Activist and muralist Alicia María Sui amplifies voices and empowers communities through art

Her mural in the City College cafeteria is a celebration of 50 years of Chicana/o studies

Muralist and activist Alicia María Sui stands in front of the brightly colored Chicana/o Studies mural she designed and explains her artistic process

Muralist and activist Alicia María Sui, standing against the backdrop of the Chicana/o Studies mural she designed, explains her process of channeling community voices to tell empowering stories through her art. San Diego City College courtesy photo

Kathryn Gray, Editor-In-Chief

Bathed in the calming purple and blue hues reflecting off a mural behind her, muralist and activist Alicia María Sui explained the meaning and history behind some of the most memorable projects she has worked on during her  20-year career.

“I see the role of an artist as many roles,” Sui said. “It’s very challenging. You’re a historian, you’re a storyteller, you are someone who puts stories into visual form.”

The 40 attendees who gathered to hear Sui speak in the San Diego City College cafeteria on Thursday, Oct. 6 more than filled the seats arranged for the event. They even grabbed their own from around the room after she started, stealthily moving in close to hear every word of the soft-spoken artist.

They were most eager to hear about the mural behind her, unveiled in May 2022.

Designed by Sui in collaboration with the City’s Chicana/o studies department, the floor-to-ceiling mural that covers an entire wall of the cafeteria celebrates 50 years of Chicana/o studies at City.

At the heart of Sui’s vision for the mural was the desire of the City Chicana/o community and what they wanted to see represented.

Inspired also by the community muralism technique of Malaquias Montoya, a mentor and professor of Sui’s while at UC Davis, Sui worked to make sure all ideas in the mural came from the City community.

Scenes of City students protesting at Chicano Park and local musicians Ramon “Chunky” Sanchez and City alum Joaquin “Quino” McWhinney are depicted in the mural.

Sui, born in Honduras, identifies strongly with her Nawat-Pipil ancestry and through her art desires to amplify stories of and empower marginalized communities who are often left out of traditional history books. 

“When she said her goal is to make people feel empowered, that was beautiful,” City student Diana Murray said. “I looked over at the mural when she said that and I thought wow that is exactly what she captured here.”

Taking inspiration from the traditional weaving style of the Lenca people, native to parts of present-day El Salvador and Honduras, Sui is currently working on a mural at San Diego State University. Each thread of the weave is necessary to maintain its integrity, explained Sui; everything has a place and a purpose.

The mural can be viewed in the City College cafeteria Monday through Thursday between 8 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.

To learn more about Sui’s activism and art visit here. To learn more about Chicana/o Studies at City College visit here.