Savanna High School’s New “Tonantzin” Mural Reflects a Changing Anaheim

Savanna High School in Anaheim just got a fresh coat of cultura before students leave for summer vacation. Classmates, teachers and administrators gathered on Monday afternoon for a ceremony celebrating Tonantzin: La Fuerza del Corazon, (Tonantzin: The Heart’s Strength) a five-month labor of love that celebrates three immigrant Latina mothers.

“It looks amazing, it looks beautiful,” said Spanish teacher Juan Villa, as he admired the mural that now decorates a wall outside his classroom. It’s the perfect location: He was the main advocate for the mural, and the painter was his former student, Andres Martinez, who also did a “People of the Sun” art piece for inside his old teacher’s classroom. “It’s an honor Andres keeps coming back and leaving his art for us to admire,” Villa added. Martinez, a 28-year-old undocumented visual and tattoo artist, had complete artistic freedom to do the “Tonantzin” mural; he started on January 21, the day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration.

The artist opted to forgo easy depictions of Emiliano Zapata and las adelitas and instead focused on mujeres whose feats are no less heroic. “I wanted to show the stories of three women that I learned to admire for what they represent, not only to their children, but as members of our community,” Martinez said at the unveiling event. “They’re people that most of the time we don’t really recognize. But in reality, who makes the difference in our families are our mothers.”

Leonela, Veronica and Alicia are real life moms who crossed the border sin papeles to give their children a chance for a good education. “Tonantzin,” who’s the Mother Goddess in Mexica religion, comes from an art series Martinez calls “Santos de mi Padre” (“Saints of My Father”) which pays tribute to everyday miracle workers. A heart rests at the center of the mural with roots branching out of its chambers. Mayan calendars serve as halos hovering over the women. Monarch butterflies painted throughout the mural represent the Great Migration to El Norte.

“You get here without anything, sometimes not even food or a bed to sleep on,” Leonela said in front of her portrait. Leonela migrated to the United States when she was 17. “To move to another place is really hard. I really wanted my children to grow up in a place where they could go to a good school and graduate,” she added, tearing up before wrapping her daughter in a loving embrace.

Joules, a Savanna alumna from Weapons of Mass Creation, serenaded the crowd with her fierce feminist rhymes to close the program. The shimmering colors of Tonantzin contrast starkly with the drab gray that adorns the surrounding walls of the school’s still-lingering Confederate color scheme. No other school in the Anaheim Union High School District has arte akin to Savanna’s new Chicana mural.

It’s been a long time coming. Mr. Villa started at Savanna during the 1999-2000 school year when Latinos formed a slight majority of the student body. Like the rest of the city, the West Side high school has seen a dramatic demographic flip where Latinos are now a super-majority. Students have already related to the mural of Latinas while passing through the hall.

“Our roots come from our families,” Martinez proudly said. “No matter where you go, you’re always going to have your roots with you.”

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