La Morena painted to afford sons' football. Now, she's first Indigenous Super Bowl artist

For Lucinda “La Morena" Hinojos, painting the Super Bowl 57 art was emotional, spiritual and healing. The Phoenix-based artist hopes her work offers the same salve for her people.

Hinojos, who is Mexican-American and Apache Native American, is both the first Chicana and the first Indigenous artist to paint the official Super Bowl artwork.

"It’s not just a pretty picture," she told USA TODAY Sports. "There’s a lot that goes into it, spiritually, culturally."

Hinojos, 41, wanted to celebrate everything her culture represents on the big stage. The painting features a bright pink backdrop with the White Tank Mountains and State Farm Stadium reflected in the Lombardi Trophy. She included symbols throughout, including a hummingbird, which is deeply personal for Hinojos.

Besides painting the artwork that will be featured on the Super Bowl tickets and other promotional material, La Morena is also partnering with the NFL to paint a 9,500-square-foot mural in Phoenix with a crew of all Indigenous artists.

Super Bowl 57 artwork, which was designed by Lucinda “La Morena" Hinojos. She is the first Chicana and Native-American artist to design artwork for the NFL.
Super Bowl 57 artwork, which was designed by Lucinda “La Morena" Hinojos. She is the first Chicana and Native-American artist to design artwork for the NFL.

Despite some criticisms, the NFL continues to be intentional about reaching its Latino and Hispanic fanbases, especially through its "Por La Cultura" campaign. Having La Morena paint key Super Bowl artwork is a continuation of the league's initiatives.

“Lucinda’s insight and direct, personal connection to the amazing and diverse history in Arizona made her the perfect partner for this project,” said Marissa Solis, NFL SVP of Global Brand and Consumer Marketing. “She is a gifted artist, a football mom and a woman who authentically represents her Chicana heritage."

POR LA CULTURA: NFL's campaign seeks inclusivity; league addresses controversial logo

Hinojos' street artist alias, "La Morena," comes from taking ownership of a name once used to tease her for her dark skin. She now has the moniker proudly tattooed on her neck after overcoming depression and struggling to embrace her identity.

USA TODAY Sports spoke with La Morena about her inspiration for the Super Bowl 57 artwork, what it means to be the first Chicana and Native-American artist to partner with the NFL, and the special family ties that she has to football.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

How did you get the opportunity to design Super Bowl 57 artwork?

Lucinda “La Morena" Hinojos: "I think they reached out to a couple of artists, and then they had us send in a proposal. I submitted my proposal, then within a few days, I got the zoom call that I had been selected to paint the Super Bowl theme art, which was really exciting for me. When I had that zoom meeting, I had my kids kind of standing on the side. ... I was really excited and emotional and I started crying.

"The root of my drive is my family. Now that we’re here, it’s just very validating and awesome overall for my kids to finally see. Back then, they didn’t understand. They just thought I was working a lot because I wanted to. Now they see! They’re so excited and happy."

You are a football mom. Does that add to the excitement of the moment?

LM: "My boys are older now. My oldest is 22, my middle is 20. My daughter is 16; She plays soccer now and I’m a soccer mom right now. But when the boys were younger, they played Pop Warner and that’s kind of what started this whole thing.

"I was working full-time, a single mom of three. I couldn’t afford to put the boys in Pop Warner. So the parents kind of had to help me raise money to put the boys in football. Back then, you’re kind of embarrassed about it. So I was like, 'I need a side hustle.' So I thought, 'How about my art?' That’s kind of what started this whole path. I started doing art shows. Then those art shows led to me doing murals. Then now we’re here. So it’s like, man, it’s been like a full circle! I just kind of realized that now as we’re speaking!"

Lucinda “La Morena" Hinojos draws inspiration from Salt River, the Akimel O'odham land, in Arizona.
Lucinda “La Morena" Hinojos draws inspiration from Salt River, the Akimel O'odham land, in Arizona.

A lot of your pieces have a lot of movement, but this was more of a still life with the Lombardi Trophy. What was your vision for the Super Bowl artwork?

LM: "I was really nervous about this piece because they wanted me to paint the Lombardi Trophy. I had never painted a trophy or a metallic piece ever. I do semi-realism. They wanted me to treat the trophy like I treat my portraits. So that’s exactly what I did.

