CALEXICO — A drug-free reminder will be watching over the students at Enrique Camarena Junior High School in the form of a new mural of a hometown hero.
Students and staff in the After School Education and Safety program worked on the image of Enrique Camarena that now covers a portion of a wall near the entrance of the school with splashes of red, yellow, black and white. The mural was unveiled Monday to kick off Red Ribbon Week.
Throughout the week, residents of the Imperial Valley and millions throughout the nation will don red ribbons in honor of slain Drug Enforcement Administration agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena. The man who grew up in Calexico became a legendary DEA agent before being kidnapped, tortured, beaten and brutally killed in Mexico because of the work he did.
Schools in the Valley are planning events and theme days to bring awareness about living drug-free lives. At the school named in memory of Camarena, students are being asked to dress up throughout the week and an assembly is planned Wednesday to talk to students about following their dreams and not letting drugs get in the way of them.
Red Ribbon Week reminds people of “who he (Camarena) was and what he lived for,” said Principal Carlos Gonzales.
“Every opportunity I get to talk to students, whether it be at assemblies or over the intercom in the morning or even at graduations, I like to bring up the fact that they should feel very proud that they come to a school, which is honored and named after an unbelievable citizen of this nation,” he said.
Camarena stands for all the right things — bravery, honor, being very positive, and making life and the community better for every single citizen, Gonzales said. The mural is a beautiful portrait in honor of Camarena.
“We felt that there was no better time to do it (unveil the mural) than actually kicking off … Red Ribbon Week,” he said.
Now students can see for whom the school is named every day, Gonzales said. It brings a great sense of pride, and students have been admiring the mural throughout the day Monday.
Many of the students who helped put up the mural said they were proud of the large image displayed on the side of the building.
For 12-year-old Gabriel Peña it seemed easy at first to put the mural up, but he soon learned it took a lot more than he expected, he said. It was worth it though.
Having the mural up is one of the ways students will be reminded to not do drugs, which Gabriel said he is “never ever ever” going to do.
For students who don’t know who Camarena is, the mural gives them an opportunity to ask who Camarena was and why he is important to this area and the country, said Mariano Velez, one of the After School Education and Safety coordinators for the school who worked to paint the project over the weekend.
“Having his picture on the wall is a constant reminder of what we need to do to live up to that goal, that expectation, and that is to do everything we can to fight drugs,” Velez said.
Camarena’s story is an inspiration for 12-year-old Victoria Acuña-Aguilar. She said it reminds her never to do drugs.
“He deserves to be honored because he fought to stop drugs, and yet he died,” she said. “He died trying to stop drugs.”
Camarena was an important figure for the school and entire city, said 13-year-old Armando Miguel Orozco. He was a very good cop and he fought against drugs, Armando said.
“Drugs are bad for your health,” Armando said. “People who think they are good are basically not right. Drugs can be bad for breathing, seeing, all that stuff.”
He gave a firm “no” that he would never do drugs.