From Oaxaca to Lafayette

Mexican artist recognizes roots
Garfield St Mural
Posted at 7:54 PM, Sep 29, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-01 10:30:16-04

DOWNTOWN LAFAYETTE, L.a. — Facundo Vargas isn't from Lafayette.

Born in Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec, Mixes, in Mexico — he is a native speaker of the language "Mixe" or "Ayuujk" — an ancient Mexican tongue. A lifelong devotee to the arts, Vargas is a painter, but also a musician. He has played many instruments since his youth but found his groove with the trombone, which he has been playing professionally for more than 10 years. That, or the trombone found him.

All things considered, you may be asking yourself what brings him all the way from Mexico's high sierras to the streets of Lafayette's downtown.

The answer: to paint.

"I wanted to show the people of Lafayette my culture, my identity," Vargas told me, in Spanish. "It is a great window of opportunity."

Bring in Miguel Lasala.

A professor and muralist by trade — teaching at Mississippi State, Louisiana Tech, and UL, and known for working alongside world-renowned muralist Robert Dafford — he said he met Vargas while visiting Mexico, the two since keeping in touch.

"I saw his band Oaxaca Beat play Con Vivio in Downtown Oaxaca, and we've been friends online ever since," Lasala said. "He's seen the work I've been doing with Robert and ever since he's been asking me, 'Hey man, I wanna do that, when can we work on that?'"

Quite some time passed until what Lasala considers a "serendipitous" moment — grant money came in along with a partnership with Acadiana Center for the Arts and the Asociación Culture Latino-Acadiana. The goal? To illustrate a new public art piece celebrating culture, creativity, and the many interpretations art can have within a community.

With that, Lasala approached Vargas with not only una idea, pero una invatación: representing Acadiana's interconnecting cultures, intricate and vital like the root system of a live oak.

"Before people existed and before humanity, there were trees," Vargas said. "It is the tree that represents Lafayette, the tree is impactful, it is incredible to see them growing in the swamp."

According to the ACA, the image will show the roots of the live oak morphing into welcoming hands, reaching out and playing instruments — accompanied by inclusive and welcoming messages in French, English, Spanish, and Mixe.

"Trees and music are the same, both are vibrations, both are energy, just like we are," Vargas continued. "We are all energy."

The mural is being painted along Garfield Street on the wall of La Backbeat, a local drumstick and drum repair shop owned by Frank Kincel. But acquiring this property wasn't initially part of the plan.

"They had another location they were slated to place this mural on," Kincel told me. "On the day they were slated to start, that landowner backed out, so essentially I said 'send me the design' and 24 hours later, Miguel and Facundo were outside getting everything ready to go."

Kincel noted the initial canvas was a lot larger, so the image had to be adjusted and significantly scaled down. Still, Vargas hopes the mural will amplify Mexican voices.

"It's nice to know different cultures, different places like Lafayette which is very different than where I am from," Vargas said, once again in Spanish. "It is a very different culture."

Where he is from, Vargas mentioned, "people like him" — from smaller, more rural communities and with darker complexions — are heavily discriminated against when they go into town. Here in Acadiana, he said, while fewer people seem to spend time outside, to him, they are freer. He likes this about the area and hopes to be welcomed back someday soon.

To anyone who may speak or understand Mixe or Ayuujk, here is his message:

From Oaxaca to Lafayette

The team has a goal of completing the mural by Saturday ahead of Lafayette's Latin Music Festival.

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