Pan American Unity (Full Mural)

Here are some resources used with permission for some of the curriculum below:

Note: Since this work was done before some current historical resources were available, there may be some different interpretations of the Rivera story.

Three San Francisco Murals of Diego Rivera (1980) by Elizabeth Fuentes Rojas de Cadena.

“Understanding the Evolution of Diego Rivera’s Message to the United States: An Explication of the Pan American Unity Mural” by Merrill Barden Collins (1992)

Pan American Unity, A Fresco by the Mexican Artist Diego Rivera” by Masha Zakheim (1991)

Diego Rivera in San Francisco by Masha Zakheim (2001)

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Lesson On Mexican Muralism

Table of Contents:


Upon your successful completion of this module, you’ll be able to:

  • Summarize the context of Mexican muralism within global social realist art currents
  • Differentiate the political ideals, artistic style, and approaches to “indigenismo” of important muralists
  • Explain the socio-cultural legacy of Mexican muralism in the United States

Your success in this module will help you towards partial achievement of the following SLOs:

A. Distinguish various Latin American art movements and their social contexts since colonization.

B. Employ historical methods in order to analyze Latin American art and architecture


To reach the goals for this module, you’ll need to complete the following activities:

  1. Complete Lesson 1 of 2: Mexican Muralism in Post-Revolution Mexico (1.5 hours)
  2. Complete Lessons 2 of 2: Mexican Muralism in the United States (30 minutes)
  3. Complete Online Classroom Discussion: Mexican Muralism and Indigenismo (1 hour)

Lesson 1 of 2

Introduction: Muralism and Indigenismo

Mexican Muralism is one of the most celebrated topics in the history of Latin American art. Its forms were compelling and popular. Its geographic sphere of influence was vast. But what was it? Who were the three men, also called “Los Tres Grandes” (“The Three Great Ones”) often credited with its international popularity? And what was the concept of indigenismo that many of these artists adhered to? Read the following selections and watch the films to find out.

  • The Mexican Renaissance
  • Tarica, Estelle. 2016 “Indigenismo.” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Latin American History. 6 Oct. 2018. NOTE: Read just the introduction and the section on “Mexico.”
  • Watch the 4-minute introductory film on muralism. The film is captioned. Activate captions by clicking on the CC symbol in the lower right corner of the video frame.

Diego Rivera – Optional film (further reading)

Who was Diego Rivera? What were his contributions to the history of modern art in Mexico and muralism?

Watch the following film about Rivera’s life and work. The film is captioned. Activate captions by clicking the “CC” in the lower right corner of the film frame.

Further Reading

PBS Documentary: History Detective, Thelma Streat Johnson, assisting Diego Rivera on Pan American Unity mural, 1940’s

Lesson 2 of 2


Mexican Muralism had a profound impact on the United States. It influenced the art of the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s. Mexican muralists themselves also created several murals at locations across the United States. In this lesson, you will learn about this impact through a closer study of two murals by Diego Rivera, one of which is located on the CCSF Ocean campus.

Reading and Films

Read the article on Diego Rivera, Man at the Crossroads.

Watch the film below on a similar work titled Man, Controller of the Universe. The film’s captions can be activated by clicking the “CC” in the lower right corner of the film frame.

As you read and watch the films, think about the strategies Rivera adopts. Does he apply indigenismo in this work? How was his work controversial in its time?

Film credits: Diego Rivera, Man Controller of the Universe (or Man in the Time Machine), 1934, fresco, 4.85 x 11.45 m in the Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City Speakers: Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

The Pan American Unity Mural at CCSF: Research and Close-Looking

Now that you have briefly read about the background on Mexican muralism, you are ready to closely study and research a mural by Diego Rivera located on the CCSF campus. Take your learning further by

  1. studying the books and other resources available at the CCSF Library’s Diego Rivera Mural resource page.
  2. browsing the mural’s dedicated website. Tip: Choose one or two books in the bibliography under the tab “Pan American Unity Mural.” Review these books and take notes on
    1. Rivera’s Indigenismo and
    2. any passages directly related to the concepts and creation of the Pan American Unity Mural.
  3. viewing the Pan American Unity Mural by Diego Rivera located in the Performing Arts Theater of the CCSF Ocean Campus.

When you visit the mural, think about your initial reactions to the work. Was it what you expected? Where did your eye travel first? What qualities of the work did you see that you did not notice in the photographs on the website?

Online Classroom Discussion: Mexican Muralism and Indigenismo


In this discussion, you will collaborate with your peers to analyze the diverging political ideals, artistic style, and approaches to “indigenismo” among the Mexican muralists studied in this module.

