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Emigdio Vásquez painted Orange County with murals — here’s how to find them

El Proletariado de Aztlán (The Proletariat of Aztlán, 1979) depicts protagonists of the social and cultural movements afoot during Emigdio Vásquez's childhood in Orange County, Calif. The mural, restored in 2014, is located on two sides of a garage in Orange. Courtesy: Jessica Bocinski/Chapman University

Orange County’s suburban sprawl doesn’t lend itself to leisurely viewing of street art. But now there’s an app that makes it easy to take a self-guided tour of murals painted by renowned Chicano artist Emigdio Vásquez.

Vásquez, who died in 2014 at age 75, painted at least 30 murals on buildings, inside schools and restaurants and at parks in central Orange County. 

Many depict scenes of Latin American and Chicano history, from the Mexican Revolution to the farm workers’ movement, to the advent of low-riders and pachucos.

Mexican, Chicano and civil rights leaders, including Cesar Chávez, Dolores Huerta and Emiliano Zapata, appear in several pieces, along with scenes of Orange County’s agricultural and industrial history. 

A group of students and faculty from Chapman University built the app, called "My Barrio Murals," as part of a multi-faceted exhibit honoring Vásquez’s legacy for regional art initiative Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA. 

Chapman art professor Denise Johnson said she and her team got the idea for the app when they started researching Vásquez’s mural work and realized that it was both expansive and largely hidden. 

"Some of the murals are really difficult to find,” Johnson said. 

Inspiration for the app her team built came from a similar app that allows Palm Springs visitors to go on self-guided tours of mid-century modern architecture. 

Some of Vásquez’s original murals have been restored in recent years or are under restoration, many of them by Vásquez’s son, the artist Emigdio “Higgy” Vásquez. The app also includes photos and descriptions of eight murals that have been destroyed. 

Besides the app, Chapman University is hosting an exhibit of Vásquez’s easel paintings alongside the work of contemporary Chicano/a artists. The university has also commissioned a mural on campus by Higgy Vásquez, designed to  showcase his own work and pay tribute to his father.