Like many immigrant children, Jose Ortiz had trouble adjusting to living in new country when his family moved the United States from Mexico when he was 11 years old. His awakening happened when a teacher noticed his artistic talents and encouraged him to start working on canvas. However, it wasn’t until Ortiz was in college that he took meaningful art classes.
Now a successful artist, Ortiz decided that other kids who needed a place to learn about art shouldn’t have wait as long as he did. So in 1992 he started Hijos del Sol, an after school program in East Salinas focusing on murals helping keep youth off the streets. All are welcome at Hijos del Sol but most of the participating youth are immigrants due to the fact that Salinas is a farming town, where migrant workers and their families have settled.
Spark follows the Hijos del Sol crew as they finish up a mural for a group called Healthy Start, which provides social services to immigrant families in East Salinas. The mural is full of vibrant colors and symbolic images. The focus is on the family and the most striking image is of a mother letting her child go so that he may soar over the fields of strawberries.
Many of Ortiz’s former students have returned to work with him and gone on to teach art. Rafael Estrada painted with Hijos del Sol at nine years old until he was in high school. He is now a teacher and recognizes the importance of passing on the knowledge and guidance that Ortiz gave him, to others.
There are now many Hijos del Sol murals around the city including ones by Ortiz’s former students. East Salinas is still struggling with its gang problems, but Ortiz keeps his eyes out for new artists to help him keep painting the walls of this community and pass on his artistic legacy.
Besides being a muralist, Jose G. Ortiz is also an illustrator, painter, and sculptor. He is the visual art director for the Alisal Center for the Fine Arts, which provides arts instruction and arts programming to East Salinas. He received the Benefactor of the Arts Award from the Cultural Council of Monterey County in 1995 and was a Distinguished Fellow for California State University Monterey Bay in 2000.