  • original posts and peer responses due Wednesday, March 20, by 11:59 PM


  1. Choose one of the works of art presented in this week’s lessons.
  2. Compose an original discussion post (up to 10 points possible). In your post, you will
    • Name the artist and provide the name of the work of art (if known).
    • Is indigenismo, or the “return to indigenous sources”/the”wish to return to indigenous roots” (Lucie-Smith, 62, 69) evident in the work? If so, where?
    • Explain how the artist’s cultural reality affected the artist’s formal choices or influenced the theme of the work of art. Be sure to use the terminology you learned from the lesson on the elements and principles of art and design and refer back to lessons on themes for help.
  3. Peer response (up to 10 points possible): After you post your original discussion post, you will be able to see your peers’ posts and respond to them. Compose a responses to a peer’s posts in which you
    • Compare your peer’s analysis of their chosen work to another work studied in this section. This comparison can be to the work you wrote about so long as your comparison shows an engagement with your peer’s ideas and not simply a reiteration of your original post. How did the two artists make similar or different formal decisions? Did the works communicate similar themes? If so, how? OR
    • Compose a response to your peer’s post in which you explain the relevance of this work of art to today. Does it address current problems or themes? How might the style be still useful to today’s artists?
    • Note that responses should be substantial (about 3-4 sentences) and show a close reading and consideration of your peer’s post.


Aim for excellence! These are the criteria for what comprises an “Excellent” rating for a discussion post:

  • Addresses each part of the discussion prompt(s).
  • Postings demonstrate reflective and critical thinking, not just recitation of information from the assigned readings and videos.
  • Makes connections to previous or current course content, or to real-life situations.
  • Contains insightful and thoughtful ideas, connections, or applications.
  • Makes reference to textbook or other sources when required.
  • Well-written and free of spelling and grammatical errors.
  • Includes well-written, thoughtful response(s) to classmates.

Multiple-Source Analysis & Interpretation on Diego Rivera’s Pan-American Unity Mural at City College

  • Early Steps: Topic & Bibliography & Speeches, Reading Notes & Outline
  • 1st draft due: _____________(3 copies for peer review)
  • 2nd draft due: _____________( 1 st draft and peer review attached, in folder)

Write a source-based essay describing, analyzing and interpreting Diego Rivera’s Pan American Unity mural, focusing on a controlling idea (thesis), supported by quotation and paraphrasing of sources and your own analysis. The paper should focus on one (or one half) of a panel (or theme) and how it relates and to an opposite panel (1 to 5 or 2 to 4) and to the central panel (3), or the main theme. It should use the MLA system of documenting sources in text. The text should be five pages long.

Steps: Focused reading and note-taking need to precede essay writing. 5 pages of notes must precede the 1st draft. You will be provided with a list of readings focused on your chosen panel and themes in our library, as well as the mural website, the Rivera Archives, the mural docents, and other binders and reserve materials in the library. Notes need to be careful, and thoughtful, a foundation for the essay. Three areas of work are:

  1. Historical reading to make the mural more comprehensible. You can begin with historical references in the painting: your own interest in a certain panel or theme can direct your reading. But your reading can also stimulate you to look more carefully at a part of the mural that you originally overlooked.
  2. Studying images: visual art has its own symbolic meanings that can be inferred in language, and this will be a major focus of the class’ discussion before essays are written. McCloud’s ideas help here.
  3. Comparison and Synthesis: The enormity of the mural, along with its balanced, parallel design, mean that many of the its larger ideas come from combining images and themes, not just seeing one image alone.

Organization: Papers must introduce PAU, why it is at CCSF, and a thesis on the meaning of your chosen panel. They must include (less than 1 page on Rivera’s biography related to PAU., The heart of the paper should be analysis and description of your chosen panel (write with directional logic), in relation to the opposing panel (using Zakheim) and finally in relation to a synthesis of your panel’s meaning to the overall meaning of PAU’s “marriage.” Conclude by restating your thesis on the meaning of your chosen panel and explaining how it relates the message of the whole mural. Clear paragraph topics will help you to keep the many details you learn about in strict relation to main and major supporting points, and not get lost in the details and sources.

Interpretation: A college essay is not like note-taking. Explaining meaning is negotiated between the artist and the viewer. You must go beyond Rivera’s or another source’s idea, and include your own ideas, inferences and connections. In the introduction, share your first impression of the mural. When you learn about John Brown, you infer what it means to place him beneath Lincoln, or in panel three to explain your response to Aztec goddesses or the relation of technology to north/south unity. When students study, they should explain their understanding.

Required Quotations and In-Text Citation: Minimum is three quotes: one from Rivera’s “Conversation,” one from Zakheim, one from another reading and three paraphrases, one from a Rivera biography, and two from the brochure/web site annotations. Quotations and paraphrases should be cited in-text like this (Puccinelli 172). For extra credit, include a “Works Cited” page after the text. Ask your instructor whenever use or citation of sources becomes a problem.

Sentence Level: Write and underline three appositive phrases in the essay.