There is a saying where I am from that goes “Al que ha de ser charro, del cielo le cae sombrero,” which translates to: If one is meant to be a cowboy, their hat will fall from the sky -- there is no walking away from one’s destiny.
I was so excited I called my friend Brent Aldrich, who has created many murals in our neighborhood, for advice. He told me how much paint would be needed and how to make the best use of volunteers. I told him about the size of the wall I was to paint, and he was impressed. But then he then warned, “You will not have time to do painting yourself; you will be busy helping people figure out what to do.”
I happily accepted the offer, but then things got a little complicated.
Cindy Gil from the office of external affairs at IUPUI, the person in charge of the project, called me. “We only have from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to paint the mural,” she said.
I panicked and saw my dream of painted trees from around the world dissolve in thin air. There was no way more than 100 feet of wall could be painted in four hours the way I had originally envisioned. After a few hours of bad math, I came to the more optimistic conclusion of making adjustments and simplifying the design so that at the end of that day the Near Westside Neighborhood Association, IUPUI, and the Immigrant Welcome Center (and myself) could all be satisfied with the work.
When the day finally arrived, about 16 volunteers showed up, and they showed up early too. I began to give instructions, and as I saw my own creation come to life on the wall, I felt honored. The volunteers were doing so well without me having to coach them that I did actually have time to do some painting myself. About two hours in everybody was done.
“What else should we do?” asked one volunteer, and then another, and then a few more.
I began to look for “mistakes” that could be corrected; lines that could be made more crisp, areas that could use another coat. I guess I must have oversimplified my design.
The volunteers moved on to another wall and covered even more areas with solid colors. Everyone kept busy until 2 o’clock, encouraged by the honking cars, the drivers and passengers of whom repeatedly showed their support by giving us a thumbs-up.
We all felt proud when we were done. Not only because we had successfully turned a once-blighted area into a bright and welcoming space, but because of what we all silently shared at that moment. We all shared the experience of having come to Indiana from somewhere else and having left a positive permanent mark here that day.