Chicano Mural Movement

By: Teresa Palomo Acosta

Type: General Entry

Published: August 1, 1995

Updated: June 12, 2018

The Chicano mural movement began in the 1960s in Mexican-American barrios throughout the Southwest. Artists began using the walls of city buildings, housing projects, schools, and churches to depict Mexican-American culture. Chicano muralism has been linked to pre-Columbian peoples of the Americas, who recorded their rituals and history on the walls of their pyramids, and Mexican revolutionary-era painters José Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera, and David Alfaros Siqueiros, collectively known as los tres grandes, who painted murals in the United States. Two other Latino predecessors were Antonio Garcia and Xavier Gonzalez, who painted murals in the 1930s under the auspices of the Work Projects Administration art projects. In 1933 at San Diego (Texas) High School, Garcia produced March on Washington, which has since been moved to the Duval County Museum. It was influenced by the Bonus March in Washington D.C. the previous year and embodies the idea that President Herbert Hoover failed to rebuild the nation's finances after the stock-market crash of 1929 while President Franklin Delano Roosevelt triumphed in putting Americans back to work. Garcia also painted frescoes for Our Lady of Loreto Chapel at Presidio La Bahía in Goliad, Texas, Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Corpus Christi, and the Immaculate Conception Chapel at the Corpus Christi Minor Seminary (now Saint John Paul II High School). Gonzalez, who went on to international acclaim as a sculptor, painted a mural for the San Antonio Municipal Auditorium in 1933. It was later removed because of public outcry over the "upraised fist and a palm with a bleeding wound" depicted in it.

During the Mexican-American artistic and literary renaissance that occurred throughout the Southwest in the 1960s and 1970s mural production became part of the effort of Hispanics to reinvigorate their cultural heritage, which was manifested in the rise of the Raza Unida Party, the United Farm Workers Union, and the Mexican American Youth Organization, all of which tried to affirm cultural identity and challenge racism. The mural movement depicted such cultural motifs and heroes as Quetzalcoatl from the pre-Columbian era, Francisco (Pancho) Villa from the revolutionary period, and Cleto L. Rodríguez from Tejano history. Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (Our Lady of Guadalupe) is the only representation of a woman. Around the state, most of the artists, some formally trained and others self-taught, worked in collaboration with community volunteers, often teenagers who were recruited for specific projects, to fashion the murals.

In El Paso more than 100 murals have been painted since the mid-1960s. Manuel Acosta painted Iwo Jima, perhaps the earliest of the city's known Chicano murals, at the Veterans of Foreign Wars office in 1966. Carlos Rosas, Felipe Adame, and Gaspar Enríquez usually worked in conjunction with student painters. Mago Orona Gándara, one of the few known female muralists working in El Paso, has painted at least two as a solo artist, Señor Sol and Time and Sand. Two other women, Irene Martínez and Monika Acevedo, participated in the team that completed Myths of Maturity at the University of Texas at El Paso library in 1991. The murals, located throughout the city's various corridors, often depict themes common to Chicano muralism, such as mestizo heritage or social problems, but they also tell unique stories about the "merging of ideas, cultures, and dreams" along the United States-Mexico border. An attempt to preserve the murals, as well as to restore older ones or paint new ones, was sponsored in the early 1990s by the city's artists and the Junior League, which also published a brochure entitled Los Murales, Guide and Maps to the Murals of El Paso.

San Antonio also has a strong Chicano mural tradition, with the majority of murals concentrated in the city's predominantly Mexican-American West Side neighborhood. The Cassiano public housing project, for instance, has been the site of numerous murals, many of them painted under the direction of the Community Cultural Arts Organization, which was organized in 1979. CCAO chief artist Anastacio "Tacho" Torres has recruited teams of student artists to complete works that depict an array of subjects: labor leader César Chávez, lowriders, the San Antonio missions, Tejano military and political heroes, and others. More than 130 murals had been completed in the city by the early 1990s. Some have been privately commissioned for a variety of locales such as the convention center, Mario's Mexican Restaurant, and Our Lady of the Lake University. As in El Paso, efforts to record the existence of these works have occurred. In the early 1980s, for example, historian Ricardo Romo developed a slide show on them called "Painted Walls of the Barrio" for the University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures.

In Houston, Leo Tanguma painted Rebirth of our Nationality on the wall of the Continental Can Company. Because of the politically charged content of Tanguma's mural art, several of his works have been erased. In Austin muralist Raúl Valdez has led volunteer teams in painting murals at several public sites on the city's predominantly Mexican-American east side, including the Pan American Recreation Center. Some of his work, like Tanguma's, has been lost in recent years. Los Elementos, for instance, which was painted on the exterior of the Juárez-Lincoln University building in 1977, was destroyed in 1983; city officials could not save it when the building was sold to a new owner. Sylvia Orozco, codirector of Mexic-Arte, has also painted murals, among them one for the Chicano Culture Room in the student union building of the University of Texas at Austin. Murals have also been reported in Crystal City, Dallas, Lubbock, Levelland, Lockhart, and other cities. Whether in small or large towns, artists in the Chicano mural movement have offered an opportunity to the barrios' "untrained" painters. Art historians Shifra Goldman and Tomás Ybarra-Frausto call the murals a significant contribution to public art.

Arriba, November 15-December 15, 1989. Shifra Goldman and Tomás Ybarra-Frausto, Arte Chicano: A Comprehensive Annotated Bibliography of Chicano Art, 1965–1981 (Chicano Studies Library Publications Unit, University of California, Berkeley, 1985).

  • Peoples
  • Mexican Americans
  • Visual Arts
  • Movements

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Teresa Palomo Acosta, “Chicano Mural Movement,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 29, 2022,

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August 1, 1995
June 12, 2018

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