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East High School will honor the life of Luis Garcia with work from famed Chicano muralist Leo Tanguma — in collaboration with Garcia’s soccer team (Local Tips & Reviews)

Leo Tanguma walks gingerly through his living room crowded in the colors of a Mexican serape, papel picado and paintings of the Latindad he’s famously known for depicting. It looks like what would happen if a rainbow gently sneezed inside of an old Arvada home.

Raven Porteous, East High School Dean of Students, visited this same home just a few days before the funeral of East High School student Luis Garcia.

Porteous, Tanguma, and the East High School administration have been in discussions about a mural honoring the life of the beloved student.

Artist Leo Tanguma in his Arvada home. March 28, 2023.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

“The idea first came about after the February 13th shooting,” Porteous said. “Renee [Fajardo] reached out to me and let me know that Leo Tanguma wanted to donate a mural to East. I went to Leo’s house and met with him and his wife. We sat down, had cafe y pan dulce, and talked about what we could do to help our students grieve.”

The well known muralist, notable for his DIA murals that comment on the abolition of war, is working on drafts for a new East High School mural. Sponsored by the Chicano Humanities Art Council, the mural is intended to honor Garcia’s life, address the issue of gun violence and advocate for a change in gun policies.

“I am as outraged as anyone else about something that keeps repeating itself,” Tanguma said. “One of the reasons for this mural is to create a higher level of consciousness about the issue of gun violence.”

Raven Porteous, East High School's dean of students, sits in the Santa Fe Art District. March 31, 2023.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

“Everyone is still grieving [Luis],” Porteous said.

When Porteous visited Tanguma’s home, Tanguma already had a mural in his garage that he wanted to donate. Porteous said the mural was, “too political for a school,” but that they eventually came up with an idea to collaborate with the East High School soccer team, a beloved community of Garcia.

“There were plans for the students to start submitting art that would be incorporated into the final mural. I met with the soccer coach and he was really excited about it,” Porteous said. “The entire team wanted to do this together to remember Luis. They felt like this was their contribution to him and like therapy for them. Even though they are in the midst of great grief, and so am I, we still gotta do something for him even though we’re hurting.”

Mateo Tullar, a junior at East High School, played alongside Garcia for a few years before they were eventually part of East soccer’s attacking group.

“He took the fastest, small steps, the most touches possible and always focused on what he needed to do on the field,” Tullar said. “…which was very different from his personal life because he was a very selfless and caring person.”

Porteous’ favorite memory of Garcia happened during a passing period. The bell had rung and she walked over to Garcia and a friend standing by their lockers to direct them to class.

“He told me he was trying to convince his friend to go to class. His friend wanted to ditch and so [Luis] walked his friend to class and made sure he got there before going to class himself,” Porteous said. “It’s a memory I cherish of him because he cared about people’s success just as much as his own. He was a great kid and it was an honor to be able to know his spirit.”

The iconic “E” outside Denver East High School on Wednesday evening, March 22, 2023, with flowers and a “#11” painted on the surface in commemoration of Luis Garcia, who was shot outside the school in late February. Two school staffers were injured in a shooting reported at the school Wednesday morning.
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News

“His life will always impact the whole team and the school and I hope this mural is a way to make sure that his life is never forgotten,” Tullar said.

But before Tullar and the rest of the soccer team could submit their artwork to Tanguma, a second shooting occurred, this time inside of the school building during an assembly held by the Latino Students United club. This time, two East High School deans were seriously injured.

“Having this shooting occur just a few days after Luis’ funeral service was so saddening and infuriating,” said Patrick Pethybridge, a senior at East High School and a member of the Latino Students United club. Pethybridge shared a Spanish classroom with Garcia and remembers his affinity for soccer.

“We did a show and tell exercise one day and he brought in his soccer jersey and a cowboy boot to represent dancing,” Pethybridge said. “When our teacher asked him which object meant most to his identity, he picked his soccer jersey.”

Both Pethybridge and Tullar remember Garcia being quiet for the most part.

“He was quiet, but he always enjoyed supporting others in class. He was inspiring with the way he conducted himself,” Pethybridge said.

Posters and sticky notes have been hung up around the school building with the “Luis Strong” slogan, as well as his soccer number 11.

“I like seeing all of the solidarity we’ve been getting from high schools across DPS. I’d just love to see that same level of solidarity from the adults in our community and have that translate into them using their own political power,” Pethybridge said.

Something that has helped Porteous push through tough times is the resilience that students have shown in recent weeks.

“The students taking action, saying enough is enough, our community needs to pay attention to their voices. Our students are aware, they know what’s happening with legislation and their ideas are valid,” Porteous said.

When we spoke to Tanguma, he was working on drafts for the mural that he would present to the administration once everyone returned from spring break.

Inside artist Leo Tanguma's Arvada home studio and office. March 28, 2023.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Tanguma created his first mural when he was still a student.

“I lived in a real racist town in Texas. One day, while waiting for our teacher, I went up to the blackboard to start drawing. Then a classmate asked me to draw him killing the sheriff,” Tanguma said. “So I drew the sheriff hanging from a tree, little kids stabbing the sheriff and everyone labeled each stabbing with their names.”

When the teacher came back and found what Tanguma had drawn, she hit him across the back with a ruler multiple times. Tanguma cried.

“I didn’t know it would be my first mural when I drew that, but it turned out to be one of the most political murals that I’ve ever done,” Tanguma said. “I was only 11 years old and it just so happened that way. Later on I realized that that was the community asking me to paint our struggle. So that’s what I’ve tried to do.”

Artist Leo Tanguma's piece depicting the Good Samaritan in his Arvada garage. March 28, 2023.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Where his living room is full of colorful dreams, his basement is packed with black and white ideas and a vast collection of unreleased art that hasn’t seen the light of day for one reason or another.

Using a paintbrush to wipe away fresh eraser shavings from his East mural draft, Tanguma had to add in sections that would include both injured deans from the original draft, which only included Garcia.

“I’d like to paint it somewhere visible in the school to serve as a constant reminder for the community,” Tanguma said.

Tanguma isn’t shy about the imagery he wants to include in this mural and he’s adamant about depicting both the good and evil that’s transpired in recent weeks. There are lots of guns in the draft. He knows it and when asked about whether he’s worried if the school will approve this sketch, he said:

“I have thought about that. If they don’t want any guns, I’m not sure what I’ll do instead,” Tanguma said. He paused, thinking about what he’d say next, and then continued. “Mural painting is such a public art form to talk about ideas and issues in our society. Paint the beauty and history of our culture, but our current state is also something that should be addressed by artists. Artists should have a point of view regarding issues in society.”

One thing you will find in Tanguma’s artwork, and we can expect in this upcoming East mural, is the curved landscape.

Standing in front of his painting “Dos Amantes,” Tanguma explains the symbolism of a landscape leading off into the distance.

“They deserve to love, even in their old age, to have romance in their life. The curvature of the earth is like we’re in something cosmic. It’s life continuing through the cosmos. Somehow, life will continue somewhere in the universe,” Tanguma explains.

Coupled with the blunt imagery of guns and terror, Tanguma’s plan for the mural is just as aggressively linked to a hope for all students to see life into adulthood.

Leo Tanguma and Jeanne Stanford-Tanguma in their Arvada home. March 28, 2023.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

“When I do this, I am doing it for other people, like victims of gun violence. All of my life, I’ve dedicated my murals to social issues because I am concerned about what goes on in our world.”

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