When students found the Latinx Heritage Month mural defaced Saturday afternoon, the black spray paint that crisscrossed the colorful design was still fresh.
The next day, however, the man who painted over the graffiti walked up to Mi Gente to discuss the incident.
Members of Mi Gente, Duke’s official Latinx student organization, painted the mural Friday evening in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 in the United States. The group’s theme for the month this year is “La Communidad Unida,” translated as “The United Community.”
The mural, painted in bright orange and yellow, stretched along part of the bridge near Gilbert-Addoms dormitory.
Saturday afternoon around 4:00 p.m., the painting was found covered in black scrawl by students, among whom was junior Ana Ramirez, co-president of Mi Gente.
“The defacing of our mural was an intentional act, done less than 24 hours after completing the mural,” Mi Gente wrote in a statement on their Facebook page that day. “At this time we do not know who or why anyone would commit this act but we want to let them know that this incident will not divide our community.”
In 2016, racist graffiti was found on the bridge. Days before this semester began, a sign at the Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture was found defaced when “n*****” was inserted into the center’s name.
A group of students gathered at the site of the mural Saturday evening to discuss the incident and paint over the black scrawl with a defiant rallying cry against the defacement.
“They tried to bury us,” the students wrote, copying a Mexican proverb. “They did not know we were seeds.”
The next day, Mi Gente hosted a barbecue at Gilbert-Addoms and gathered to recreate the mural. As they were finishing repainting the mural on the bridge, a man approached them and admitted to defacing the mural, the student group wrote in a statement.
He told them that he “felt bad” and that he had not realized he had spray painted over their mural while outlining his piece. Not wanting to leave the outline, he then decided to scribble out the outline. The man, who the student group did not name in their release, offered them spray paint, but at that point they had finished the new mural.
A Duke University Police Department officer arrived and spoke with the man, the student group wrote, and the officer told the students he was a local graffiti artist who comes around campus often.
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Members of Mi Gente said they were not certain whether the defacement was with malicious intent.
“However, mistake or not, it does not invalidate the sentiment felt throughout our community,” Mi Gente wrote in the statement. “Truthfully, an incident like this occurring at our university did not surprise us, given past incidents targeting students of color.”
In the statement, Mi Gente also thanked members of the community that supported the group.
“To us, the most important part of this incident was our reaction—the strength and resilience we demonstrated when we came together,” the statement said.