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March 15, 2016

Community Spotlight: Muralist Freddy Diaz


Southwest Detroit mural artist Freddy Diaz designed a special poster for the Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán performance. We chatted with Diaz about starting out with graffiti, living in Southwest Detroit, and Mariachi music.

mariachi flyer

UMS: How long you’ve been working on murals?

Freddy Diaz: I want to say maybe a good four years now. My introduction into doing murals was graffiti. I grew up in Southwest all my life and came out of the Detroit Public Schools program. People were still very ‘90s when I was growing up, and even then technology wasn’t super up yet, and everybody rode bikes, and there was a bit of gang stuff, but it was either graffiti or gangs. And I always chose graffiti. I liked the art and colors, and it drew me in a lot closer than doing anything negative.

So, I started doing graffiti when I was 12-13 years old, and then as I got older and gained a bit more consciousness about what to do with my art, I started to reach out to local businesses in the neighborhood. That gave me an opportunity to work with business owners, and they gave me advice about how to adjust, how to run my own business. So I would say that I got legit about three-four years ago, and I’ve been at it ever since.

UMS: Were you part of an arts program at DPS, or was this more of a hobby?

FD: It was a hobby from a culture that started before I was born. Detroit has a graffiti culture that probably started in the late ’80 or early ‘90s, and then just followed through generations.

I think that’s what I like about Southwest is that Southwest is really active as far as culture. The majority of Southwest is Mexican, but there are areas where there’s a lot of Arabic culture, areas where there’s Cuban, Puerto-Rican. It’s really cool because you get a bit of everything.

UMS: We’re talking in part because you did this special poster promoting the Mariachi Vargas performance. Has Mariachi music has played a role in your own life?

mural in detroit

One of Diaz’s murals in Detroit.

FD: I would honestly say that I did overlook it when I was younger because it’s just always been around us. When you do go to Mexico, everywhere there is a plaza where on a Sunday night there are Mariachi playing. You take your girlfriend on a walk, stroll through the park at night, and there are just bands. There are people selling food, or people just singing. So I’ve always had it around since I was a kid.

When I was working on the poster, I was thinking more about the vibe that people get from Mariachi music, and I kind of wanted to give people that same feeling.

I did tell my parents about this poster, and they ended up telling me that Vargas are the top Mariachis in the world.

I was like, “Yes, mom, I’ve been doing this Mariachi poster for UMS,” and they’re like, “Really? What’s the name of them?” And I was like, “You know Vargas-something,” and she just finished the name—[laughs] and I was like, “Yes!” and she was like, “No way, show me.” So I pulled out the email, and she reads it and says, “You know they’re like the best in the world, right?”

That got me freaking out, I was like, “Really?” I kind of felt embarrassed because I didn’t know, and I think that it was better that way because if I knew, it would’ve been overwhelming. Not knowing the whole time let me have more fun with it.

See the Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán in Ann Arbor on April 1, 2016.