charter School, he was assigned the task of helping reduce the graffiti issues happening in the South Bay, having had the experience of starting WriterzBlok, an arts organization where youth become graffiti artists and spend their talents in positive ways.

He can also relate to the students, many of whom, like Ochoa, had ties to Tijuana.

“I had experience on this issue, as a son of immigrant parents and living at the border, much like our students. I have always related to their issues,” he said.

For Marisol Rerucha, director of MAAC Community Charter School, Ochoa was a teacher who influenced all of the school, not only the students who took his art classes.

“Victor Ochoa’s influence is felt throughout our school,” she said. “Not only on the walls, but in the sense of accomplishment that students develop. The cultural and linguistic responsive approach that is felt upon entering MCCS was created and sustained, in great by Victor Ochoa. As an instructor, Victor held high expectations for students while helping them accept that they are all artists that can use the visual arts format to express their thoughts, feelings and learning. Victor was a consistent presence, and force, who is very adept at collaborating with our team to advance our school.”

Although Ochoa is retiring from formal education, he’s not retiring from teaching. Among his current and future projects are international exhibitions, continuing with the restoration of some of the Chicano Park murals, and new paintings in his Tijuana studio. And of course, he will continue with his children’s art workshop during Chicano Park Day in April. All of these projects include teaching others about Chicano art, history, and culture.

“I feel that the love of education started while coordinating Chicano murals in the barrios. The democratic dynamics instantly called for a classroom attitude,” he said.

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