We Are Muwekma Ohlone Mural, San Jose
Commissioned By: SJWalls
Look below the street level and underneath a bridge for this next mural. The importance of urban green spaces and multi use corridors promote healthier and safer pedestrian and cycling movements throughout the city. Well-designed public trails create spaces for active play and passive reflection, both offering respite from urban life. Parks and plazas in downtowns are used as accessible free spaces of resistance confronting spaces of power and exclusion.
Stretching along the Guadalupe River Trail, this monumental mural by artist Alfonso Salazar was painted as part of the third Artist-In-Residence program at San José Walls. The work is both a depiction of the present and past of the Muwekma Ohlone tribe and a proclamation of resistance. The group, which includes Indigenous people from across the San Francisco Bay region, was stripped of their rights in 1927, despite their continual presence in their ancestral home. This public artwork runs along Thámien Rúmmey, an ancestral site for the Muwekma Ohlone, now known as the Guadalupe River, and depicts tribal leaders, elders and the landscape and flora and fauna of the region.
Central to the mural is a portrait of Muwekma Ohlone Chairwoman Charlene Nijmeh, wearing the traditional warrior eagle headpiece of the tribe. On either side of her, floating in the clouds are portraits of the elders of the tribe, while below are children engaged in traditional activities, a symbol of the continual and continuing life and traditions of the Muwekma Ohlone people. Painted in bold letters are the words “Makkin Mak Nommo (We Are Still Here).”
Salazar and the San José Walls team worked closely with Chairwoman Nijmeh and the Muwekma Ohlone tribe to create a work of art that not only honors the history of the tribe and marks the site of the Guadalupe River, but equally serves as a statement of resistance to narratives that Indigenous communities are historical, rather than present and alive. Moreover, this work serves to beautify and revitalize the Guadalupe River Trail, thus honoring the Muwekma Ohlone through action and utilizing art as a space for community gathering and wellness.
“We Are Muwekma Ohlone” is a visual response to components of settler-colonialism, the terminal narrative and erasure and replacement. The terminal narrative justified the intentional actions of extinguishment against Indigenous people because they would cease to exist as Euro-American society populated the frontier. As those new societies took possession of the lands, the original stewards were erased through the renaming of the geography, the extermination policies of California, and the destruction of their villages.
Euro-America reimagined the story of the Bay Area casting the newcomers as the original inhabitants of the land by ignoring the history of the area prior to European settlement, framing the establishment of new settlements as the “first,” and preserving a history that cast Indigenous people as the sole aggressors in conflicts and obstacles to civilization. “We Are Muwekma Ohlone” is a reminder that the Muwekma Ohlone are integral to the history of the area, and that they are here in the present living and flourishing amongst the settler-colonial society that attempted to erase and replace them.
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