Niños del Mundo Alive and Well at Chicano Park
September 9, 2011
Historic Restoration Project’s Second Phase Now In Progress
Photo and text: David Avalos
On July and August weekends this summer Norma Montoya traveled from Los Angeles to San Diego’s Chicano Park painstakingly repainting Niños del Mundo. The hardworking artist first came south in 1975 with Charles “Gato” Félix, invited by local muralists to paint Niños on the Coronado Bridge’s concrete pillars.
Montoya had been a commercial window painter recruited by Felíx to teach her skills to aspiring young women artists at Estrada Courts, a low-income housing project in LA’s Boyle Heights. In 1973 murals first appeared at both Chicano Park and Estrada Courts. Aware of each other’s barrio reputations artists found a way to connect. Montoya, who had painted Innocence (1973) and Sleeping Woman’s Dream (1974) at the projects, arrived in San Diego as an established Chicana organizer and muralist.
She and Felíx responded to the geometry of the pillars with a three-dimensional image directing children to break repressive chains and pursue happiness by means of books and artists’ brushes, to expand consciousness through reason and imagination, and to behold the terrors and fasciations found beneath twinned Quetzalcoatl’s watchful eyes.
Traveling back through time Montoya hopes that Felíx, now deceased, is satisfied with her efforts to be faithful to their original vision. She made changes necessitated by her lifetime of acquired technical knowledge, as well as a developed consciousness that prompted her, as one example, to add braids or “trencitas” to one of the figures in the mural so that girls would feel included.
UCSD Professor Gail Pérez, collecting oral histories of Park muralists, recorded Montoya’s account of an interaction while working here. When one niño del barrio asked her if the UFW eagle was a gang sign, she said, “let me tell you a story about a man named César Chávez.” She stopped painting and went on to describe the farm workers’ movement to the young boy. Norma Montoya returns to LAs leaving all of us with wonderful gifts including a revitalized mural pointing to a bright future for a new generation.