"Other than the trophy, a lot of my inspirations actually come from my ties to Salt River, the Akimel O'odham land that I spend time in. There’s a lot to learn out there. I wanted to incorporate that in a playful way, but in my style with the painting, with all the colors that I use.

"Then with the hummingbird, I’ve been connected since I was a little girl. They’ve always showed up in my life. I didn’t really understand the significance of it until I got older. I learned in the Aztec culture — we call them Huitzilopochtli in Nahuatl —  the Aztec warriors would pass, but then they reincarnate as a hummingbird and they come back. In the native culture, my Apache, we see them as light workers and messengers.

"As an artist, as a person, I had to deal with all this stuff I was going through — facing my fears, anxiety, doubt, imposter syndrome — as I was working on this painting. So no one really gets to see the behind the scenes of what it takes when they produce a painting like this. It’s not just a pretty picture. There’s a lot that goes into it, spiritually, culturally. I like to connect with my ancestors and my spirit guides. I call them in for guidance and for help, because it was really hard. I actually didn’t paint this at my studio. I went somewhere else to paint it so I didn’t have any distractions because of the deadline. But the amazing part is, I did it and I got through it and it’s just the best feeling in the world to know that I did it."

Lucinda “La Morena" Hinojos standing next to her painting for Super Bowl 57 that reflects her Mexican-American and Apache Native American heritages.
Lucinda “La Morena" Hinojos standing next to her painting for Super Bowl 57 that reflects her Mexican-American and Apache Native American heritages.

What does it mean to you to be the first Chicana and Native American artist to do this for the NFL?

LM: "Very surreal for me, but it’s so exciting and I’m so proud. Reading the comments and receiving the messages from my community, seeing that they’re very — they’re emotional about it. It’s made them cry. Something that we’ve felt as Native and Brown people is that we’ve been oppressed and forgotten because of our past. There’s generational trauma. So when you see something that you can relate to in a big piece, in a big platform, you become emotional. For the first time, you’re being seen and acknowledged, and that is healing for our people. That gives them inspiration and gives them hope and faith. And so having that is medicine.

"I do open up with prayer when I paint these things. I do call on my ancestors to help me, to guide me with these visuals. Then I have these dreams or these visualizations that come to me and I just kind of put them out there the best way I can. When I was done with the painting, I had one of my friends come and fan it off with his eagle feather and really prayed over it and said, 'This is what we want the community to feel, to feel healing from it.' That’s exactly what’s happening."

How did you accomplish artwork that so clearly shows your culture?

LM: "In the painting, you’re not gonna see your typical traditional patterns or typical stereotype portraits, because the culture is in itself. I’m painting it. It’s from my experience. And that’s what I put. That’s what I want people to know, is that sometimes they stereotype us into this box, but we’re more than that and that painting is an example of that. A lot of the bright colors that I used are inspired by both of my cultures. And I made my color palette. The topic that I keep hearing is the color theory, the colors, the colors. Someone told me, 'The commentators on the NFL, they’re talking about your colors.' And I was like, 'Yes!'"

Why did you take the name La Morena? What does it mean to you?

LM: "Since I was little, I was really dark and I was made fun of for being so dark and so they called me 'Morena, Morenita' in a very sarcastic way. So it didn’t really sit with me then. As I kid, you’re just like whatever, you get used to it. But as I got older, I hadn’t heard the name in a long time. And then about five, six years ago, I was painting in Yuma another mural and I was out in the sun. I got really dark again and then I went back to work and my coworkers were like, 'Dang, you got dark! Morena, Morenita.' I go to the coffee shop and they’re like, 'Dang, Morena.' I’m all, 'Shut up!'

"At the time, I was looking for a street artist name. Me and my friend Monique, who I lost last year, we were in the kitchen talking about artist names. She turned around and I looked at her, all of a sudden we looked at each other we were like, 'Ah! La Morena!' I was like, 'Yeah! That’s it!' We started screaming and yelling and I just carried it since. And now I embrace the name and I wear it proudly, because Brown is beautiful and we don’t have to shy away from who we are and the color that we are."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Super Bowl artist La Morena inspired by Chicana, Native American cultures