Paint was still clinging to first-year Ana Trejo’s fingernails when she joined dozens of other Latinx students at the East Campus Bridge Saturday afternoon.
A mural students painted for Latinx Heritage Month was defaced the day after it was painted. The mural, which was painted on the East Campus free expression bridge, was found scribbled over in black paint Saturday. The black spray paint obscured the bright orange and yellow block lettering.
“This is not art,” Trejo said, looking at the black scrawl. “Art is beautiful.”
Junior Ana Ramirez, co-president of Mi Gente, spoke to a group of students that had gathered around the defaced mural Saturday evening.
“What happened today is horrible, and I want to acknowledge all the people who put in such hard work yesterday painting this mural throughout two and a half hours,” Ramirez said.
Mi Gente, Duke's official Latinx student organization, held a painting event from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Friday night, according to a Facebook event. Less than 24 hours later, the mural was found defaced.
Ramirez was one of the students who found the mural defaced around 4:00 p.m. Saturday. She noted that other students had seen it without the black scribbling at around 2:00 p.m. that day, and another said they had seen it at 3:45 p.m. that day.
National Hispanic Heritage month runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 in the United States. Mi Gente released a statement about the incident on the organization’s Facebook page Saturday afternoon.
“The defacing of our mural was an intentional act, done less than 24 hours after completing the mural,” the group wrote. “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.”
This is not the first racially-charged graffiti incident at Duke this semester. Two days before classes began, "n*****" was written into the name of the Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture on a sign.
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“It’s bigger than a painting, and it’s bigger than one specific person,” first-year Susana Gutierrez said. “It’s that, especially Duke, we’re less than halfway through the first semester, and before classes even started, there was an incident at the Mary Lou. These happen with such frightening regularity and the responsibility of the administration is to send us a nice email and do nothing.”
In October 2016, graffiti that was racial, anti-semitic and homophobic was found on the bridge.
“There needs to be substantive change and a much more harsh condemnation of these acts that are symbolic for sure, but have implications that stretch out far beyond this painting or specific black line on a wall,” Gutierrez said. “It’s a lot deeper than that.”
At the Saturday gathering, after Troja and the others hashed out their plans for going forward, the students joined hands and lined up in front of the defaced mural for a photo.
“The people united will never be divided,” they chanted, first in Spanish then in English.
Then paint brushes and rollers came out. Mi Gente plans to re-paint the mural Sunday, but they were not leaving the black untouched.
“We are showing that we’re on top of the hate, not trying to cover it completely,” Trejo said.
White paint was rolled over the left edge of the black graffitti.
“They tried to bury us,” the students carefully spelled out the Mexican proverb in bright red paint on top of the black. “They did not know we were seeds.”