Welcome to the Westside of San Antonio!
San Antonio sees over 30 million visitors annually yet only a small fraction of them come to the Westside to see the murals. There is not a lot of publicity about them, yet this neighborhood or barrio has the largest concentration in our city. This area is rich in culture and tradition, yet it is filled with poverty. In 2020, The San Antonio Express News stated that the median annual income for a family of four here is $21,600. Residents of the federal housing projects live on less than half that.
As you cross over the bridge you see a sign that reads Bienvenidos al Westside. This is actually the first two of a series of five murals, completed in 2014, that not only welcomes you to the westside, but depicts life here as well. This and most of the murals we will see today were created under the guidance of San Anto Cultural Arts, a community program established in the 1990s by three men in their early 20s with a goal of bringing this shattered neighborhood together through art. Partnering with the San Antonio Housing Authority, kids from several of the federal housing projects worked closely with San Anto artists in the design and painting on this massive project
Just beyond the mural, you will see the fence lined with photographs, a project sponsored by Esperanza Peace and Justice Center. Residents meet periodically to share stories and old photos of the westside. These photos, digitally scanned, are used to create these ever-changing photohistoria banners to keep alive the spirit and history of this barrio.
You will pull over to the right just ahead.
Lead Artist: Kaylee Diaz
Pull over to your right up ahead and I want to show you one of my very favorite mosaic murals. It’s called La Veladora, which is the kind of decorated votive candles that you see in many Catholic churches. It is done in honor of the Virgin of Guadalupe, one of the most important figures in Catholicism in this area. We will talk more about her later.
The artist, Jessie Trevino, grew up in this barrio. Recognized as a prodigy in his youth, his career path was altered forever with the explosion of a booby-trap in Viet-Nam that mutilated his painting arm. After a lengthy rehabilitation period and with sheer determination, he taught himself to paint with his other hand. Eventually, two of his paintings would find a permanent home in the Smithsonian Art Collection.
The idea for this mural came after the 911 attacks when he felt the nation could use some comfort and he chose to start right here. This location, which he described as the Grand Central Station of the West Side when he was a kid, had become a dark and deserted testament to the violence that had swallowed up his barrio. This was his attempt to give new light and comfort to the people who live here
Artist Jesse Trevino's gift to his barrio
In his book “The Texas Indians”, author LaVere describes a period where there was a network of trade among the various tribes. Everything from buffalo hides, to food, to tools were bartered and traded. It was also a time to trade ideas and intermingle on a personal level. The title of this mural, Buying and Lending, stylistically shows this interaction that took place. The two strong figures in the foreground represent an Aztecs on the right and an American Indian on the left. Corn, an important crop that was indigenous to Mayan and Aztec cultures of southern Mexico, eventually became a staple for the agrarian Indians in this Southwest area. Perhaps in this mural lead artist Mary Helen Herrera is trying to remind us that, as opposed to being “savages” as they were often described, all of these Indian tribes had a culture and traditions long before the arrival of the Europeans.
Artists: Mary Helen Herrera
As we drive by the corner of Vera Cruz and San Jacinto, look to your right at the plain, white, one story building. Avance may look like any other building but powerful changes happen within its walls. It is an early childhood intervention program, targeting children birth to 4 years old. Their mission is to strengthen families in at risk communities through effective parent education and support programs. Avance goes door to door, recruiting parents in housing projects in and near the Westside to attend their classes focused on parenting skills. Hillary Clinton wrote about this program in her book, It Takes a Village, and Barbara Bush mentioned it in her book, First Teachers. It has also been featured in several prominent national outlets
The before and after pictures of this corner are astonishing. What used to be a dirty cinder block wall was transformed into a powerful serial mural showing the different phases of the life of a woman on the west side of San Antonio. Most of the panels are obvious, but the third and fourth are different. As evident in the Day of the Dead or Día de los Muertos celebration, an important facet of Mexican culture is not only remembering the dead but celebrating their lives. Here we see a young woman learning about this. In the next panel we see that same woman a few years later becoming interested in the proud Mexican culture that goes back well beyond the period of discrimination and subjugation inflicted on them by the Spanish conquerors. Then the realities of life start: dating, marriage, kids and finally growing old together.
Original Artists: Cruz Ortiz, Carlos Espinoza
This mural, called Trinity Street, is part painting and part mosaic. It was designed by Jose Cosme and was done on the privacy fence of the Gonzales family. This was a spot that had been tagged multiple times and he envisioned this work as an uplifting replacement. It depicts a child-like paper cut-out but with community member’s pictures incorporated into it.
