Twice within one week, a mural depicting LGBT Latinos in San Francisco's Mission District has been vandalized overnight with spray paint -- but now the artists have caught the second round of vandals on camera, according to KQED-TV.
The mural, which evokes classic cholo culture but features a gay male couple, a lesbian couple, a trans man, and the words "Por Vida" ("for life") was found Sunday morning covered in black spray paint, echoing the blue and red paint found scrawled across the faces of its subjects one week ago. In the prior attack, the image of the transgender man in the center of the mural was initially left untouched and was later covered in paint; this time, all five figures were marked.
The mural was commissioned by Galeria de la Raza on 24th Street and designed by Manuel Paul of the Maricon Collective -- a group of four queer Chicano DJs and artists who host parties, create original art, and raise awareness about other queer Chicano artists. A security camera has been monitoring the mural and the video has been recorded, ever since its first defacement. Ani Rivera, the owner of Galeria de la Raza, told KQED that the camera captured two vandals spraying paint on the mural around midnight on Sunday, but that the footage will not be released to the media because it first needs to be reviewed by the San Francisco Police Department for its investigation.
Galeria de la Raza has begun fundraising to once again restore the mural. You can see the original below, and how it appeared before it was quickly restored the first time by a group of volunteers.
Por Vida has continued to be a conversation starter among the many who have expressed surprise and gratitude at its presence -- and has also resulted in a small but vocal contingent on social media calling for violence against anyone in the Mission seen wearing clothing with Maricon Collective's logo, as The Advocate reported Thursday.
Artist Manuel Paul told The Advocate that he was not surprised the mural was vandalized, but was most concerned about the threats of physical violence. "What we were concerned about is that those people are ... pulling pictures of kids wearing the Maricon collective or Maricon shirts and saying, 'If you see this kid on the street, show him and beat him up.'" It remains unclear whether any such attacks have taken place.
Meanwhile, ever since Galeria de la Raza posted news of the mural's installation on its Instagram page last weekend, the curators have been fielding hateful comments on social media from people who claim the mural attacks a way of life for cholos and lowrider culture.
The argument was revived Sunday when the gallery posted a photo of the mural's second defacement. "This painting doesn't make any sense, gay cholos don't exist in the mission and never have..." wrote one Instagram commenter. "Maybe in LA where ya'll really from but not in The Mission! Get it right."
Such reactions and heated discussions online have led Rivera to conclude that Por Vida has struck a nerve for people who define cholo culture as "hard" and "macho" but never gay, she told The Advocate. She said the vandalism clearly appears to her as anti-LGBT hate, since she's seen no other murals defaced in the area and the vandals did not leave any signature "tags," instead just scribbling across the figures' faces.
Rivera added that when she heard passersby comment on the mural as it was first being installed, most of the negative comments were directed at the gay couple depicted, with no negative reactions to the two women or the trans man. One passerby asked, "'Why are two homies embracing each other?'" she said.
Notably, the fact that the original vandals intially spared the trans man -- whose chest reconstruction scars are a coded imagery that could read as rose stems to the uninformed viewer -- may be an indication that his masculinity was not seen as a "threat to the machista patriarchal ideologists that [the vandals] have," Rivera explained. Paul noted the irony in attackers at first "cross[ing] everything out except the trans person."
Though Rivera is concerned the mural will be vandalized again, she remains committed to fixing it as many times as necessary to keep it standing through July. In addition to raising funds for its second restoration, she's organizing a group to watch over the artwork.
"The defacement and re-defacement of the current digital mural ... has only proven the credibility of its purpose," Galeria de la Raza declared in a statement Sunday. "Galeria de la Raza believes in the importance of continued dialogue about LGBTQ visibility, awareness, and acceptance in the Mission District and within the greater Latin@ communities. Galeria does not condone actions of hate, violence and homophobia and is dedicated to continuing to promote understanding and tolerance through peaceful means."