Los Angeles-based artist Cherine Mendoza paid tribute to slain Fort Hood soldier Vanessa Guillén with a mural dedicated to her family. Mendoza was recruited by the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) to paint the mural in Killeen, Texas, across the street from the east gate of the Fort Hood base. She began working on the mural on July 4 and finished it on July 6. “They wanted to put a mural where every time the soldiers, or anybody from that base, comes in or out you can’t miss it,” Mendoza tells Yahoo Life. “You're not going to forget her face. You're going to always remember it.”
CHERINE MENDOZA: They wanted to put a mural where every time the soldiers or anybody from that base comes in or out, like, you cannot miss it. You're not going to forget her face. You're going to always remember.
NURYS CASTILLO: You were invited to paint this beautiful mural in honor of Vanessa Guillen. The League of the United Latin American Citizens flew you out to Texas to paint this extraordinary mural. Tell us about the initial conversation.
CHERINE MENDOZA: I created a digital art piece of Vanessa, and I posted it up, and I went camping for four days. And unbeknownst to me, it went viral. So that's how I was able to get contacted by LULAC.
NURYS CASTILLO: Where is the mural located, and why was this location actually picked for this?
CHERINE MENDOZA: The mural is located-- it's on the property of a tattoo shop right across the street from the east gate of the Fort Hood base. It's literally within maybe 100 feet from the actual gate.
NURYS CASTILLO: How long did it take to create the mural?
CHERINE MENDOZA: 17 hours. You know, I'm self-taught. When I paint somebody, it also pushes me to research them and to connect with my heritage. That's actually the first large mural that I did because I'm not a muralist. But now I am. I consider myself a muralist now.
NURYS CASTILLO: For Latinos, this has been, like, a tremendous loss for everybody. Why was it so important for you to paint this mural?
CHERINE MENDOZA: When I first found out about Vanessa's story, I heard her mother speaking at the press conference. That right there just drew me to Vanessa. I just connected with her mother so much. It was so heartbreaking. Just as a mom, I put myself in her shoes, and I just felt [INAUDIBLE] of her pain. And it was just-- it was-- I was angry.
NURYS CASTILLO: Have you spoken to Vanessa's family or to her mother?
CHERINE MENDOZA: No, I have not spoken to her, but her mother had seen the mural that I painted with the Virgin Marys. And so she did say that it was her favorite one. The mom is a twin, and so she said that's her and her twin, the Virgin Marys, watching over Vanessa. It was something that I wanted to add because in our-- our Hispanic culture, you know, the Virgin Mary, that's our mother. That's our protector.
NURYS CASTILLO: If you could talk to Vanessa's mom, what would you tell her?
CHERINE MENDOZA: We want to let her and her family know that, like, we care. And her story, it touched us, and it's unfair. That mural is a memorial. People are praying there. They're crying. They're-- they're letting out their frustration, their tears. It was such a beautiful experience, I had to get a tattoo. This is a picture of-- of a paint palette and brushes--
NURYS CASTILLO: Wow.
CHERINE MENDOZA: --and it has some roses on this. But I've always wanted to get this, and so I just thought it was a perfect time because I always want to remember that experience. But it-- it's good to know that-- that my art can heal because I never seen it that way. And it's crystal clear now. It's crystal clear for me.