More than 20 Fullerton College students gathered in the windy street outside of La Chiquita Market in Santa Ana to learn about local artist Carlos Aguilar’s “Heroes Among Us” mural.

Aguilar’s mural scales the entire side of the market and took him five years to complete. The piece honors World War II and Vietnam war veterans of Mexican and Latino decent. Only two men featured on the mural are still alive today.

Thanks to the organizational efforts of ethnic studies professor Jerry Padilla, a variety of students had an opportunity to listen to Aguilar speak about his prolific mural.

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Local artist, Carlos Aguilar, imparts knowledge and wisdom to Fullerton College students. Photo credit: Tiffany Maloney-Rames

Donning a paint-spattered grey hoodie, alligator shoes with a matching alligator head hanging from a necklace and cap claiming “Fuck Art,” Aguilar started by apologizing for the graffiti on the mural.

“It’s something that shames me,” he shared. “It’s part of our raza that did it to our raza.”

About a month ago, rival gangs tagged the side of the market. Aguilar plans to erase the portraits and portion of the Mexican flag that were defaced and repaint them as they were originally.

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Anne Frank is among the portraits of fallen soldiers from WWII and the Vietnam War Photo credit: Tiffany Maloney-Rames

The city of Santa Ana did not help during the original production of the mural. Aguilar used his own funds and donations from the community to complete the project.

Perhaps due to the mural’s impact on the community, the city is looking into helping with the restoration. According to Aguilar city workers came out and took photos of the damage.

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A portion of “Heroes Among Us” on the side of La Chiquita Market on East Washington Avenue in Santa Ana Photo credit: Tiffany Maloney-Rames

Santa Ana College Chicano studies professor, Rodrigo Valles, and students from the Alianza Chicana club and Chicano studies classes have a GoFundMe page attempting to raise 30,000 dollars for the restoration. So far, the page has raised 2,001 dollars toward their goal. The artist receives donations from community members as well.

An emotional Aguilar shared a war story of one man honored on the wall. Richard Rodriguez, now 99-years-old, has outlived many of his friends and family, according to Aguilar, and still has visions of war.

Many of the people honored in the “Heroes Among Us” mural are members of the Santa Ana community. The piece is dear to the family of those fallen in the World War II and Vietnam Wars. The artist has ties to many families of the fallen and some of the soldiers as well.

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Gang graffiti disrespectfully scrawled across the portraits of soldiers. Photo credit: Tiffany Maloney-Rames

According to Gil Nelson, member of the Freedoms Foundation, Carlos Aguilar has been nominated for the George Washington Honor Medal, of which there are only 20 in the country.

“It is your responsibility to make sure that your little neighbor, your neighbor’s neighbor, gets a fair chance at an education,” said Aguilar tearfully. “If I’m not doing it and you’re not doing it, who’s doing it?”