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.”
Guillén was reported missing on April 22. The last she was heard from, she was working inside an armory room at Fort Hood, according to the Austin American-Statesman. The remains of the 20-year-old were found buried about 20 miles from the Texas base in late June. Investigators believe she was beaten to death with a hammer by fellow soldier Aaron David Robinson, who took his own life when confronted by authorities.
The Army’s account of how Guillén died remains a mystery. Her family believes she was sexually harassed by Robinson and is calling for a congressional investigation. The Latinx community is calling for justice.
Mendoza, a Latina and a mother of three, says she was moved by Guillén’s story when she saw her mom, Gloria, on TV crying and pleading in Spanish, “Quiero a mi hija viva” (I want my daughter alive).
“I just connected with her mother so much. It was so heartbreaking,” she says. “As a mom, I put myself in her shoes and I just felt an ounce of her pain and it was just, I was angry.”
After watching Guillén’s mom, Mendoza posted a digital art piece on her Instagram page and that’s what got LULAC’s attention.
She expanded on her digital piece, adding two images of the Virgin Mary to the mural. “It was something that I wanted to add because in our culture, our Hispanic culture the Virgin Mary, our mother, that's our protector,” Mendoza says.
The mural took her 17 hours to complete. She sees the art piece as a memorial. “People are praying. crying, letting out their frustration ... their tears,” Mendoza says.
This mural and this moment have empowered Mendoza to keep fighting for justice for Guillén. She’s remembering the experience with a permanent image of her own — a tattoo of a paint palette and brushes. “I've always wanted to get this and I just thought it was a perfect time,” she explains. “I always want to remember that experience.”
— Video produced by Nurys Castillo and Gisselle Bances
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