The editorial categories are research topics that have guided researchers during the recovery phase and continue to be the impetus behind the Documents Project’s digital archive and the Critical Documents book series. Developed by the project’s Editorial Board, each of the teams analyzed this framework and adapted it to their local contexts in developing their research objectives and work plans during the Recovery Phase. Learn more on the Editorial Framework page.
In this essay, Marcos Sánchez-Tranquilino maps out the differences and points of contact between murals linked to the Chicano Movement of the 1970s and graffiti by Mexican-American youth, specifically youth gang culture. For this essay he uses different case studies of graffiti and murals in low-income, predominantly working-class, Mexican-American neighborhoods in Los Angeles. He considers the ways in which the relative legibility of certain visual forms and systems of communication is part of the construction and differentiation of collective identities. He cites “placas” or “plaqueasos” [gang graffiti insignias] as an example of a visual system of communication directed at a specific public—that is, members of the youth gang culture. Sanchez-Tranquilino asserts that murals by Chicano artists and graffiti by Mexican-American youth contended for the same spaces. The author also describes specific instances of this conflict, as well as cases in which murals (or graffiti) blurred the signs between the two practices.
Marcos Sánchez-Tranquilino, an art historian and cultural analyst, confronts the prevailing belief of many art historians that gang graffiti was an inferior Mexican-American expression that gave way to the more art-based Chicano muralism during the Chicano Movement of the 1970s. He was the first to argue for a discourse that recognized the interdependent relationship between Mexican-American graffiti and Chicano murals, especially as it evolved in East Los Angeles. An earlier version of his essay was presented at the 89th Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association in 1990 and was also based on research done for his master’s thesis at UCLA. This text contains photographic reproductions of the following works: Black and White/Moratorium Mural (1974–78) by Willie Herrón and Gronk; “places” by members of Varrio Nuevo Estrada (VNE); The Wall That Cracked Open (1972) by Willie Herrón; an untitled drawing (1974) by Judy Baca of a proposed mural for the Estrada Courts Housing Project; and The Sacrifice Wall (1974) by Charles W. Felix and the VNE Cobras.