Manuel Unzueta helped S.B. High students complete this 60-foot mural outside the campus cafeteria. | Credit: Joe Velasco

Students at Santa Barbara High School collaborated with SBHS alumni and renowned artist Manuel Unzueta to create a 60-foot mural outside the campus cafeteria, known as ‘La Loteria De Vida,’ depicting scenes symbolic to Chicano and Chumash culture, while honoring the collective history of Santa Barbara and the high school. 

SBHS Principal Elise Simmons approached Ethnic Studies instructor Joe Velasco with the idea in April 2021.“Murals tell a story, they add beauty to a location,” Simmons said. “And it deters people from drawing or painting on the walls. Students tend to admire and respect their surroundings more.”

Velasco immediately reached out to Unzueta, who has created several iconic murals across the city, including Santa Barbara City College, the Eastside Library, and Ortega Park. Unzueta began brainstorming with students, encouraging them to not be afraid of the painting process, and mentoring  them throughout the entire project. 

More than 20 students, mostly young women, from various school clubs worked with Unzueta, including junior Lilyanna James. “Our main goal was to include as much representation as we could, so anyone who looks at murals can really connect,” she said. 

The mural is divided by pillars into six panels, each named for the theme it is portraying. But in total, the whole piece creates a sprawling image of moving figures and colors, all intermingling as a kaleidoscope. The first panel, named “Madre Tierra/Mother Earth,” shows the earth as the focal point, with a woman standing just below it, arms outstretched, wings expanded behind her, holding flowers in one hand, and fire in the other, as a baby rests in the center of the earth. 

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“I have never painted a mural before, so I was a bit nervous,” said senior Camila Angeles, who worked on this section. “But Maestro Unzueta directed us on what to paint and how to do it, which made painting very fun and easy.” 

The two middle panels, “Anhelo de Hogar…sin Fronteras/Yearning for Home…No Borders” and “Lucha y Resistencia/Struggle and Resistance” are depicted as a sort of mirror image of femininity and masculinity, two hands face outwards, connected at the wrists, each holding loteria cards. The loteria cards show traditional images as well as images specific to SBHS, such as a microscope and a Donnette dancer. Other cards have been left blank, for future students to fill. The cards trail up towards the sky, turning into scrolls and hibiscus flowers surrounded by hummingbirds, a symbol in Mexican culture of “strength in life’s struggle to elevate consciousness.”

The arm on the feminine side turns to waves, with birds of paradise and hibiscus blooming beneath the waves.The masculine arm has a chain around its wrist, and fire spreads from the base. Above, monarch butterflies rise, Mexican symbols of souls of the dead returning to earth as well as the connection between Santa Barbara and Mexico, tethered together by the butterflies migration. 

The final two panels touch on the future and the past. One focuses on the future, with students dreaming of what they will accomplish. The design includes a pair of large wings in front of which students can pose, and the logos of the three clubs whose members helped create the mural: The Ethnic Studies Club, the In Lak’ech Club, and Raíces Santa Barbara. 

The final panel pays homage to the Chumash heritage and the sea, a tomol of paddlers weaving through the waves below the sun. It gives us an insight into the struggles that are faced,” said sophomore Alessandra Godoy, who believes the mural represents the shared personal history of many students. 

Each portion of the mural holds layers of symbols, and more are revealed every time you look back at the painting. Angeles hopes any student can find a connection in the artwork, explaining, “I hope that each time students see the mural, they can see themselves in it.” The mural was officially completed and unveiled in November 2021, and Velasco said over 300 people turned out to celebrate its completion.

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