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The Devil’s Advocate: Of dogs and murals
Stray dogs in Cerro Alegre, Valparaiso, Chile. Photo: Chris Goldberg/Flickr Commons
Carlos Barón

I wanted to add my voice to the chorus of complaints that Trump elicited with his insults against the football players who have been protesting racism and police brutality. Those protestors, following the example of the still unjustly unemployed quarterback Colin Kaepernick, have been “taking a knee,” or sitting down, during the playing of the national anthem.

As is his modus operandi, Mr. Trump misrepresented the protest and described it as “an act of disrespect towards the anthem, the flag”…and all that is sacred in this land of the (sort of) free.

Adding insult to mental injury, he called the protesters “sons of bitches.” Dogs. There is no other interpretation to the phrase barked by Mr. Trump. Of course after that, the number of protesters grew.

That insult by #45 took me away from the protests and made me think about dogs. I welcomed the new thought. After all, the national anthem subject has been well covered.

Thus, this week, this column will go to the dogs—mostly.

Last week, there was an epic stoppage of the BART system. For a couple of hours, west-bound trains sat idly on the tracks: A dog was seen wandering on the rails! Wow! Or “Guau,” in Spanish.

Was the main reason for the stoppage a safety reason? The dog might derail a train if the train hits it?  Or the dog might hit the third rail and be electrocuted? Or a legal reason? The dog’s owner (if there was one) might sue BART? Could BART sue the owner? Or was BART just being nice to the dog?

I am not sure… but I know what Mr. President would have said: “Get that son of a bitch out of there!”

Luckily, the dog was coaxed back to safety and the commuters continued their trip, some barking or tweeting their discontent. “Why couldn’t they just run the dog over?” “Are dogs more important than humans?” You know, human entitlement.

A dog on a roof in Mexico. Photo: Mark Notari/Flickr Commons

In Chile (where I come from) dogs are everywhere. They are omnipresent entities. People love dogs as much as they are loved anywhere else, but in Chile, the number of street dogs is enormous. The same situation is found in other Latin American cities. They seem to multiply with little public interference, although many of them are caught, taken to the dog pound and euthanized.

Nothing or nobody is too formal or too sacred for the dogs. In Chile, dogs can be seen in most official functions that are held outdoors: military parades, theater performances, funerals, weddings and, of course, protests, where they generally take the side of the protesters. They are tear gassed and hit with billy clubs and water cannons, alongside students and workers.

Any and all public gatherings are susceptible to the intromission of the animal considered “man’s best friend.” I firmly believe that dogs have a natural inclination towards the disenfranchised. Unless they are trained by the police.

In the Americas, dogs have a special niche in Aztec mythology, where they were believed to serve their masters even after death, guiding the souls of the deceased through the entrails of the underworld, until they reached Mictlán, the place of the dead.

Homeless people, in Latin America and in the United States, form strong bonds with their dogs. Most likely, that dog that stopped BART belonged to a homeless person. I hope he or she gets the dog back.

But dogs are not the only subject in this column. There is another subject: murals. I believe that, in a sense, murals are “the street dogs among the arts.” I will explain it with a poem, which I wrote in the 1970s, for the unveiling of a mural by the Chicano artist Daniel Gálvez.

With it, I want to salute the 40th Anniversary of Precita Eyes Murals, which was established in 1977.

The Mural

There is no admission price standing between us and these colors.

There are no frames, other than the sky the rain the sun the people the polluted air.

There is no guard demanding Not to touch! Not to stare too long! Not to lean against! Not to piss on it!

Is this a work of art? Where are the precautions?  Where the insurance companies? Where is the silence that goes hand in hand with that art that hang in museums? Is this a work of art?

Oh yes, it is! A work of art …like us brothers and sisters!

These images on the wall have come to live among us, to hang out in this neighborhood, to take risks with us, to grow old and wrinkled, to die among us!

This museum is not open from 9 to 5. This museum is always open. Always free. Always generous. Like true love wants to be!

Is this a work of art? You’d better believe it! This is where it all came from! Go ask the cave people!

Latin American dogs, like murals, freely share the public space with humans. They also “take their chances with us, come to live among us, grow old and wrinkled, they die among us.”

Story by: Carlos Barón