Marcus Castro made waves in Brownsville when he used $15 from a friend to paint a mural in honor of George Floyd. The mural was vandalized, repainted, and vandalized again, but Castro wants to make a difference with his art and encourages the community to take part in the process. Last week, Castro completed a mural in honor of Vanessa Guillen, the 20-year-old soldier from Houston missing for over two months until her remains were reportedly found near Fort Hood, where she was stationed.

The artist said he’s realized of late that he’s inspired to paint by situations that touch him, that matter, and that he does so in memory of the human beings he features. “Her family has been given little to no information about her disappearance from a military base that is very strict with who they let in and out. Both her vehicle and keys were found in the base, which make it unbelievable that they can’t provide any answers at all about her whereabouts,” said Castro in a post featuring the mural over the weekend.

Guillen is depicted with tears falling from her eyes. She stares through a chain-link fence at sleeping children in border facilities. Castro calls attention to the conditions inside the facilities, where families and children have now been ordered released amidst the pandemic.

“The other image is a representation of the facilities that children are being kept at when taken away from families. Held in jaillike border facilities in inhumane conditions, including some who are much too young to take care of themselves, for weeks without contact with family members, or regular access to showers, clean clothes, toothbrushes, and sometimes no thin green mattresses or foil covers. Many are sick,” he wrote.

Castro estimated he has completed 14 murals. He began painting in Dallas, which like other large cities in Texas has a strong community of artists, and it’s commonplace for murals to be painted over. This isn’t done disrespectfully, but rather to build on what’s already there and to honor the community and the lives it sustains.

“It’s art over art over art. People keep going, just painting. The whole environment out there — it was something that I really liked and I like the people I met there. I was watching them all paint and thought —hey, I can do that. I did a whole wall full of Avengers. I did Hulk and Spiderman and all these things. It came out looking great.”

Castro recalled being able to paint through a day of hot sun and not feeling fazed by it, because he enjoyed himself so much. That was only about a year and a half ago. In Brownsville, much of the work he’s done has been done in private, at homes and businesses.

Asked how the community can support its artists, Castro suggested getting involved in creative work and not being afraid to try something new.

Another way the community can contribute is to respect the work — to appreciate it, and to leave it alone — to work to understand its message so that others can enjoy it and grow.