- The Washington Times - Monday, October 15, 2001

Nine Montgomery County, Md. teen-agers, fed up with the graffiti on the walls of their apartment buildings, have created a hand-painted mural to protect at least one of the walls from future vandalism.
The 45-by-8-foot colorful mural, which features symbols of freedom such as the Statue of Liberty, the World Trade Center and the U.S. Capitol, has taken on a more special meaning since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in Washington and New York City, the teens said yesterday.
For the teen-agers, the mural at the Amherst Square Apartments in Wheaton now stands as a tribute to those who died in the attacks and as a symbol of community and national pride.
"It's become more special because the mural was originally designed to represent different parts of the United States," said Victor Huaman, 16, who helped paint the mural.
"That was then," Victor said. "Now I look at it and I realize these buildings are no longer there and many people died there. It's a memorial to those people."
The teens designed the mural in early August, more than a month before the terrorist attacks. At that time, they chose to include the Twin Towers because they said the buildings were a big part of the country's identity, said muralist Jorge Luis Somarriba, who helped the teens on the project.
"When they were deciding what they should paint, they unanimously agreed to put the skyline of New York," Mr. Somarriba said. "They said that, to them, [the World Trade Center, the Statue of Liberty] is how the U.S. is seen worldwide. Now, we look at it this is like a memorial to the victims."
Yesterday afternoon, the teens, all of whom live in the neighborhood, unveiled the mural, which took them all of August to design and paint. They crafted the mural on the side of one of the buildings on Elkin Street in Wheaton.
Residents who live in the complex say they believe the mural will help deter vandals from spray-painting any more graffiti, at least on that side of the building.
"It will certainly help," said Edna Morales, who lives in one of the buildings. "I don't think anyone would want to destroy this artwork."
The project was put together by the Montgomery Housing Partnership Inc. and the Graffiti Abatement Partners Inc., a public-private partnership of businesses, community and the government.
The project is part of the county's Graffiti Prevention Initiative, developed by Montgomery County Council member Marilyn Praisner and former council member Betty Ann Krahnke.
Both women, who attended the event yesterday, said they believe graffiti vandalism could be eliminated through education, enforcement and eradication initiatives.
"This ia a real shining example of what can happen when the community works together," said Mrs. Praisner, District 4 Democrat. "Graffiti is a problem that the community can tackle collectively."
The idea has taken off. Since July 2000, volunteers have cleaned up more than 55,000 square feet of graffiti in public spaces throughout the county, officials said yesterday.
The mural at Amherst Square is all about building a community, more so now since the attacks, said Robert Goldman, president of the Montgomery Housing Partnership.
"For every act of terrorism, for every act of violence and destruction, there are so many more positive acts going on," he said.
Mr. Somarriba said the mural celebrates the diversity of the community, which is mostly Hispanic, and the diversity of the country.
"This is a very good way to begin to heal as a community and as a nation," Mr. Somarriba said.
The mural also depicts cultural symbols of the countries from which teens' families emigrated, including Peru, China and Mexico. A drawing of the ancient city of Machu Pichu in the Andes Mountains of Peru is just beside a large depiction of the Virgin of Guadeloupe from Central America. On the opposite side, next to the New York City skyline and the silhouette of the Capitol, is a drawing of an Asian woman wearing a straw hat and a Chinese dragon.
"We wanted to make something that looked like all the people who live here," said Maryina Aguirre, 14. "We wanted to show that we are all one, before and after the attacks."
"All of these symbols mean freedom for us," said Bruno Giraldo, 14, as he looked at the Statue of Liberty. "We drew something beautiful."
The teens said they hope to return to the complex at 11501 Elkin St. years from now and show the mural to their children. They said the mural has enough protective coating to keep it on the side of the building for at least 20 years.
"It would be nice to bring my children here one day 20 years from now and show them what my friends and I did," Maryina said as she stood looking at the mural. "I'm very proud of it."

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