Art: The Universal Language/Arte: El Lenguaje Universal
Updated: Aug 1, 2019
“Is it virtuous?” That is what local Los Angeles artist and art teacher Sergio Robleto has to say when it comes to the meaning of his work. “Is it something that if I’m not around, will it still effect somebody in a positive way? Because these murals are public, there is a responsibility to be in touch with that neighborhood in order to make something that speaks directly to them.”
Before he drafts anything, Sergio first interviews those in the community to understand what it is they are essentially longing for.
During his latest interview he discovered that some community members are hesitant to beautify their homes and businesses because it might result in a raise of their rent. This has become a common sentiment for those living in Boyle Heights, a city that is in the midst of gentrification. While at a recent city council meeting, Sergio expressed how people would much rather have art that is reflective of them, rather than graffiti.
Sergio knew that his mural had to have a voice of empowerment, encouragement, and confidence that could relate to the younger generation of Boyle Heights. And that’s what gave him the blueprint for his most recent mural. It can be found on the front wall of Street Tacos and Grill, a local Mexican food restaurant.
“Essentially art is like a silent conversation with somebody. If there needs to be a conversation out on the street what does it need to be?”
The mural depicts an Aztec man and woman looking outward in opposite directions. They are placed against a night landscape with buildings of downtown Los Angeles and the streets of Boyle Heights. In the center of the portrait is a pair of tacos that look like wings. This makes the mural interactive for those who want a picture. Vibrant, relatable and culturally rich, those are just a few characteristics of Sergio’s mural.
While his mural is heavily inspired by Latinx culture, Sergio has struggled with his Latino identity. Growing up, Sergio didn’t speak Spanish.
His father immigrated from Nicaragua, and his mother was born in the United States but is of Mexican descent. His father spoke both English and Spanish, while his mother was only taught English. Sergio credits the loss of the Spanish language as an extension of racist experiences his family encountered while pursuing the American Dream. He explains that there was a lack of opportunities that came with speaking Spanish and even having an accent.
“I feel like my Latino experience is unique because there was a part of me that knew who I was, but then there was a part of me that felt not accepted sometimes by my own because I couldn’t speak Spanish.”
He expresses the criticism he received from other Latinx folks who claimed that he couldn’t connect to his culture because he didn’t speak Spanish. It made him feel like he had to choose a side. But he is learning to channel his culture through his art. Working on this mural in Boyle Heights has allowed him to overcome his fear of not feeling enough.
“That community has so much history of being proud of its culture and its roots. I’m at a point where I don’t care. I want to know you. I want to be a part of you. I want to be immersed in this.”
The mural is now completed and embraced by Boyle Heights city members and those at City Tacos and Grill. The Boyle Heights City Bridge runners recently posed in front of the piece. And on a recent trip to East Los Angeles activist leader, Dolores Huerta managed to take a picture.
Art has no language. In order to understand it, you must be able to feel it. That is what Sergio does, create experiences of emotions with no language necessary.
Sergio’s mural can be found at Street Tacos and Grill, located at 1843 ½ E 1st St, Los Angeles, CA 90033
Follow his work on Instagram @sergileto