Symbolism of Excelencia's Tree of Life

Tree of Life - installation picture


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Artist Verónica Castillo explains the symbolism of “Excelencia’s Tree of Life”

Verónica Castillo enjoys retelling how much she connected with Excelencia in Education’s mission and how that sentiment manifested itself into the “Excelencia’s Tree of Life” art, which now resides in the organization’s office in Washington, D.C.

At the installation she recalled thinking about what to create and how she was immediately inspired by the world’s oldest and largest tree, El Árbol del Tule, in her parents’ homeland of Mexico. Located in the state of Oaxaca, that tree is estimated to be approximately 1,500 years old and confirmed to have the stoutest trunk of any tree on the planet, with a circumference of almost 140 feet. In 2001, it was placed on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.

“Giant trees, like El Árbol del Tule, they are a testimony of history,” Castillo said. “In the past, our ancestors would put memorials on this tree. It was a ‘tree of life’ because it symbolized lives and generations of strength and longevity. This giant tree began as a seed once. It was planted and that related to Excelencia’s story; the dreams of these two women, who planted with passion and love, a seed about education to help young Latinos. They planted this dream. They embraced it and it grew.”

Castillo continued, “For me, it was very important to create this piece. People can look at it and see what we want to see in the future for our community and our country. It was an honor to have made this art. It is a part of me, and to have been part of this organization and its history, it means so much. Both will last many more years. This shows how Latinos overcome struggles to reach the highest levels of education. That's why this tree exists.”

Recently, the artist reflected on the art and provided additional context and insight to its symbolism. “I remember when I first met Deborah and Sarita in my studio in San Antonio, they told me about Excelencia and the work they were doing to help students succeed. That moved me. I knew then I could make a tree that tells their story. That’s why they are part of the trunk at the base with a heart. The heart is a symbol of the love they have for students, for education, for our community, and country. It was important to place them at the base because that’s where they planted this seed. In the course of real life, there are no guarantees seeds will grow. As they face challenges, some wither, but ours didn’t. Solely because of their passion for the mission, this seed took hold. They nurtured it, made the roots strong, and made it grow.”

Tree of Life - graduate symbolism

Castillo said the figures of students and professionals on the branches represent how they blossom when they graduate. “I read the materials Excelencia publishes and saw how many Latinos have entered the professional ranks and succeeded at the highest levels, so I wanted to visualize that they become lawyers and doctors and architects. I also made them of all colors because our community includes all races - brown, black, and white. That signifies our variety. We are all different, yet the same. All the bright hues mean happiness, life, and diversity. And finally, the fruit shows how life begins a new cycle because their success in professional careers is helping our people and community for the next generation.

“When these students benefit and move on, they too will plant seeds and keep growing and spreading life in the future. I hope they never forget the seed where they came from and how Excelencia helped them.” Castillo concluded, “They have a moral obligation to give back and to keep pushing, keep planting, and keep succeeding for us all.”


Excelenica's Tree of Life in her own words