By Carolyn Barbre
The “Register and Vote” mural that recently appeared on the back of Willie’s Market at the corner of West Tulare Road and North Elmwood Avenue left a lot of Lindsay authorities feeling ambushed and almost no one believing artist Victor Cervantes’ claims of ignorance about the city’s mural ordinance.
Most everyone knows Cervantes is a home-grown artist and celebrity who rose from the poverty of migrant labor, raised by a single mother, to a doctorate at Harvard. Nobody thinks he’s clueless or untalented, whether or not Mexican-style murals are their cup of tea.
Murals have a tradition of public expression in Mexico since the Mexican Revolution, with names such as Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and Jose Clemente Orozco. Cervantes is already linked with the revolutionary art form. While getting his master’s at Columbia University in New York City, he created a mock jail cell which he planted in the middle of the campus and locked himself into during the week of Cinco de Mayo. Titled “There Goes the Neighborhood,” he coverd the exterior with cultural symbols including images of indigenous rebels in Chiapas, to protest the “intellectual prison” because the Ivy League university had so few classes focusing on people of color and so few faculty members of color.
He got a lot of press coverage, just as he has with the “Registrate y Vota” mural.
“I was told he called every newspaper and TV station,” sadi Lindsay Mayor Ed Murray on Tuesday June 22, after the sory splashed across the front page of the Visalia Times-Delta and Noticeria, the Spanish language newspaper.
“Every news media including the Delta and Univision tired to get me to call it graffiti, by a well known artist in our community, adn it will never be treated as graffiti,” said Public Safety Director Bets Garzelli, with a strong hint of anger and/or fustration. He said a week ago Monday he cotacted the artist and adivsed him teh muralmust be abated. On Wednesday City Attorney Julia Lew said they should send a letter to abate. Then it was determined that the city would abate if necessary.
“Then 15 minutes ago we found teh city has no authority to abate.” Garzelli said Lt. Figueroa delivered a letter that stated while Cervantes is in violation of procedures for placing murals, no citation will be issued and there will be no futher police invlolvement. It would ahve been a $50 fine.
“I’m not going to speak to his motives, be he certainly knew better,” Garzelli said.
Lindsay is 80 percent Hispanic and there have been more than a few complaints that the Hispanic community, more properly the Lindsayites of Mexican descent, have no representation in the mural program. In fact the previous head of Lindsay Mural Committe quit after being accused of bias or cover bigorty. And Victor has been sparring with these people for a long time.
His murals decorate the interior of El Patio Restaurant (currently closed for renovations), the interior of the Teen Zone, and he has worked with the schools, but he hasn’t been considered for any of the 15 city’s downtown murals adn wasn’t going to be in the foreseeable future. The Mural Committee is presently working on submitting a Boy Scout mural, a biplane mural and folkloric dancer mural, the last being the strongest nod to date to Lindsayites of Mexican ancestry.
A book titled “Mexican Murals in Times of Crisis” from the University of Arizona Press states, Blending ethnography, political science, and sociology with art history, [author Bruce] Campbell traces the emergence of modern Mexican mural art as a composite of aestheritc, discursive, and perfomative elements through which collective interests and identities are shaped. He focuses on mural activists engaged cobatively with the state- in barrios, union, and street protest- to show that mural arts that are niehter connected to the elite art world no supported by the government have made significant contributions to Mexican culture.
What could be a more singificant contribution to Mexican-American culture than getting them to register and bote. They could take over the state faster than Indian gaming if everyoone of age registered and voted.
It could be that Vicotor believes this is a time of crisis for his culture, althoughhe doesn’t say that to the establishment.
Cervantes said he went to the last mural committe meeting and told them he wanted to be a member. “I talked to Paul and said we want to work together to promote public works of art with youth, to speak about health and education for example. Honestly, I wasn’t aware of an ordinance.”
Chairman of the Mural committe Paul Gottschall said, Victor is a member of the Mural Committe and a member of the Hispanic Mural Subcommitte. “I just go to see [Registate y Vota] the other day and said ‘Wow, I sure would have thought he would have know after working with the committe.”’
Cervantes said the vack of Willie’s Market had a big problem with grafitie that was addressed with the Registrate y Vota mural. He said it was off the beaten path, and not in conflict with the purpose of the mural program which is to be beautiify downtown and attract torunism.
“How do we speak to the youth of our community?” he asked rhetorically. “Through their interest.” Cervantes teaches art around the Valley. “As and educator, I’m very aware that to keep students engaged you must understand their experience and relate to them.” He said those facotrs were in the mural- portraying youth the way they look and dress, and the low rider car to make them go “Oh, wow! It looks like me!” He said that way they are more recepitve to the message.
“What communities try to do is to engage the populace, so I think the aesthetics and message were both taken into account.” Cervantes said he flet he was well enough known that someone could have contacted him if there was a problem. “I could have easily been notified.”
In fact eveyone does seem to know where he lives, although attempts to lacate him are rarely fruitfu. He’s in New York, L.A., Ssantaa Cruz, Porterville, Visalia, wherever and rarely returns calls. Mayor Murra cruised by his place, where, on the exterior wall facing the alley to what was possibly a garage, was another mural, this one protesting the war- in English. “They Got Money for War, but Can’t Feed the Poor!” IT’s quite beautiful, maybe the vest looking wall in Lindsay alley, but it too is against city ordinance which says no murals are allowed in the residential zones.
One thing for sure, all the publicity has every community in reach scrambling to check their mural ordinances.
Mayor Murray said he is a big fan of Vicotor’s art, buthe sadi eh stated prupose fo the Lindsay Mural Program was to depict historical Lindsay. “Aztec are doesnt depict Lindsay,” he said. He was looking at Vicotor’s garage at the time, which features an Aztec head. “It means we have to go back and tightedn the ordiance,” Murray said.
At the back of Willie’s Market, Aurora Mata said she didn’t know the mural was there until she saw this reported taking picutres and came to look. “We like it.” She was joined by her nephew, Walter Medina who said, “Yeah we need more mexican art. It’s good to see the culture coming out in Lindsay. It shows Mexican people in Lindsay are taking pride in teh city, like L.A., Frisco, San Jose.”
“It’s better than graffiti, if they want to do something,” Mata added.