Rancho Cotate High students complete mural after almost 3-year process

The mural was drafted and painted by students, with the help of teachers and artists and coordinators Raizes Collective.|

Rancho Cotate High School students shook cans of spray paint, laid down lines of masking tape, dipped brushes into paint and used stencils to add the final elements and finishing touches Sunday morning to the school’s new mural.

The art piece, which has been almost three years in the making, is meant to highlight the school’s diversity. It features elements that represent the multiple ethnicities and backgrounds of the students, said Jibranh Ortega, Spanish teacher and MEChA club adviser.

In the center of the mural is an Aztec pyramid. At its base is a crouched cougar ― Rancho Cotate’s mascot ― which is painted green in the style of an alebrije, which are colorful and whimsical wood carvings from Mexico that depict animals and other creatures.

To the right, in the mural, is a sun depicted in Polynesian and Pacific Islander-style, an image of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and a fist in the pan-African colors of black, green and red.

To the left, in the mural, is a llama ― also painted as an alebrije ― a Mayan calendar, the Statue of Liberty and a green cedar, which is featured on the national flag of Lebanon.

Ruby De Andra, a junior and secretary for the MEChA club, said she was happy to see a piece of art, which represents the school’s diverse student body, come to life.

“It’s exciting to see something that was originally an idea finally coming together and representing different cultures,” she said. “This school is a lot of people from different places. So, just having that representation be here is really important to us.”

Ortega said the mural was initially proposed in spring 2020 as a project for the MEChA club, which promotes culture and history for Latino students. Then, after the first draft of the mural was submitted, it received some criticism for not being more representative of the student body.

“So we said, ‘Let’s open it up! Let’s welcome other individuals and other groups!’” he said.

The MEChA club held open meetings and met with other student organizations to determine what other cultures and symbols would be incorporated into the mural, De Andra said.

A Lebanese student painted the cedar tree. Some more patriotic students advocated for the addition of the Washington Monument, an eagle and the Statue of Liberty. The Black Student Union decided on the the image of King and the fist.

“It’s really important that we have representation of our American Black population,” said Tina Rogers, an artist and coordinator with the Raizes Collective, a local arts organization that worked with students to plan and complete the mural.

“Even though we’re a small percentage in Sonoma County, we are here and we need to be represented,” she added.

Rogers said she has worked with kids on projects like these for about 30 years. She said this one has been the most rewarding assignment she has helped, partially because she is an alumna of Rancho Cotate High School.

“It represents the students that are here,” she said. “It represents more cultures.”

Reyna Lopez, a junior and MEChA club vice president, said she loves a lot of pieces of the mural, but her favorite is the cougar painted to resemble an alebrije.

“It just represents the school, and it also represents what we are trying to achieve with the mural,” she said. “I just really like the inclusiveness ― it ties everything together.”

You can reach Staff Writer Madison Smalstig at madison.smalstig@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @madi.smals.

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