(Written by local mural artist, Ricky Castillon)
In creating this mural for display in historic downtown Laredo, I wanted to investigate our city’s fascinating and eventful history as well as the symbols from which we as a community derive identity. It was informed both by my studies of art history (painters such as Henri Matisse, Diego Rivera, Lichtenstein, and countless others) as well as the history of Laredo, which I find incredibly more fascinating than people give it credit for. What I realized while painting it was that most of the historic events, I was depicting had all taken place a few blocks from where I was working! From my boom lift I could see historic St. Augustine plaza where the original settlement had sprouted along the banks of the Rio Grande. Rather obsessed with antiquity, I was greatly inspired in design by the didactic murals that decorated the walls of Aztec pyramids or Egyptian temples or even European cathedrals. During periods before literacy had spread throughout the land these large-scale public artworks were how communities of people became united and learned their history. In many ways they were the first form of mass media. In spreading these epic tales of how this emperor conquered that rival tribe or how this major city was founded in that bygone age or how this religious figure enacted their teachings to early converts, murals served that most human of duties – they told stories.
I designed the mural to work as a sort of timeline, although by no means an exhaustive one, of the history of Laredo and its peoples. The story moves in order from left to right displaying the seven flags that have flown over Laredo in chronological order. Under each flag stands a bright yellow panel depicting a scene from that period of history. I wanted to create a window for the viewer to see the people behind the stories, who lived real and complex human lives just like we do today. I wanted to communicate the way the community has changed over and over again as our national identity changed hands. The panels under the flags depict historic happenings such as Don Thomas Sanchez officially founding the community, expanding the existing settlement of Nuevo Santander (1755) or the uprising of the Republic of the Rio Grande and the struggle to become independent (1840) or our officially becoming part of Tejas with the river becoming the border after the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848). Along with all the changes that our community has endured, I also wanted the piece to speak to the aspects Laredo that have remained consistent. Flying over head of the panels is the Aztec serpent Quetzalcoatl, a symbol used by many Mexican artists over time representing our connection to our Mexican heritage, it flies in undulating waves and stretches across the entire timeline towards a brave and bold future. Under the panels, a procession of figures march single file. They are all the past generations of Laredoans, one period flowing into the next like a river through time. They march ever forward and lift the history panels above them, signifying that the thing that has always made Laredo special is its people, the communities of good-humored hardworking individuals banning together to lift the city up. The people in this procession also line up with each flag respectively as indigenous Coahuiltecan peoples rub shoulders with Spanish colonists who look over the shoulders of Mexican farmers whose Texan great grandchildren stand not far ahead of them. The last panel is that of the American flag. Under it dance a couple dressed in their finest Norteño/Tejano attire to reflect the mixing of cultures to create this third identity that Laredoans occupy. “Ni de aqui, ne de alla”.
Up across the top of the composition is the thesis statement for the piece as a whole. In English and in Spanish it reads “Our story is our power/Nuestra historia es nuestro poder”; I believe this to be true especially now as Laredo continues to grow bigger than ever and tested equally hard during this time of unrest. Our history is important, and it does not get passed down as perhaps it once did. I grew up a devoted fan of history and yet I only found out much of Laredo’s history in a college elective or through my personal research. In fact, the vast majority of people who told me nice things about the work that I was doing would also inevitably ask what it all meant and who these people all were. I feel a knowledge of one’s history can greatly affect their sense of self, and as our community continues to grow and change, I think that is what we need. Knowing where you come from and the things that were accomplished by the people who came before you show you what is possible. It stands as an example for the kinds of things we as a community have faced in the past and all that we will be able to handle in the future.
Thank you so much, Ricky for your article and the great work you dod on the mural located at 820 Convent in Downtown Laredo, Texas.