Unidad y Alegria; cdcb’s New Mural Celebrates Brownsville

Words by Josue Ramirez

Edited by Abigail Vela

A beep signals the lift’s arrival against a dandelion-hued wall. Artist Cecilia Sierra and collaborators donned hard hats and harnesses, preparing to paint downtown Brownsville’s newest mural. 

Public art has surged in the Rio Grande Valley, sparking debates and even litigation in the port city over the past year. Locals seem more aware of the pivotal role public art plays in shaping and representing a community while acknowledging the financial barriers limiting opportunities for RGV artists in larger projects.

To advocate and encourage 956 creatives to drive the region’s contemporary visual dialogue, in collaboration with artist Nansi Guevara, we reached out to “come dream. come build (cdcb),” a local non-profit with a 50-year history of envisioning RGV homes and neighborhoods equitably and creatively. The painted strokes on the wall are the outcome of months of collaborative effort.

A women with sunglasses in front of a mural in downtown Brownsville in the RGV
Artist Cecilia Sierra in front of an in-progress mural outside cdcb. Photo courtesy of Josue Ramirez.

Big Dreams in Brownsville

cdcb recognizes the transformative impact of art and design on our daily lives. They showcase this belief not only through their award-winning modular homeownership innovation and their multifamily rental communities but also through engaging in public art initiatives. 

Since 2018, their downtown Brownsville headquarters has featured the “Every Step Counts” mural, part of a financial literacy campaign. This predates the pink BTX mural, visible as you step out from the cdcb office. For many, the SpaceX mural serves as a poignant reminder of challenges like gentrification affecting Brownsville residents’ housing accessibility, a concern deeply familiar to cdcb.

Established in 1974 to address fundamental housing needs, particularly outhouse removal in Colonias like Cameron Park, cdcb evolved into one of Texas’s largest non-profit producers of single-family housing for homeownership. 

Currently, cdcb manages the Cameron and Willacy County Colonias self-help program and has initiated other service organizations. They include the Community Loan Center to counter payday lenders and Youthbuild, which aids vulnerable youth in obtaining GEDs and technical certificates. 

In general, cdcb has become an advocate for the well-being of Brownsville and RGV residents. When approached with a project proposal, cdcb embraced the idea, emphasizing that the mural should authentically represent and include the community they serve. 

Showcasing Small Moments of the RGV

Keeping cdcb’s request in mind, Brownsville artist Cecilia Sierra was enlisted to lead the project. Sierra, a University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) graduate, frequently participates in local artist markets and events. Her printmaking features plenty of plants, animals, and images from her lived experiences in the Valley. 

In a series of design workshops, Sierra walked participants through creating the design’s direction, imagery and tone. Questions like, “What comes to mind when you think of the word Brownsville?” or “What is your favorite part of living in the city?” guided the conversation. She invited participants to answer with a sketch, writing, or spoken testimony. Sierra used the conversations and feedback to provide three design options, which cdcb narrowed down to one. The artist refined and finalized the selected design and began painting in December.

a bright yellow wall with a house painted on the front with various flowers and scenes portraying life in the RGV

The mural, titled “Unidad y Alegria,” is a bright reference to the “Arbol de la Vida,” a Mexican artisanal ceramic sculpture showcasing the various small moments that make living in Brownsville special, moments familiar to Brownsville and RGV residents, like gardening with your abuelos, biking down the street or grabbing a raspa after basketball practice on a hot summer day. 

Many workshop participants’ fondest memories involved loved ones, being in nature, and celebrating local culture, which Sierra was sure to include. Regional flowers, a butterfly, parrots and green jays also decorate the structure. At the center of the tree of life is a home with a 956 address that holds up all these memories.  

A person on a ladder with a pink shirt painting a yellow mural in Brownsville, TX
Different images of various artists on top of ladders wearing hard hats, painting a mural in Brownsville, TX in the RGV
An artist in front of a yellow mural holding an umbrella in Brownsville, Texas
Two artists in front of a mural in Brownsville, Texas in the RGV

Celebrating Brownsville

What we wish to portray to the public with this collaboration is manyfold. Beautifying and updating an old wall with a stunning new message is one thing, but doing so in an inclusive and reflective manner has its rewards, showing that large creative projects can support local artists and those who interact with the mural daily.

This collaboration celebrates community partners like cdcb, who champion the arts and use it in their mission to further fair housing and sustainable communities. Through collaboration, we can add our part to the mounting visual discourse of the city. We hope it guides the conversation towards a representation of Brownville that is relatable to most and what people truly love about their community. 

The “Unidad y Alegria” mural is on the south side of the cdcb building at 901 E. Levee St. in Brownsville, Texas. Thank you to the mural team, including Austin Linkinholder, Jesse James, Crista Juarez, Souther Recio and Emily Hinojosa.

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