Lead artist: Jose Cosme
“Do you dream the American Dream? Did it get lost somewhere? That’s what a poem on a west side wall asks the reader. To muralist Raul Valdez, it seems like the answer might be yes to both questions. While issues of poverty, violence, incarceration, uneven justice, greed, and lack of education are all around them, la familia, surrounded by their own insulating cocoon of cultural memory, fights back against overwhelming odds. The parents may not see that dream come true but will do everything they can to see that it does for future generations.
C y R Artist: Raul Valdez
This mural was designed and painted by a team of middle school girls. It was their idea to honor those who had died of violence in their neighborhood. They walked door to door and collected five pages of victims’ names in just two blocks.
While the symbolism, composition, and painting are not as sophisticated as in many of the other murals we have seen, it does a good job in reflecting some of the more simple messages of peace associated with the Christian faith. The power of the names listed to the left cannot be denied, though
Neighbors have a procession to this mural every year on Día de los Muertos to add one name from that year’s tragic toll and take time to remember those whose names are already there
The mural was restored in 2019 and Crystal Torres, who as a middle schooler had been on the original crew in 2001, served as the lead artist.
P and R Artists:Katy Bone, Angela Ibarra, Julie Ibarra, Crystal Torres, Janette Torres, Patti Radle
We mentioned the Virgen of Guadalupe several times, so now I’ll tell you why she is so important. In Catholic history, the appearance of Mary to mortals is a rare but not unknown phenomena. In 1531, 10 years after the conquest of Mexico one of the first of these happened on a barren hill outside of Mexico City that would change the face of Catholicism in the New World forever. The Spanish had done their best to destroy the religion of the Aztecs and replace it with Christianity, but there was resistance accepting this strange new religion. In this case she made an appearance of a Aztec woman that said she was the Ever-Virgin Holy Mary was a game changer for the Spanish efforts. Once word got out about her and the miracles she performed, seven million Aztecs converted to Catholicism in seven years.
Eventually, the third largest and second most visited Catholic church in the world was built there in her honor.
Her image can be seen in almost every Catholic home and church in Mexico and the Southwest United States.
The pyramids of Mexico’s distant past serve as the backdrop of the very first work done by the San Anto Cultural Arts Community Mural Program. In the 1980s and 90s, gang violence was at a peak in this barrio. It is a community where only 53% of the adult population had graduated from high school and teen pregnancies were three times the national average.
The message of Lisa, the young woman holding up the banner, is that there is an alternative to the easy lure of gangs. The road to success and power is through education.
The imagery is simple and powerful- the skeletons represent death and are wearing the colored baseball hats that signify gang affiliation. The rising sun intertwined with the plant brings with it the light and hope of the future as well as a reminder of the strong roots from which they sprang.
Educacion Artist: Cruz Ortiz and Juan Ramos
The lowrider culture started in the barrios of Los Angeles in the late 1950s and soon spread to Hispanic communities all over the country. When Mural Coordinator Alex Rubio asked a group of budding high school artists what they wanted to paint, it was a car. Not just any car, though, but this amazing lowrider called “Sweet as Candy” that they had seen at a recent car show. The car belonged to Tom and Lupe Stewart and part of the preparation was to interview the family. The “coat of arms” on either side represent the King (Tom) and his Queen (Lupe). The names of their children are on the streamers. The skyline in the background leaves no doubt as to where this car is located. Both culture and tradition are constantly changing, and this mural certainly reflects that.
T y C Artist: Alex Rubio, Ruth Buentelo, Oscar Flores, Damien Hernandez, Victor Mena
This mural, by Artist Mike Roman, was created to send a message of hope to the community. It seems like a simple enough premise: a picture of Jesus with the words Peace, Love, and Salvation underneath. The symbolism gets more interesting when you notice that the globe behind him is showing all of the Latin American countries. Roman also made clever use of the windows in the existing building to show the angels illuminating and reaching out to help those who have been incarcerated.
Cruz Ortiz, one of the three co-founders of the San Anto Mural Program was walking by Salvacion one morning when he saw a woman sitting in front of it crying. “Are you OK?” he asked. The woman responded, “I come here every Sunday to pray, because they won’t let me in at my church.” This place was where she had found solace and a connection to God.
