LAREDO, Texas (Border Report) — Dozens of anti-border wall activists braved triple-digit heat on Saturday to paint a giant “Defund the Wall” street mural in front of the federal courthouse in downtown Laredo.
By the afternoon, the volunteers who are part of the grassroots No Border Wall Coalition had painted most of the bright yellow 30-foot letters — the same as the proposed height of the border wall that the Trump administration wants to build here. They were expected to finish Sunday and also paint the words “Fund Our Future.”
This is the first street mural in a Southwest border town, and the first with an immigration theme Elsa Hull, with the coalition told Border Report.
“We are painting a street mural to defund the wall and fund our future because we need to send a message to Washington that we do not want or need a wall, and that money can be used for so many other things that we do need: Education, health care, housing, environmental concerns. There’s so many other areas where this money can be spent and we do not need this wall.”
There’s so many other areas where this money can be spent and we do not need this wall.”Elsa Hull, No Border Wall Coalition of Laredo
Reminiscent of street murals that have been painted in Washington, D.C., and other cities as part of the Black Lives Matter movement, this appears to be the first with an anti-border wall slogan.
“We are sending this message to Washington to the rest of the country, to the rest of the world, that our community here on the border we are overwhelmingly opposed to this type of project because what they are planning for our historic community here in South Texas is they want to blow $560 million-plus dollars for 31 measly miles that will destroy our entire riverfront and destroy our parks, nature trails, deface our neighborhoods, Laredo College campus, an orphanage run by Catholic nuns. It’s insane,” said Tricia Cortez, a coalition founding member and director of the Rio Grande International Study Center, a Laredo-based nonprofit organization that researches the international river.
Their shoes, shirts and hands were speckled with yellow paint as they rolled the paint onto the black asphalt in front of the George P. Karen Federal Building. Many had arrived before dawn and some were here until midnight taping off the block letters.
The Rio Grande is the only source of drinking water for this South Texas city of 250,000. A border wall also will divide the city from its sister city, Nuevo Laredo, located across the river, Cortez said.
Last month, the Laredo City Council unanimously gave the coalition permission for the street mural. A week ago, two council member’s tried to walk back their vote but the coalition still had enough support to go forward with the street mural.
About 45 volunteers helped on Saturday, Aug. 15, 2020, to paint a 30-foot-tall yellow street mural reading “DEFUND THE WALL” and “FUND OUR FUTURE” in front of the federal courthouse in Laredo, Texas. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)
Since U.S. Customs and Border Protection last year announced that the entire city would be walled off, the grassroots coalition has been extremely active and galvanized the community more so than any other in the South Texas region. The federal agency has awarded two contracts — one to an Alabama company, the other to the builder of a controversial private border wall — but most of the land is private property and still must be secured.
On Dec. 19, 2019, they held a river sit-in at a popular downtown park to protest a border wall. A couple of months later, they held a downtown march and drew activists from across the country, including many from Indigenous tribes.
And despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, they have held numerous recent events — and say they are pushing to use art as a medium to convey their message. Last month they lined up dozens of pairs of shoes and boots on these same courthouse steps to symbolize protesters who couldn’t be there in person because of the pandemic but were there in spirit, Raquel de Anda, an artist who helped to organize the event told Border Report.
The coalition says they have helped to organize landowners and to give them a voice to fight government entry onto their properties. They also have filed several lawsuits alleging building a border wall.
CBP Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan has said that a border wall system is a critical tool for Border Patrol agents because it helps slow or stop those who attempt to illegally cross into the United States, giving border agents time to respond and make an arrest. In a statement announcing a CBP webpage that features video, interactive maps and updates on the ongoing border-wall construction, Morgan said, “Border security is national security and a strong border wall system is critical to keeping our nation safe.”
The painting this weekend of the mural at the corner of Victoria Street and Salinas Avenue will stay long after the election and Cortez said that regardless whether Donald Trump is re-elected, or not, the artwork will remain a permanent reminder that Laredoens do not want to be walled in or separated from their friends and family in Nuevo Laredo.
“We’re putting up a mural to represent our feelings about how money is being misspent on a wall instead of bringing communities apart we want to bring communities together,” said Celine Throwbridge, 34, a middle school art teacher who lives in Laredo.
After three hours of painting on Saturday morning, Throwbridge’s black and white sneakers were now yellow as she rolled paint from inside the giant “W.” “I can get messy from top to bottom. I don’t care. It’s a small price to pay in order to have our voices heard,” she said.
Throwbridge is from Nuevo Laredo and legally immigrated but says she has many friends and family across the river. “I have family on both sides and to me it’s practically the same city.”
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com.