Mural brings story of braceros to San Juan
A fiery orange and vibrant blue illustrate the story of 1950s’ bracero farmers on the entrance building of the San Juan Municipal Park. The Braceros are depicted as field workers, initially, but end with the success of their generation graduating from school years later.
The Mexican American Studies (MAS) group at UTPA has been working on this mural for just under a year, and will finally hold an inaugural ceremony for the mural on 201 W. First St. Aug. 9 at 6 p.m.
From the 1940s to the early 1960s, Braceros, or Mexican laborers, were only allowed in the United States for a limited time period as part of the agricultural labor program’s regulations. At the time the program was cancelled an estimated 4.6 million workers had been recorded.
Though the mural was originally set to be in Edinburg, San Juan seemed to be the more appropriate venue, as a big part of the farmworker heritage. The city welcomed the idea with open arms.
“San Juan was very receptive to bringing art to their community,” Christian Ramirez, a graduate student in MAS said. “This is the first mural they have of such a big capacity and they take great pride in it.”
Stephanie Alvarez, director of MAS, sent her students to the streets, asking the community of San Juan what they wanted the mural to portray. Though they had an idea based on a previous exhibit they had done, they still searched for the image to display. Once all the surveys were in, they knew what they wanted to show the public: “Braceros: A Legacy of Triumph.”
“School doesn’t really teach people about this so nobody really knows about it,” Ramirez said. “I know because my grandfather worked as one, so it’s great that we get to teach people about this.”
During production, the $25,000 project, financed by the Smithsonian and the City of San Juan, received much recognition as onlookers took time to stop and take pictures.
“It was very uplifting working on this mural, people kept dropping by and pointing at the mural saying, ‘That’s me. I used to do that.’ It was great hearing from them,” said Raul Valdez, the Austin-based main muralist who is known mostly for his cultural scenes focusing on the Chicano movement.
Without a sketch to go on, the team of painters and MAS graduate students painted for a month, starting on the first of June. They dedicated their time, working in the heat and changing the scene almost every day until they produced a piece that the community could feast their eyes on and call their own.
“An inauguration is just a way of presenting the mural to the community and designating it as belonging to them,” Valdez said. “It doesn’t belong to the artist, or the ones who sponsored it, it belongs to the people.”