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Painting a Legacy: How a local graffiti artist is impacting the future while living out her father's dream

Graffiti artist Nyia Luna's mural now graces the US Cellular building on Cesar Chavez Drive
Posted at 6:36 PM, Sep 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-15 22:30:28-04

MILWAUKEE — It was eight years ago when local graffiti artist, Nyia Luna, lost her father to suicide.

"​My Papi, he's right here actually," she said as she pointed to her necklace engraved with his face.

Experiencing his death at the young age of 13, she grew to understand his legacy and process his dreams.

"So that was really hard for me. It still is," said Luna.

Her father, Tomás Garrett-Rosas, dropped out of high school and later joined a gang. But Rosas quickly turned his life around by earning a doctorate in urban studies and working as a professor at UW-Whitewater.

Rosas grew up on the south side spray painting walls on various walls throughout the neighborhood.

"He was doing it illegally, walls," said Luna.

Luna never dreamed she herself could be a legal street artist getting paid for her work. There was a stereotype that came with graffiti, and she was discouraged by her father initially.

"He always told me, like you're never gonna make a career out of it, it's not gonna work, and I think he did that because that's what he was told."

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Luna, alongside Girlmobb, was selected by the Clarke Square Neighborhood Initiative to paint their rendition of activist Dolores Huerta on the wall of the US Cellular building.

This opportunity came full circle for Luna, as this very building was one that Luna's father once painted on.

"It's surreal."

The mural is intended to inspire women on the south side and represent more female activists.

It's the third to be added on by the Clarke Square Neighborhood Initiative as a way to revitalize Cesar Chavez Drive and provide opportunities for artists.

"In this community, it’s needed because throughout the Cesar Chavez district, it’s all about Cesar Chavez and so they want representation for the other half."

The mural painted upon bright hues reads, "Honor the hands that harvest your crops."

Dolores Huerta coined the famous phrase, 'Si, Se Puede,' which translates to 'Yes, we can.'

Huerta worked alongside Cesar Chavez fighting for Hispanic Immigrant farm workers.

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"We just really need to really give thought to who's preparing our food and what they have to go through."

Currently, at the age of 91, Huerta is still fighting for Hispanic immigrant agriculture workers all over the country, which is what inspired both Luna and Girlmobb to paint her in her elderly state.

"With this mural, we wanna teach people."

Luna believes she is pursuing her dream while fulfilling her father's.

"I want to take on what he couldn't."

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