Fewer than 500 people live in the Mexican town of San Juan Cítala, which is located in the Western state of Jalisco. People around the world know Guadalajara, Jalisco’s capital of some 5 million residents, but San Juan Cítala is that city’s antithesis: Small, unassuming, mostly farmland. As a young child, Bay Area artist Alberto Ybarra would go to San Juan Cítala every December with his mother, Esther, who’s from the town. And Ybarra’s regular visits there prompted him last February to pay homage to San Juan Cítala with his bright mural called Corazón de Campesinos, which translates into English as “heart of the farmworkers.”
The yellow corn in the mural’s left side symbolizes the town’s farm output, and its rich, red soil anchors the long mural. But Ybarra has depicted other unique aspects of San Juan Cítala from his childhood, including the regular open-air movie theater where residents used a white bed sheet as a screen. Different neighbors would hang a sheet in their backyard, using a tree, clothesline or other line, and a projector to screen movies that everyone could enjoy.
“They’d announce it,” Ybarra tells SF Weekly, “and everyone would make tamales, and they’d sell corn out in front, and everyone would come with their blankets and lay down on the ground and sit there and watch. And they were always old-time, black-and-white movies.”
In Corazón de Campesinos, the movie image features the Mexican actor Enrique Lizalde, who was a favorite of Ybarra’s mom, who now lives in Pacifica.
“I found one of [Lizalde’s] old movies,” Ybarra says, “and I put it in the mural for my mom — as a surprise.”
Ybarra, a 46-year-old San Francisco native who now lives in Oakland, most recently visited San Juan Cítala about two years ago, and the town has changed a lot. For one, many people there now have internet access.
“And they’ve been updating the sidewalks and the streets,” he says. “It’s changing pretty rapidly. As a kid, I saw everything change in the beginning.”
But the town’s spirit is the same. Alberto Ybarra has uncles who still live there as farmers, and the mural says that San Juan Cítala’s people are dedicated to “hard work, family values, and the community.” Ybarra dedicates the mural to them and to the Mission community. His childhood visits would include bringing toys, clothing, and other things to San Juan Cítala, so that “community feeling” was also an essential part of his childhood. “My mom,” Ybarra says, “was a kind of Mexican Santa Claus. We’d fly into Guadalajara, and the truck ride from there was two hours. We’d pull up, and I’d see all the kids waiting for us and running after the truck. That was always exciting.”