Thirty-nine years ago the far wall in the UH Cougar Den was a smooth, curved ribbon of plaster. Nine fee tall, 50 feet long. Empty and blank.
“When I saw it, I couldn’t stand it because it had that panoramic view. It had the curves. I knew I had to do something on that wall,” said Mario Gonzalez, Houstonian, UH alum and one of two muralists who, in 1972, would do something on that wall.
He and fellow UH student, Ruben Reyes—both members of the group MAYO, Mexican American Youth Organization—helped to locate the funds to paint what would become the Chicano Mural in the UH Cougar Den.
“I painted the left section of the mural and Mario painted the right and we met in the middle, which is the future of the Chicano,” Reyes said. “We painted the past, the history of Mexico, our beginnings from the days of the Spaniards and the Aztecas. We brought it to the far right (of the mural) to the Chicano movement.”
The left side of the mural features images of Aztecs, farmers (campesinos) and images of Mexico’s history—Sor Juana de la Cruz, Benito Juarez, Emilio Zapata, Pancho Villa. On the right side of the mural, Gonzales painted images of historical figures of the 60s and 70s—Cesar Chavez, Alicia Escalante, Reies Lopez Tijerina, and a sea of people demanding change.
“Here I show the church helping the people, pulling the people forward. There is hope,” Reyes continued. “And then we go to the center where we depict the students, the ones who have the possibility of making our future better.”
The mural still stands, depicting the historical past and the turbulent present, meeting the student in the middle, encouraging him to remember…and be inspired.
“This is our identity. This is our history. It needs to continue.”
The Chicano Mural is part of what’s happening at the University of Houston. I’m Marisa Ramirez.
Telling the stories of the University of Houston, this UH Moment is brought to you by KUHF, listener supported radio from the University of Houston.