Mexican Students Fight Graffiti In Crime-Plagued Community
Seventeen-year-old Manuel Martinez smeared green paint on a graffiti-covered wall on the outskirts of Tijuana, creating entwined stems sprouting up under a message he had written in Spanish:
“Life is short. Read faster.”
Martinez was one of dozens of Mexican students creating a mural on the wall of an elementary school in a town called Tecolote, which has been plagued by an increase in drug-related violence and other crime. The students painted inspiring messages and bright-colored suns, hearts, birds, trees, silhouettes and other images over illegible graffiti symbols and scribbles on Sunday.
“We want to get rid of all the ugly stuff and make (the wall) really beautiful, so that children will feel more motivated to come to their school,” he said.
Other messages on the wall included, “Take Care Of Your Community,” and “Be Happy.” The mural was the culminating event of a two-year art education project, EDUCARTE, with Advancing Students Forward, a nonprofit that helps disadvantaged Tijuana students gain access to education.
Graffiti is a big problem in this town on the southern edge of Tijuana. Monica Santos, director of Advancing Students Forward, said most of the town’s once-blank communal spaces have been scrawled over with graffiti.
She said she wanted the students to work on a mural because of the historical significance murals have in the culture of Mexico and the opportunity they present to impart positive messages.
“The world has many sad and depressing things happening, and there’s such a need for art,” Santos said. “It lifts us up and takes us into a different space.”
The students worked under the direction of Mexican muralist Enrique Chiu, who took them on a tour of his Tijuana murals in April as part of EDUCARTE.
“Everyone, all together, we can change the community in a good way,” Chiu said.
Pedestrians stopped to compliment the work of the students.
Advancing Students Forward is currently helping 73 students. They're required to maintain good grades, perform community service and attend monthly meetings where they receive mentoring. Ten students entering middle school are accepted into the program annually.
Esteban Carmona Mendez, 22, was one ASF student who participated in the creation of the mural outside of the elementary school, Escuela Ramon Lopez Velarde, where he studied as a child.
He said he was grateful for the opportunity to help clean up the community, especially in front of the school.
“If you vandalize, graffiti and destroy the community, the environment in the end affects the youngest ones most of all,” he said.
This report is part of KPBS' Fronteras Project, a regional news collaborative that produces reports on the changing culture and demographics of the American West and Southwest. Fronteras reporting is made possible by a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.