SAN ANTONIO – They say so much, sometimes without a single word.
Murals often are created with the intent of telling a story.
If they were a book, though, these paintings on walls might be more akin to the book cover for most people.
The back story often is unknown.
In a new series entitled, “If These Walls Could Talk,” we uncover the stories behind some of the murals you may see around town.
One of those is the painting of a man, identified in it as “Gabriel Blue,” that decorates the side of a building at the corner of W. Commerce and SW 29th Street.
As we found out, the artwork is dedicated to the memory of Gabriel “Blue” Riojas, a 20-year-old lifelong West Side resident who died in 2015.
Riojas was shot and killed by a security guard in a parking lot near Loop 410 and Ingram Road.
“I’m past that. I just want to remember him as the person he was,” said his mother, Jennifer Sifuentes.
Although police initially said that the guard claimed Riojas was trying to run him down with a car at the time, Riojas’ family always disputed the account.
Sifuentes said they have since received an undisclosed out-of-court settlement in relation to her son’s death.
Instead of dwelling on the painful aspects of his death, she said she prefers to think of all the positives in his life.
“He was always smiling. Every picture,” Sifuentes said. “He would laugh, and his laugh was just off the wall.”
Riojas’ smile takes center stage in the mural.
On either side of his face there are various symbols painted, including roses, a gold clock and black cross, all modeled after tattoos that Riojas had on his body.
There also are two barber poles featured in the mural, representing the career field that Riojas chose as a child.
“One day he was, like, ‘I’m cutting hair. I’m cutting hair. Can you buy me some clippers?’ I was, like, ‘I hope you’re not messing up these kids’ hair,” Sifuentes said.
The Healy-Murphy High School graduate went on to make a name for himself.
Sifuentes said he became the youngest barber at Guzman’s Barber Shop at the age of 16.
“He also won numerous barber battles and contests,” she said. “He’d cut hair sometimes for the kids from the neighborhood for free.”
Sometimes, clients would line up for hours waiting for their turn at Riojas’ specialty cuts, his mother said.
She said he was known for using a straight-edged razor to carve creative designs, such as San Antonio Spurs logos, into the hair of his customers.
“He was just really good at it,” Sifuentes said.
He also was good at making friends, she said.
The mural was created by one of them who wanted to pay tribute to Riojas.
While she can’t have her son back, Sifuentes said every times she sees the mural, she feels close to him and experiences a sense of peace.