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OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — The effervescent art and mural landscape of Oklahoma City started bubbling after the Metropolitan Area Projects revitalization and beautification process began in the 90s. 

Since then, Oklahoma City has been decorating its walls and streets with art that speaks about its people, culture, and history.

La 29 or SW 29 District, home to over 300 businesses south of the Oklahoma River, was created as a district in 2014 and is currently one of 17 districts in OKC. 

For more than 20 years, the City of Oklahoma City has been helping those districts in the development and maintenance of its commercial corridors, like La 29, through the Commercial District Revitalization Program. 

“La Historia” (The History) was the very first mural inaugurated within the SW 29 District as part of the beautification process and showcases Latin American and Hispanic culture in the metro. The ribbon was cut on the mural on June 3, 2020.

La Historia
The mural “La Historia” creates beauty in the middle of the thriving, busy “La 29” District along SW 29th Street on the near south side of Oklahoma City. (PABLO ANGULO-GONZALEZ/Okla City Free Press)

The mural

The mural is the result of a threefold effort.

On the one hand, the Chicano artist and art educator Narciso Argüelles’ intention of bringing Hispanic and Latin American culture and heritage to the forefront.

On the other hand, the SW 29 District’s willingness to work towards a corridor full of life, business, art, and people, combined with Oklahoma City’s pursuit of revitalization and beautification through art, paved the way for the mural “La Historia” on South Western and Southwest 29th Street. 

The mural is facing east of Jose’s Transmission Shop near SW 29th Street and Western Avenue.

Argüelles said it was important to get the mural up in the SW 29th Street and Western crossing because of the amount of traffic the intersection gets. 

“It’s a very visible part of the neighborhood,” Argüelles told Free Press.

“La Historia” mural has four 17 x 17-foot panels which add up to an almost 70-foot-wide mural in south Oklahoma City. Each panel contains different elements of Aztec, Mexican, Hispanic and Latin American culture. The left-most panel depicts the legend of the eagle holding a snake in its beak. 

La Historia
Elizabeth Larios, director of the SW 29 – “La 29 – District,” stands in front of the first mural created to adorn the thriving commercial district on the near south side of Oklahoma City. It’s title is “La Historia” or “The History.” (PABLO ANGULO-GONZALEZ/Okla City Free Press)

In Aztec culture, the imagery symbolizes the finding of a place to build community. 

According to the legend, the Aztecs built Mexico City on the spot where they saw the eagle perched on top of a cactus holding a snake in its beak.

The central-left panel shows part of the Aztec Calendar underneath an Aztec warrior next to a pyramid. 

The central-right panel contains images of a low-riding car, revolutionary fists, the Virgen de Guadalupe, and the monarch butterfly famous for traveling all throughout the North American continent alluding to the continuous and resilient movement of immigrants on land. 

The right-most panel showcases the famous Frida Kahlo with “Nosotros Somos Frida” (We are Frida) written underneath. 

The overarching theme of the mural is Latin American cultural emergence and resilience. “It’s a metaphor for the community. It’s about resistance and resilience,” Argüelles told us.

The artistic endeavor took over four months to complete. During this time, Argüelles would teach during the day and paint at night.

Around five people assisted him. Angel Rodriguez, currently a tattoo artist in OKC, and his late brother Abraham Rodriguez were major contributors to the mural.

They came across Argüelles when studying at Oklahoma City Community College.

“It was life-changing, you know. I had to do this mural while I was working. I would teach during the day and then go home to change, get my equipment and then go to the mural at night around 8 or 10 pm and paint,” Argüelles said.

The main purpose of the mural and its execution was to mentor young artists and to elevate the next generation of muralists, centered around the idea of expanding diversity in Oklahoma by bringing people of color to the forefront, according to Argüelles. 

To learn more about murals in “La 29”: Artist readies mural to adorn busy ‘La 29’ retail corridor on southside

The artist

Argüelles was born in Los Angeles and soon moved to Tijuana where he grew up. At the age of nine, he and his family moved north to San Diego where he spent his teenage years and went into college. 

His gravitation toward art started early on when comic books and superheroes grabbed his attention. 

It was his older brother that introduced Argüelles to the comic world and the art of drawing.

As years went by, he kept drawing and doing art, sometimes commissioned to do artwork for his middle school in the form of small murals and projects.

Later on, he attended a performing and visual arts high school in California where his skills and passions for art grew deeper.

It was at the University of California San Diego (UCSD) as an undergraduate and graduate student where he came in contact with David Avalos who founded the Mexican-American art collective Border Art Workshop. 

La Historia
A still shot of the artist Narciso Argüelles as he was being interviewed for this article over a Zoom call from Turkey where he currently teaches art in Istanbul, Turkey at the Robert College.

Argüelles assisted the workshop while still attending school and transitioned into the collective as a board member after graduation. 

Victor Ochoa, a UCSD graduate, also worked at the art collective. Ochoa and Avalos both had a big impact on the development of Argüelles as an artist.

His path into teaching started in California as a college professor. He then moved to Oklahoma for religious reasons. The church he attended in California offered him 6 months of work in Oklahoma where he noticed a lack of Latin American representation and advocacy entities. 

The Chicano art educator felt compelled to stay in Oklahoma and contribute to the artistic landscape as a college professor and advocate for Latin American cultural development. 

Argüelles has worked as a professor of art in the University of Central Oklahoma, Oklahoma Christian University, Oklahoma City Community College, and Deer Creek High School among others.

He currently teaches art in Istanbul, Turkey at Robert College.

Last Updated November 27, 2021, 12:28 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor