Growing up in the aftermath of the Chicano Movement of the 1960s and 70s, my generation and I were the beneficiaries of an abundance of free Chicano health clinics, community centers, cultural arts centers, youth programs, and hundreds of murals depicting scenes of the Mexican experience. These were giant murals covering large walls in brilliant colors with low-rider cars, vatos locos, prison scenes, Mexican revolutionaries, migrant workers, and indigenous themes such as pyramids and Aztec warriors.

This history, written on the walls in blood and sacrifice, would influence me to take up drawing at an early age. When I was in second grade, my school sponsored an art contest. All the student from grades K through 6th were to submit an 8 x 10 freehand drawing with an anti-drug message. The winner’s drawing would become a full-scale color mural on school’s north wall.

On the day the winner was to be announced, the entire school was assembled in the gym (our impoverished school couldn’t afford an auditorium). I remember thinking that there was no way my drawing could stand up next to the work of some of the 11- and 12-year-olds, many of whom had already embarked upon promising careers as graffiti artists around the barrio. The second and third place runners-up were announces, and just as I was preparing to clap for the winner, my name was called. I won! I stood before the whole school and accepted my award to great applause. I knew my first artistic triumph at the age of eight.

Then, at the age of 17, in the most unlikely of places—prison—I began to write poetry. Hardcore Chicano spoken word poetry that resonated with reality and the rhythm of resistance. It was the powerful poeticism of Chicano writers like Luis Valdez that influenced me to finally withdraw from gang life; it was poetry that saw me through those formative years and in the end, it was poetry that would emerge as my redemption.

Today I consider myself first a poet, a freehand artist second. And yet, my muralist roots have not been forsaken—as I write, I fuse images using words, metaphors, and crazy juxtapositions, placing a cholo next to a chichimeca chieftain, united Diego River with Carlos Fuentes. Octavio with Orozco, Siquierod with Cisneros, creating in and of itself a fresh juxtaposition, a new tradition: poetical muralism.

Poetrical Muralist 2

I pour
my heart and soul
into introspective poems
losing control
using verbs
like healing herbs
my pen
drumming words
like the wings
of hummingbirds
oddly juxtaposed prose
leaving exposed
poetical minefields
that yield complex hieroglyphs
like partially revealed
texts of myan myths
I build monoliths
that connect to traditionalist tunes
and the time of the Toltec tombs
with poetry
as sharp
as shards
of ancient pottery
that cut deep into memory…