Tagging and Street Art in "Who Shot La Miguelito?" Katia Pokotylo

In "Who Shot La Miguelito?," how does the act of tagging and the creation of street art enhance the community and reflect it? What is the binding element of street art and why is it so powerful in so many communities and cultures?

The gesture(s) I'd like to analyze are the various moments in the play where characters are tagging or creating street art. Especially the final moments leading up the act and how the dynamic between the characters changes. I'd also like to pay close attention to the relationship between the artists and the cans they use (I'll be addressing how the shaking of the cans is also incorporated into the music) and the colors they consider and how they lead up to making those decisions.


I plan to structure this paper around the process of creating street art. Through this I aim to drive my main point that creation is first and foremost a bonding ritual. And through the exploration of "Who Shot La Miguelito?" and the street art described and emphasized in it, I aim to explore the connections formed there and explore how feelings evoked can connect so much. Some methodology I'd like to use in pursuit of more information is analyzing the notes I took after seeing the live performance of the play and the discussion of it in class. I will also recap the Q&A session we had with some of the performers in class. I will also conduct some of my own interviews with the performers and I will also interview some audience members to better understand their interpretation of the gestures presented. Some historical analysis and research will also be present.

Image of a mural used on the play's advertisements. Encapsulates the performance as a whole while also directly reflecting the topic at hand which is Mission District Street art infused with cultural relevance. This mural also expresses the relevance of religion to the community.


The act of creating street art can be viewed through the lens of the play "Who Shot La Miguelito?" and it can be perceived as a way of coping as well as a way of flourishing within a community. Located in the Mission District of San Francisco, “Who Shot La Miguelito?” tells the story of how a community overcomes despair and some of the most depressingly mundane injustices. Unfortunately but truthfully, the play is a story about America and street art plays a significant role in putting real people with real, legitimate issues and emotions that demand and deserve validation on display. This action and performance of sorts requires but a wall and a spray paint can and the way this can is incorporated into the play reflects how the act of holding and using this powerful but uniquely simple tool can transform a space and put the deeply rooted connections of a community on display for all to see and hear. Maybe the most inspiring thing about this can is that it is so ordinary and this contradicts the truly fascinating and unique stories it is able to produce. Now of course this object would be nothing without the actions taken by street artists and the characters in the play really embody the process of locating your vision and the truth that is sought after and painted but this objects simplicity and accessibility and overall wholesomeness generates a rather interesting representation of what it means to live in a place like the Mission District in San Fransisco and the implications change have on the community. This powerful tool emits stories and memories and hopes and visions and translates feelings through this unique form of painting. It's unapologetic yet humble, aggressive yet vulnerable, incredibly accessible yet in a sense completely untouchable. It is to be respected and used with purpose. This object is one of the most fascinating generators of meaning in a place where meaning is really needed and demanded from the community in times of all-time highs and devastating lows.

Miguelito in a powerful position with a hand out in front of a wall that is about to be tagged. This hand will soon be gripping a can that will translate everything behind the look on Miguelito's face in colorful vivid images for everyone to see and attempt to understand.

Seek to write a paragraph that alternates between discussing the can and themes in the play

Photo Caption: Intriguing image of Miguelito's mother, the one who inspired and taught Miguelito about art, and Miguelito's fan positioned in the background. Image models the past, present and future of the street art community in relation to the death of Miguelito.

The movement made during the painting scenes and where many characters shake the can to the music is precise and intense in the way it pairs with the music but if you think about it, it exists alongside the moment where the artist is cultivating their image in their heads and is setting out to finally express these thoughts. In one particular scene, Miguelito receives a lot of encouragement from an older friend to find the right color and execute the best design for the moment and we get to witness the process of mapping out the image, the gestures the artists make with their arms (spray can in hand) before putting a piece up and then the grace and ease they need to find within themselves to put the piece up. And through that we get to see an expression of a very interesting pairing of pressure and freedom in this scene.

Cover of a book by Campo Santo that is featured in this piece. 3) Recent image of real artist from the mission district, Mel Waters, repairing his image of Carlos Santana after it was targeted by vandals. This event and experience reflects the incredible power and vulnerability contained within a can of spray paint which ties in with significant moments in "Who Shot La Miguelito?"

