Almost 50 years ago, in 1974, Salvador Barajas and a group of muralists changed the fabric of Chicano Park forever. Before Chicano Park was a tourist attraction for people all over the world, it was an underfunded community park with gray pillars ready to be taken over by the local and state governments.
“There was nothing here,” Barajas said on a cloudy morning in Chicano Park under the Coronado Bridge. “At that time, this community was being decimated and families were being driven out of their homes. We wanted to paint messages on these pillars to show how upset we were and we wanted to paint something that celebrated our culture. This is one of the oldest Mexican and Chicano communities in California.”
Barajas’ first brush strokes were on “Historical Mural,” which celebrates Chicano and Latino heroes and icons. Since then, Barajas has painted three murals in Chicano Park and has spent more than 50 years fighting for their historical status and being a representative for one of the most important Chicano communities in the country. In 2012, Barajas was part of the team that helped restore the “Historical Mural” on 2024 Logan Ave.
Barajas is one of the most represented artists in Chicano Park and at 77 years old, he is making plans on his next mural in the park, commissioned by Gente Unida, a human rights border coalition.
For his historical and inspirational contributions to Chicano Park and the local and national arts community, Salvador Barajas is being awarded Southwestern College’s 2021 honorary degree—Southwestern College’s highest honor.
Barajas was nominated by journalism Professor Dr. Max Branscomb. Dr. Branscomb called Barajas a humble and iconic artist and Chicano Park’s greatest muralist.
“It is an honor to nominate Mr. Salvador Barajas for a Southwestern College Honorary Degree,” Branscomb said. “He has made a profound and permanent impact on our community, is an inspiration to members of our college community, and is a hero to countless Chicanos/Latinos as well as people who value multiculturalism in our region. He is also a kind, generous and decent man who is a role model and inspirational figure. Like his favorite canvases, he is a pillar in nuestra tierra.”
Barajas, who was born in Nio, Sinaloa and grew up in Tijuana, moved to San Diego in 1961 and attended a San Diego evening school to learn English. After four years in the Air Force, Barajas used his G.I. benefits to enroll at Los Angeles Trade Technical College, later earning a degree in advertising design.
Being a product of the community college system, Barajas says he believes in the opportunities community colleges offer to students, especially minority students. He said it is a true honor to receive an honorary degree from Southwestern College because of his strong belief in education and the power it has to change lives.
“I think community colleges are one of the greatest things to happen to minorities,” said Barajas. “Community colleges are crucial to educating and providing job training. You can get a well-paying and high-demand job as soon as you graduate.”
Barajas is a living Chicano Park history book and 10 years ago he worked to put his knowledge on paper when he designed the “Chicano Park Mural Restoration Technical Manual,” a manual that is part history book and part technical care instructions for the murals.
“The history of this park and this community is an incredible history,” Barajas said. “These murals and Chicano Park are a constant reminder of the power of this community and that this community will never go away.”