Drivers do get lost time to time. Either apps freeze, or street address gets confusing…That’s how I ended up on a narrow street with large cracks downtown Phoenix. Then I saw a big and bright mural, two men working on it, dark blue tarp protecting them from a hundred seventeen degree heat. Aren’t you hot out there?
“We could have just said, ‘hey, look, it’s too hot now, we’ll pick it up when it’s cooler’ but we decided well, let’s tough it out and lets get this thing done. So we were doing it at two o’clock in the afternoon till six when the sun went over the building. But my God, you’re like in an oven. Even though you’re in the shade but you’re in the oven.”
These are two artists, Jose Andres Giron and Roman P. Reyes. Both veterans, both are behind dozens of otehrmurals in Phoenix and other parts of the world. I canceled the trip, turned off the driving apps and turned on the mic.
“I’m native, he’s from Mexico but he’s a citizen. Hey, show me your papers, man.”
“I was born in Durango, Mexico. My dad was a minister. The only people that he was able to minister were farm workers. So we traveled throughout the Southwest working in fields, picking up cotton, beets. When I was working in the fields I would find out where the clay was and I’d take it home and sculpt little things and people in the community would tell me: ‘Don’t be an artist, you gonna starve to death.’”
“I’m a purple heart veteran, because I went through a lot of stuff in Vietnam. Because you can’t help it, it’s that PTSD that you get when you’re a combat veteran, but art helped me through all that and it still does. Back then we weren’t treated very well when we got back from Vietnam, and it really sucks and hurts.”
“As soon as you got to the airport, got off the plane you run in change clothes right away so you don’t have to wear a uniform.”
“And that’s a shame because I was a decorated veteran and everybody had long hair and here I am with my little short hair, just got back from Vietnam. Immediately tried to grow my hair and assimilate and tried to forget about Vietnam but I couldn’t, I can never forget about Vietnam. I’d wake up and think that I was back there again. Every once in a while I still dream about that.”
“As we get older we don’t even realize, hey man, your life is almost over, you’ve done a lot and we don’t feel that way, we feel we’re just beginning! So how much longer we’re gonna keep creating art work? Well, we don’t know. Until we can’t no more.”
“Ask my daughters, they give me stuff for Father’s Day or for Christmas, and they’ll give me kitchen things you know, and I get them and I use them for my art, like a mixer, I go: ‘Oh, now I can mix my chemicals,’ or they’ll give me a slicer, ‘Oh, I can slice my clay now.’ They laugh and say everything I do is for art.”
“Art for us is like a mistress. My wife is so jealous. I mean she knows that I have to do my art. She’d like me to stay with her all the time and she accepts that and I appreciate it otherwise we’d have been divorced long time ago.”
listen to Open Conversation episodes also every other Tuesday on KJZZ 91.5, NPR member station in Phoenix, Arizona, a bit after 9:30 am PST.
music by Blue Dot Sessions
recorded, produced by Regina Revazova
note: this content is intended for listening. This transcript might not be accurate. We advise to listen to the podcast to get full range of emotional highlights and other story elements.