Artist: Mike Roman
Manny Castillo, in his early 20s, had a vision to bring his community together through public art murals. He convinced two of his friends, Cruz Ortiz and Juan Ramon, both talented artists, to join him and the trio formed San Anto Cultural Arts in the mid-1990s. The primary focus was in offering the youth of this neighborhood the opportunity to discover their creative and artistic abilities. While that still is an important function, it soon expanded to neighborhood artists of all ages who played a part in designing and executing many of the works.
Despite Manny’s life being cut short in 2009 at the age of 40, his dream has continued and is going as strong as ever. This tour is dedicated to his memory
Father Carmelo Tranchese made a difference in the lives of thousands in this barrio. He walked into this parish church in 1932 and served it faithfully and tirelessly for 21 years. Born in Naples, Italy, he said that the poverty here was the worst he had ever seen anywhere. The people were living in squalor, with dirt floors, no windows or indoor plumbing. He wrote in his journal, “A huge mass of humanity emerging out of little shacks wrung my heart. Pale, emaciated faces of the children playing in the dust without laughter in their hearts or on their lips haunted me at night.”
In 1937, he invited Eleanor Roosevelt to his barrio to see first-hand the situation. Eleanor came and following her visit to San Antonio, our city received federal funding for some of the first public housing in this country.
Tranchese then turned his attention to establishing and directing the Guadalupe Community Center. It provided much needed recreation, educational programs as well as health clinics. In 1948, a Saturday Evening Post article referred to him as the Rumpled Angel of the Slum. To many, he was a hero and to others, a saint
Pull over to where you can see the mural in the plaza to your right. Throughout the year this Plaza hosts events such as Dies y Seis de Septiembre and Cinco de Mayo, both important Mexican celebrations. San Anto has an annual Fundraiser here, Huevos Rancheros, featuring live music. When Pope John Paul II came to San Antonio in 1987 this is one of the two places he spoke.
The mural you see on your right, Dualidad, was designed by a well-known San Diego muralist named Victor Ochoa. He anchors the center by making strong use of Aztec imagery that again reminds the viewer of a time of greatness long past. The Pyramid has a cactus on one side and a Xochitl, or flower on the other. In the center is corn, a symbol of life and a commodity so important to them that they worshiped the maize goddess, Chee-ko-me-coatl
Dualidad means duality, and the rest of the mural displays just that: lightness and dark, sun and moon, and male and female in an evenly balanced harmony of opposites.
Artist: Victor Ochoa
Look at the mural on the side of La Popular Bakery facing Brazos Street Mexican culture has a love for family and music. In the late 1800s, German settlers brought their button accordions to Texas along with their love for polka. Blending the accordion with the bajo sexto, a Mexican guitar, gave birth to a new sound, Conjunto Music, now referred to as Tejano Music. Santiago Jimenez, a pioneer of Conjunto music recognized his seven- year- old son, Flaco, had talent, and would bring him on stage to perform with his band. A star was born. Flaco Jimenez is one of America’s best known conjunto musician with a career that has spanned 50 years and the winner of 5 Grammy Awards. Family and Culture is, indeed, life!
Artist: Debbie Esparza, Juan Ramos
The mural straight ahead of you is San Anto’s 50th and as is befitting the landmark reached, the team of artists pulled out all the stops.
There are multiple themes covered in this mural and I will refer to a couple of them. The large figure on the left in the black San Anto tee shirt is Manny Castillo, co-founder and Executive Director of San Anto from 1993 till 2009, the year of his early death from cancer. In this mural, he holds the paint brushes as if inviting the people in this barrio to be part of the design and creation of these murals.
The blue female figure on the far right is an enigmatic symbol in Spanish/Aztec history. La Malinche, an Indian woman who served as interpreter for Hernan Cortez during his systemic destruction of the Aztec civilization is alternately looked at with scorn as the ultimate traitor and with reverence as the mother of a new race. This section of the mural seems to pour forth from this divergent dichotomy.
We hope you have enjoyed this glimpse into a side of San Antonio that few outsiders have a chance to see. Please see sananto.org for more information and a chance to donate to this worthwhile organization.
Also please take the time to rate this tour and leave any comments that will help us improve it.
If you are hungry after your adventure, I will recommend Pico de Gallo restraunt at 111 S. Leona Street. Turn right on Brazos, right on Buena Vista, go over the bridge and look for Leona Street before you get to the freeway.
Artists: Gerry Garcia, Cardee Garcia, Mary Rodriguez, Juan Ramos