Skip to main content


People painting a mural

People painting a mural

A Vision for Tomorrow

The Ignatian Center’s Thriving Neighbors Initiative is helping a group of San Jose immigrant mothers build a better future for their community.

The Ignatian Center’s Thriving Neighbors Initiative is helping a group of San Jose immigrant mothers build a better future for their community. 

A group of San Jose immigrant mothers working with Santa Clara University to research and help solve three of their community’s biggest social problems—public safety, housing insecurity, and special needs education—is basking in a colorful new mural at Washington Elementary School they say symbolizes two years of hard work. 

The Madres Emprendedoras: Mosaicos de la Communidad—Spanish for Entrepreneurial Mothers: Mosaics of the Community—received a standing ovation at the school on Friday from about 80 parents, residents, and well-wishers, including San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, after the striking panorama was unveiled.

Artist Carlos Rodriguez depicted the mothers’ 10 themes of hope for the future, such as figures of butterflies to represent liberty, flowers to represent growth, a heart for love, a baby for their maternal instincts, and a home as a safe place to live.

Beatrice Uribe, a single mother who lives in inadequate housing with her 10-year-old daughter Amanda, spoke from her heart to the crowd about her longing for a sturdy house like the one depicted in the mural.

A mural painting with a baby inside of a heart

“The house represents a family, a home, a roof to live under where one is not cold,’’ she read in Spanish from text of the mothers’ reflections prepared with the support of SCU associate professor of sociology Laura Nichols and ethnic studies assistant professor Jesica Fernandez, who jointly headed up the program.

“It also represents our dreams and aspirations,’’ said Uribe, “the dream of one day having our own home where we can live with dignity.’’

The mural is the culmination of a two-year-program funded by a grant from the Ignatian Center’s Thriving Neighbors Initiative, which links Santa Clara University with the five, predominantly Latino neighborhoods that make up the low-income Greater Washington community in San Jose. In fact, the school neighborhood shares the distinction of being “the community of my grandmother,’’ said Mayor Liccardo.

The initiative aims to partner with residents by teaching skills, offering training, and supplementing their knowledge.

In this collaboration between SCU faculty, students and the community, about a dozen mostly Spanish-speaking immigrant mothers volunteered for the project, the latter group guided by Fernandez on the elementary school site.

From Art to Action

The Latina mothers identified the top three issues they wished to confront: 1) threats to public safety, including gang members congregating near the school; prostitutes doing business nearby, and even dumpsters at the end of driveways that force children to walk into dangerous traffic; 2) lack of affordable housing, exacerbated by expensive new residential developments going up nearby; and 3) frustration over a lack of resources for learning-disabled children. 

Back at SCU, Nichols’ students investigated solutions, and worked with the mothers to put together resources and identify administrators at the elementary school, officials at San Jose’s housing department, and Josue Fuentes, the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s community prosecutor for the area, who could help.

Alma Orozco ’17 (Liberal Studies/Psychology) worked with the mothers, particularly those frustrated for their special needs children.

Looking back, she said, the program showed her the importance of empowering residents to be "the leaders of their own change.’’

And, it amplified her commitment to her own community in San Jose’s Seven Trees neighborhood that she believes could benefit from such a strategy.

“That’s my goal,’’ said Orozco, now a college-access advisor to low-income San Jose high-school students. 

Two years after the Madres program kicked off in 2015-2016, some problems still persist, but are slowly improving, and the mothers are more confident in helping find solutions.

“I was so proud to see the moms feel strong and say what this means to them,’’ said Nichols of the mothers. 

Adding the mural, said Fernandez, represents hope and reinforces the belief that the community can “organize to create something bigger and better.’’

Even Amanda Uribe has a seen a difference in her mother over the course of the SCU program.

“She seems a lot happier now,’’ said the fifth-grader who loves art and reading books, like “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.”

Top Stories, Features