Who Belongs Here?

Window painting installed at the Mexic-Arte Museum in downtown Austin from June 12 to August 23, 2015 for the YLA 20 exhibition.

My hometown, Austin, Texas changed a lot since I moved away in 2008. In early 2015, the South by Southwest (SXSW) media festival sparked two major controversies as promoters geared up for another round of city commercialization and commodification: in order to make way for a SXSW party space, one landlord demolished an East Austin piñata shop without warning the owners and decades-old Chicano murals were painted over to hype SXSW. The festival turns much of the city into a weeks-long party zone, brings millions of tourist dollars to the city, and remains the only impression of Austin many outsiders have of the city. It has also played a crucial role in Austin’s rampant whitewashing of historically non-white spaces as many visitors return to the city to stay.

From research at the Austin History Center, I learned that today’s gentrification issues are part of a long pattern that Austin’s Mexican American community has faced since the 1800s. I created the window murals at the Mexic-Arte Museum in response to this legacy, and to the larger debates about Latino belonging in the US. The museum is located just blocks from the Texas state capital building, a frequent place of anti-Mexican rhetoric and policy, in what was once Austin’s Latin Quarter. Mexic-Arte is one of the USA’s oldest Mexican and Mexican American-oriented museums.

The paintings are made with spray paint window painting techniques. The text can be read as a statement or question according to how the reader navigates the image’s quadrants. The diamond design is inspired by the Huichol people’s God’s eyes, which are meditative objects meant to bless a home or designate a pathway. I noticed when making the paintings that most passersby were tourists or homeless folks. Who belongs there?

Austin is known for its many painted walls, which often function less as emblems of community empowerment than as cute selfie snapshot spots. It is my hope that the text of these window paintings will raise questions about belonging in Austin in the past, today, and in the future.

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