In 1972, two University of Houston student artists came up with a plan to celebrate Mexican-American culture on campus. Cougars Mario Gonzales and Ruben Reyna created the University’s iconic Chicano Mural that was the centerpiece of student meeting space, the Cougar Den, for 40 years.
The original Cougar Den is now history following a recent renovation of UH’s University Center (UC), but the mural is in tact and continues to be a visible part of UH’s multicultural landscape.
The Chicano Mural has a new home in the Barnes & Noble bookstore at UH, which relocated to the ground level of the renovated UC. While the bookstore moved, the wall-sized mural remains in the same space in which it was created.
The painting depicts the progression of the Chicano movement through images of Aztecs, farmers and historical figures – Sor Juana de la Cruz, Benito Juarez, Emilio Zapata, Pancho Villa, Cesar Chavez, Alicia Escalante, Reis Lopez Tijerina. It also includes an image of people calling out for change. The image stands over eight feet tall and extends 50 feet.
“We are excited to have such an important culture piece of the University's history reside in the new bookstore,” said Felix Robinson, general manager of Barnes & Noble at UH. “I believe the store’s designers did an amazing job with the furniture, color, design and layout to complement the mural. We are already getting great positive feedback from customers about the space and mural.”
Its presence in the bookstore was made possible through the support of students, who expressed concern that it would not be included in the renovated UC. The mural also benefitted from the support of the UH System-wide Art Acquisition Committee. The committee approved the hiring of Whitten and Proctor Fine Art Conservation, which is in the process of stabilizing, cleaning and restoring the mural. Although the conservators are still hard at work, bookstore patrons are able to view the mural.
Among the many members of the UH community who are applauding the restoration of this artwork is Center for Mexican American Studies professor Lorenzo Cano. Cano was a UH student when the mural was created and has long appreciated its historical value to both Latinos and to the University.
“It’s fantastic that UH has preserved the mural as part of the UC renovation,” Cano said. “The mural is very important because it represents a very important era in the University’s history – the Mexican American community’s social and civil rights movement. When the mural was created, the Mexican American community was not represented very well on campus. I was one of those students who supported the creation of this mural. At the time, we felt that painting this mural would share our history and culture through the arts.”
Cano and his fellow alums can join newer Coogs in celebrating both the mural’s lasting impact and its new home in Barnes & Noble at UH during an open house from 8 a.m. – 6:30 p.m., Jan. 28. At 2:30 p.m. that day, an official ribbon cutting will welcome the revamped bookstore to campus. For more details on these events and other happenings in the renovated center, visit the New UC’s website.
“We are pleased an important piece of UH cultural history is located on the wall of such an active space on campus,” said Emily Messa, UH associate vice president for administration. “Students, parents, alumni and the UH community will all be able to view and enjoy the piece in an inviting student space that also displays an array of pictures and graphics of the university. The Chicano Mural and the historic photos and graphics in the new bookstore make one feel very connected to the rich cultural history of UH.”