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A Breath of Fresh Air

On Saturday, we joined Weylon, a retiree from North Dakota, for the weekly Fat Bastard’s Art Walk that he leads. When you meet Weylon, the reason for the tour’s name is obvious. He is a big outgoing guy from a working class background in North Dakota. He has fallen in love with San Miguel in the two years since he and his wife have lived here and has a deep appreciation for the work of dedicated artists who have created more than a hundred murals, donating their own time and money to help beautify some of the less prosperous areas of the city. Six months ago, Weylon took it upon himself to walk every street seeking out the murals, then photgraphed them abd mapped them out on his city map, posting his photos on line. Eventually people started asking if they could go along with him on his walks. He is not a critic or an artist himself, but enjoys meeting people interested in knowing more about the art and the city. During the pandemic and now its resurgance it’s also a fun way get some exercise and socialize.

This Saturday there were 36 of us on the walk through one part of San Antonio, the barrio where Jack and I live. It’s one of the oldest neighborhoods of the city, whose residents are Mexicans and people who have moved here from many other countries. Some are wealthy, some are used to getting by with far less. It is not a gated community. This is the neighborhood where we chose to live, and we are so happy we did. Everyone here is friendly, strangers greeting strangers with a “buenos dias” or “buenas tardes” as they pass on the streets. We walk by an ederly Mexican gentleman every morning on the way to my school. He wears jeans, a jacket, and a cowboy hat and walks slowly and carefully with a cane in one hand and a plastic bag filled with bread in the other. We can set our clock by him. If we don’t see him by the time we’re halfway up our street we know we’re late. He looks like many of the faces represented in the murals we saw on Saturday, a local Mexican working class gentleman of both indigenous and Spanish descent.

A young Mexican woman who has lived in San Miguel all her life joined our tour and explained some of the traditional Mexican symbols that appear in the paintings. We stopped in front of a large mural and our guide explained. “All life comes from the ground, she says. “ From the ground grows corn. Maize is not a crop, but a Mexican cultural symbol with deep significance. Corn is the first gift from god and the earth. It sustains the people in our daily lives. So, too, do the sun, the male symbol. and the moon, the female counterpart. Without the dualities of life we could not survive. The hummingbird, quite large in some of the murals, represent the messenger between the dead and the living.” We walk on slowly, every few minutes coming upon another mural. Artists expect their murals to last only five to eight years before they fade away, hopefully making room for others. We walk out of San Antonio into an area that until very recently had the reputation for being a dangerous, drug-infested neighborhood. Now, however, Casa A.C., a 30 -year-old grassroots organization supports and works with vulnerable groups of women who have suffered gender and domestic violence. They are making inroads into the community with their many services. Things have been changing.The neighborhood is gaining a new reputation because of what Casa has accomplished, but also because of its murals, which many people come to see. One vibrant and tender painting bursts forth from a broken- down corner of the neighborhood delivering its powerful mesage. In one panel of the mural a woman looks down. The words on this panel read “Cree en ti,.” “Believe in yourself.” On the next panel a barefoot girl in a pure white dress blows bubbles. “Creo en mi,” the words say. “I believe in me.” Things can change. People can have new faith in themselves.

After two delightful hours the tour ends, but the art and its messages stays with us.

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