El Paso artist heals wounds in Uvalde through mural art

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One of the murals Ortega created included one of Jose Manuel Flores, Jr. who was 10 years old when he died. He is shown wearing his baseball uniform with the number 6. Photo courtesy of Albert “Tino” Ortega.

Alyson Rodriguez, Staff Reporter

The small town of Uvalde, Texas was changed forever May 24 after a school shooter entered Robb Elementary school and took the lives of 21 people. 

The victims included children between the ages of 9 and 11 and the two teachers who died protecting them. The shooting shook the Uvalde community to its core, and it has never been the same since. People from across the state and country came to send their condolences and love to the south Texas community.  

Artists across Texas joined together in Uvalde to honor the 19 kids and two teachers by painting expansive murals of them to commemorate them. The art project was organized by MAS Cultura in Austin, Collectors of Chicano/Latinx Art and Allies, and ART LAB Contemporary Art Space- Uvalde.  

One of the 21 artists included in this project was El Paso’s own Albert “Tino” Ortega who is well known for painting the 3D balloon murals located throughout the city and the Aug. 3 memorial. Ortega is also a father and felt a special connection to this project because his daughter is around the same age as the victims.  

“Art has this presence and not just this power to inspire but also the power to tell a message,” Ortega said. “The artists who own MAS Cultura and ART LAB-Uvalde asked me to join this project because they had heard about my murals commemorating the Aug. 3 victims. They invited me to be a part of giving back to the Uvalde community. After El Paso experienced the Aug. 3 shooting, we saw communities from all over come and support El Paso, I joined this project to extend a helping arm to those who need it.” 

The artists began this endeavor July 9, painting 21 murals in the downtown district of Uvalde. The purpose of the murals is to represent remembrance, unity and healing. Artists were provided with paint donations, supplies from Sherwin Williams and an Airbnb. Ortega also donated materials and supplies to help finish the project.  

One of the murals that Ortega painted was of 11-year-old Jailah Nicole Silguero. The mural shows Jailah with all the things she loved which included unicorns, TikTok and a Caprisun. Her mural is next to her cousin Jayce Carmelo Luevanos, who also passed during the shooting. The families of the victims were included in the creation of the murals and gave the artists insight into whom their loved ones were and what they loved. Families were there with the artists making sure they had beverages, work benches and shade while they worked.  

“The main audience was the parents, I went in with an open heart and as I’m producing these pieces you can see these parents see their kid in the mural,” Ortega said. “To see them see their kid in this piece, it reminded me of how powerful art can be.” 

Ortega also painted the mural of Jose Manuel Flores Jr., who was 10 years old. The mural showed Jose dressed in his baseball uniform surrounded by baseball bats and stars. Written on his uniform was “little big helper” and a number six. 

People from all over Texas would drive to Uvalde to witness the process of the murals and to see the finished product. Viewers were taken aback by the murals at first and were emotional according to Ortega.  

“I’m glad that I was able to be a part of this project and I am super grateful for these opportunities and especially for getting to know a little bit more about these individuals that were impacted,” Ortega said. “I got to show them that we’re always here to help each other out. These murals are about building love, community, strength and providing some healing to the families and communities.” 

Alyson Rodriguez is a staff reporter and may be reached at [email protected]; @alyson_rod1127 on Twitter.