From Texas Public Radio:
A group of South Texas residents, called the No Border Wall Coalition, gathered outside of Laredo’s U.S. District Courthouse last weekend. It’s the same place where they’ve announced lawsuits and protested in their fight against President Donald Trump’s proposed wall for more than a year.
But this time, they made sure their message is clear even when they’re not there — through a giant street mural.
With tape and buckets of yellow paint in tow, volunteers in face masks outlined letters saying “Defund the wall. Fund our future,” in the street in front of the federal courthouse in downtown Laredo.
“It is a first,” said Laredo native and artist Antonio Briones. He said the city’s art scene isn’t usually political.
“This has never been done before in Laredo. We are making history right now, as we speak. ”
The threat of the border wall, Briones said, motivated the No Border Wall Coalition to take a bold stand with a 30-foot tall street mural — letters the same height as the proposed wall.
“And as you can see, everyone is moving and everyone is doing something because all these people care about that wall coming to Laredo,” he said, gesturing to at least two dozen people busy at work.
Project organizer Gan Golan says the inspiration came from recent Black Lives Matter street murals.
“We didn’t just want to say what we were against,” he said. “We also wanted to talk about what we are for. And that’s why the message isn’t just, ‘Defund the wall.’ It’s ‘Fund our future.’”
Tricia Cortez directs the Rio Grande International Study Center and is a leader in the South Texas coalition against the wall.
“We felt it wasn’t enough to say no border wall. It wasn’t enough to say stop the wall,” she said. “We wanted to send a huge national message and we knew that these street murals were a beautiful way to involve the community to send a really strong message to Washington.”
The Trump administration has already announced two contracts for border wall construction in the area — with a price tag of more than half a billion dollars. That’s a lot of money, Cortez said, especially when you consider some 29% of Laredoans live below the poverty line.
“We learned that 1 mile of wall could fund a major trauma center for adult and pediatric care for three years, and these are the kind of things we need,” she said.
Ultimately, Cortez says the coalition she’s a part of wants that money reinvested in the City of Laredo.
That sentiment is just part of what brought out roughly 100 volunteer painters through the weekend.
Local artist Shellee Laurent helped outline the first D in “Defund the wall.” She says she braved the triple-digit heat because of her immigrant roots.
“My mom is from Guatemala. She made the long trek with her family to come here for a better life to contribute and succeed like everyone else. You know a lot of the people who are coming aren’t criminals. They’re not people that are bad,” she said. “So for me, I feel that the wall represents division. Instead of having a wall we need to build bridges and better communication.”
Laurent says the wall has caused division with her relatives too.
“I have people in my own family on my father’s side that are supporters of Trump and are Hispanic and support it,” she said. “We don’t have arguments, but we definitely have debates, and it makes me sad but I respect their opinion and they respect mine.”
But, when it comes to the mural, some people have been hostile.
“I have seen it on Facebook. I have gotten hate messages,” she said.
Making the mural a reality wasn’t without controversy either. The Laredo City Council first unanimously approved the mural project in July, but a backlash prompted them to discuss it again and re-vote before giving organizers a green-light this month.
Now the city council is drafting a street painting permit process that it says will give other groups the same opportunity to voice their opinions.
As volunteers painted on Saturday, a truck with a Trump flag drove by and honked. Volunteers laughed it off and after two long days of work, the mural was nearly finished by Saturday evening.
Cortez called it a message of hope.
“For our people, the whole border and whole country that the government can’t go in and do whatever they want without the will of the people,” she said.
Painters celebrated by gathering in the street, around the words “fund our future,” and chanting. Cortez says they plan to maintain the street mural until the wall is defunded.