By Doug Oakley
Sixteen-year-old Alejandra Avalos is learning to paint a mural.
It’s something she never thought she could do, but she gave it a try anyway.
Now she’s proud to tell friends and family that she’s part of a team that’s making a Berkeley street corner come alive with a painting that tells a story of the city’s Latino culture.
The 60-foot long mural in vivid colors at the corner of San Pablo Avenue and Addison Street is called Living without Borders, and is overseen by internationally known muralist Juana Alicia, also a resident of west Berkeley.
The project was started to inspire young people in the neighborhood and offer them an alternative to criminal temptation.
Avalos, who plans on being a nurse or working in a hospital some day, said working on the mural for the last month gave her confidence that she can try new things and succeed.
“One thing I really couldn’t do when I started is paint, and I thought I was going to mess up everything I did,” said Avalos, who lives around the corner on 7th Street.
“The first few times, I really messed up, so Juana helped me blend the colors, and that’s when I really got it.” At first she painted a woman’s skirt bright pink which looked “real horrible,” Avalos said.
“So I put in purple, blue and a little bit of red and now it looks like it’s supposed to,” she added.
Avalos gets paid $8 an hour for 10 hours a week. Beyond that, her labor is volunteer, she said.
Avalos agreed that a project like this is probably good for kids in west Berkeley.
“Some of them don’t even go to school, and they’re just wandering around the street during the day,” Avalos said.
The project is funded by grants from UC Berkeley and other sources and has no less than 10 community groups and the city of Berkeley involved.
It features a variety of stories, but includes a pro-immigration message with a woman tearing up a map of the U.S. Mexican border, has a couple saying goodbye at the border and pays tribute to area youths killed in gang violence.
Alicia, who teaches a mural program at Berkeley City College, said she hopes the mural will be done by the end of May. A veteran of several murals projects in San Francisco, Alicia said a good mural needs support from area residents or it will fail.
“The community is the silent partner, and if you don’t make them your partner, they’re not so silent,” Alicia said.
Mi Tierra Foods owner, Jesus Mendez, whose wall the mural is being painted on, turned out to be a great partner, Alicia said.
“I thought this would be a good opportunity for some of the kids to show their talent and for the at-risk youth to do something positive,” Mendez said. “And since we’re a small business, we try to support anything that helps the community.”