A cholo mural depicting LGBT Chicanos in San Francisco’s Mission District was defaced Tuesday. Despite violent threats on social media, the artists and gallery refuse to be silenced or shamed.
A mural depicting LGBT Latinos in San Francisco’s Mission District was vandalized Tuesday, and now the Chicano artists who painted the mural are facing down ominous threats on social media.
The mural, which evokes classic cholo culture but features a gay male couple, a lesbian couple, a trans man, and the words “Por Vida” (“for life”), is located on 24th Street in the Mission District, an area recently designated the Calle 24 Latino Cultural District. The mural was found covered with spray paint Tuesday morning, with vandals crossing out the gay and lesbian couples’ faces and the text with blue and red paint. Notably, the image of the transgender man at the center of the mural was intially left untouched, but by Thursday, that character had red spray paint scrawled across his face too.
The mural was designed by Manuel Paul of Maricón Collective, a group of four queer Chicano DJs and artists who host parties, create original art, and raise awareness about other queer Chicano artists. Although no one has taken responsibility for the vandalism, since the story broke, a small but vocal contingent on social media is calling for violence against anyone in the Mission seen wearing clothing with Maricón Collective’s logo.
Commissioned by La Galería de la Raza, an arts nonprofit founded in the 1970s to create awareness and appreciation of Chicano and Latino art, the mural was intended to be part of La Galería’s Pride month exhibition. Maricón Collective’s Por Vida mural coincided with another exhibition hosted at the gallery called “The Q Sides,” which features photographs of queer Latinos reinterpreting iconic album covers from East Side Story, the compilation albums long embraced by lowrider culture.
“Por Vida was created to celebrate the LGTBQ Chican@/Latin@ culture within the context of a historically Chicano Barrio,” Paul explained in a statement released by the gallery following the vandalism. “Through our art and our work we present counter-stories that reflect queers growing up in the Barrio. Barrio Queerness is not a new concept or trend, it has always existed but has been silenced by centuries of patriarchy and machismo that plague our communities.”
In that same statement, Galería de la Raza executive director Ani Rivera framed the vandalism and social media harassment as “reminders that homophobia is alive and well in our communities; however, we will not let it thrive.”
As soon as the gallery posted photos of the mural’s installation on its Instagram page last weekend, curators began fielding hateful comments on social media from people who claimed the mural attacked a way of life for cholos and lowrider culture.
“I know there is gay Latinos but to have gay cholos is unheard of,” wrote one Instagram commenter. “I say this with no intent of ‘homophobia’ or ‘cyber attacking’ as you stated on your website.”
In fact, at least one commenter warned La Galería that the mural would be vandalized the following Monday. “This is in talks of being crossed out,” wrote the commenter. “All the cholos feel disrespect due to the image of machismo being weakened.”
It proved to be a fateful warning: The next day, the mural was vandalized.
Indeed, the vandalism came as “no surprise” to Paul. But it’s still hard for him to speak out about the incident, because he doesn’t want to incite more vandalism — or worse.
“We knew it was going to happen and we braced for all of this,” he tells The Advocate. But Paul’s primary concern wasn’t that his mural was defaced. “What we were concerned about is that those people are … pulling pictures of kids wearing the Maricón Collective or Maricón shirts and saying, ‘If you see this kid on the street, show him and beat him up.'”
That explicit threat has members of the collective “paranoid,” Paul says, since any unassuming person could be wearing a Maricón Collective shirt while walking through the Mission and possibly find themselves the victim of a violent attack.