There is a recurring problem throughout the play of Miguelito's mother actively "whiting out" her artwork. Though this perplexed me at first, I began to understand that in a way, this was also a form a protest and a way to stand up against the immense pressures put in place by wealthier powers and governments. It was a way for Miguelito's mother to maintain ownership of her work by putting forth a form of protection. If she is the one whiting out the art, there is now way for landlords and city planning officials to do so. The system has already robbed her of her child and she is a character that makes a point not to succumb to the oppressiveness of institutionalized injustice. Again here we see the theme of whiteness coming into play and though the act of spraying out the art with white, the play is acknowledging the problems the effects of "whiteness" impose on other communities systematically at a disadvantage.

Gentrification is affecting this community throughout the entirety of this play and the characters are facilitating statements against the changing demographics within their community. What I find most significant throughout this play and most prevalent and what probably has the greatest influence on the art produced throughout is how systematic inequality has a great influence on daily life. The professional economic acheivements put in place by European settlers in America are affecting so so many aspects of peoples' daily lives in ways that is a violation of their rights as well as their happiness. In the the play we watch a landlord having to give into to economic pressures and sell property which is going to be remodeled and sold as a more expensive place to live. This is demonstrating the very real issues the Mission District is grappling with as its seeing more and more of its original community members being pushed out and being replaced by wealthier, upperclass white Americans. It is almost as if history repeats itself. The term “whiteness” has a way of defining the ultimate goals of americanization and links it to the many ways in which the culture of the US forces people of different ethnicities and identities to assimilate to fit the created mold of what it means to be American. Through language used by characters in film and portrayal in describing what various European races are experiencing in their transition to the US, we see the irony in how America is presented domestically and internationally as a place of diversity when it is actually promoting a lot of conformity and structure.

1) Image displaying the connection the religious figure has with members of the community. 2) Community members positioned in front of the shrine dedicated to Miguelito with spray cans. Their emotions expressed and channeled through their relationship with those objects. 3) Religious figure and symbolic member in this community that can often inspire the work various street artists in the play produce.

The repercussions that follow the creation of every piece of work are all very unique and reflect the arts intentions, but they also create forever multiplying and infinite amounts of impressions on viewers and through their presentation embed themselves into culture even further. With age, street art's influence on the community grows. That is art's power and that is how it's performance causes change. The image is up and the reactions are rolling in. What is also emphasized in "Who Shot La Miguelito?" on this topic is that the play doesn’t evaluate or use too many words to describe the pieces. The art is mostly defined by and the effect it has on the culture and general dynamic of the community is performed through facial expressions. This is especially noticeable in the scene where the Miguelito’s mother and Miguelito's fan make contact in front of the mother’s mural in the play. We never get to see any of the artwork created by the characters and in a way it makes their messages more powerful. It's as if the play is saying that it's not about what the art is specifically, but more about what it means to be able to make it and the effect it has on the people surrounded by it. The process within performance communicates intentions and in turn holds the greatest amount of influence and in the case of "Who Shot La Miguelito?" street art acts as a form of peaceful protest both within the play and in real life.

Actual street art currently on display in the Mission District in SF that also ties into elements of the play's theme.

In simple terms, street art in this community in the Mission District is the vessel for bonding and ritualistic ways in which characters in the play and people living in this community go about initiating and executing street art invites the idea that there is almost a kind of religiousness to it. It’s inspiring. It’s empowering. Street art is an unapologetic art form and exists for the purpose of being seen and heard by passersby. The whole element to the story of “Who Shot La Miguelito?” where Miguelito obtains a true fan, inspired to start developing street art of her own, represents the whole point about what making street art means to people. In a world so oppressive and so cruel and where blatant racism and gentrification is all too prevalent, courage and self-sustaining power needs to be derived from somewhere and passed on to whoever is in need of it and art’s ability to do so without words and purely to just be is what allows it to be so naturally ingrained in this culture. It does the most for the culture by just existing. Some of it is bold, some of it is subtle, some of it is excited, some is gloomed, some is sharp and some is softer but all of it has a message and all of it is an extension of a very real emotion or state of mind prevalent within its community. Street art, in all its multifaceted forms, has a lot to prove. Perhaps it has even more to share.

Photo caption: Image of well known artist's spray cans resting on the ground in the Mission during her tagging session.

Process Reflection

Created By
Katia Pokotylo