For longtime artist Crystal Tamez, a mural on the side of J&J Ruiz Food Mart on South Trinity and San Patricio streets best sums up the role artists and community art groups play in San Antonio’s West Side. It’s called “Peace and Remembrance.”
At the center of the mural is a tree trunk whose roots, etched with phrases of love and passing, almost touch the sidewalk. A thick branch has been cut at both ends, turned parallel to the ground, and set behind the trunk to form a cross. From the tree, Jesus approaches the names of the deceased on the mural’s left side, where the sun also burns brilliantly. A candlelight vigil, the Virgin of Guadalupe, swans in a lake, and other imagery complete the mural, which pops with color.
As a 13-year-old in 2001, Tamez helped paint the original along with other kids from the neighborhood. They were young artists at San Anto Cultural Arts, a West Side youth arts organization established in 1993.
“That mural was made for a teen that was killed,” said Tamez, “and so there was this big outcry in the barrio, and everybody was upset over it, and there was all this kind of war. So we decided to do a mural that was calling for peace.”
Two years ago, San Anto Cultural Arts set out to restore “Peace and Remembrance,” which had faded almost entirely. They hired Tamez to lead the project.
Because kids painted the mural the first time, it was important for Tamez that kids restore it. She reached out to the San Antonio Children’s Shelter and other groups. They kept the basic design and imagery, but made some additions and embellishments with input from the neighborhood. When it was completed in 2019, the neighborhood came to see. Some brought flowers. Others brought pan dulce and other food. Tamez now serves as San Anto Cultural Arts’ mural preservation manager. It’s her job to ensure the community’s 50-plus murals stay in good shape—even if that means they change over time.
Each year on the Day of the Dead, a candle-lit procession takes participants and mourners from San Anto headquarters on El Paso Street to “Peace and Remembrance.”
“From there, we add two more names every year,” Tamez said.
“To this day, people still go by and they go with marker or nail polish or whatever … and they write a family member’s name,” Tamez said. “So that mural means a whole lot to them.
“If they were to get covered, I can just imagine the outcry that would come out of it, all the people being upset, because it has their family members that meant something to them.”