School to feature colorful language

CNJ staff photo: Andy DeLisle
Carlos Callejo mixes paint for a mural at La Casita Elementary. Callejo worked on the mural for four weeks.

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ Staff Writer

He prepares for a morning of work by ridding himself of the remnants of yesterday — thick globs of acrylic paint that have dried on his tray. Then, mixing acrylics anew, Carlos Callejos can continue his transformations, which turn dull structures into works of art.

Callejos paused from his latest project under the shade of a tree. Looming behind him were the brick walls of La Casita Elementary School.

In celebration of its status as the first dual-language school in Clovis, the El Paso artist was commissioned to paint a mural on the outside of the school.

“I am honored to be part of their plan,” Callejos said, his jeans and white T-shirt splattered with the colors that grace the brick wall — neon pink and blue and a range of bold, primary colors.

School board members approved the dual-language transition at La Casita early this spring. Within seven years, instruction in all La Casita classrooms will be given in Spanish and English. La Casita students should leave the school fluent in both languages.

“Bilingualism is a tremendous benefit for our students,” Callejos said. “It has been proven time and time again.

“Other countries — where children are taught two or three different languages — they are the ones that will be ahead of us.”

Callejos said groups who are threatened by immigration have exploited the issue of language, thereby cloaking its educational value.

But he shies away from being too political. His art is intended to unite communities, not divide them.

“I tend to make a strong connection with the communities where I paint so my art doesn’t become my own interpretation but it is actually their voice — their concerns, their celebrations.”

Such heightened awareness of the communities he paints for drew former La Casita principal and a member of the New Mexico Association for Bilingual Education David Briseno to Callejos’ work, he said.

“I like the colors he utilizes, his abilty to work around a theme and his ability to connect with the community,” Briseno said.

In the La Casita mural, a classroom scene is depicted. A bluish ghost rises from the bricks and whispers into the teacher’s ear, her students gathered around her in a circle.

Callejos said the ghost represents ancestral knowledge. “She is whispering knowledge to the teacher,” he said.

The artist spent more than three weeks in Clovis working on the mural.

His murals can also be seen in Nicaragua, Italy, Seattle, Wash., and Washington, D.C., he said.