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Adrian Rodriguez, also known as “Serkit,” is a Port Isabel Junior High School art teacher who embraces his Mexican-American roots in his art and encourages his students to be proud of their own backgrounds.
Rodriguez has been painting since 2007 and started teaching art at Port Isabel Junior High School in 2015. The Edinburg native was even named Port Isabel ISD teacher of the year in 2022.
Having murals all over the Rio Grande Valley from Port Isabel to Edinburg to Mission and even to Uvalde, Texas, Rodriguez draws inspiration from his Mexican-American background and especially from pre-Columbian art in his murals.
“It’s to remember my roots, my ancestors, my parents,” he said. “Both my parents were born in Mexico. So I’m proud of my parents and proud of what they did for me. I’m proud of our culture, and what we stand for.”
That pride that Rodriguez carries with him was not always there.
He learned more about his culture and background as an adult because as an adolescent he pushed back against learning Spanish and fully embracing it.
Noticing the younger generation that he teaches is more open to embracing their culture, he implements Latino artists into his curriculum. Rodriguez hopes they learn from the different art styles but also inspires his students to be proud of their own backgrounds.
“There’s a variety of students, so I want them, whatever background they are, to be proud of it,” he said. “Be proud of your ancestors or wherever your family’s from.”
Having lessons based on different Mexican and Chicano styles, Rodriguez said students currently are doing an assignment around Mexican Loteria. Practicing first by copying original loteria cards, students are assigned to make their own and the class will play their own game of loteria.
One lesson that was taught for several years was about Pedro Linares who created Alebrijes, which are brightly colored Mexican folk art sculptures of animals with unusual characteristics. Linares dreamed of these animals from feverish hallucinations when he was very ill.
Teaching this art style to his students through the use of paper mache, it is the inspiration for “Alebrije Aztec,” a mural which is seen enroute to South Padre Island. Most likely his most viewed mural, it is located at 801 Highway 100 in Port Isabel.
The mural with an Alebrije style depicts a sea turtle, a Texas horned lizard, a pelican and an Aztec man with a headdress.
“I would go to work every day and I would just see this blank canvas every day for a few years,” Rodriguez said. “It was calling my name and I finally said ‘I got to do it’. … Nobody hired me, nobody told me to do this. I did it on my own because I love it. I wanted to do something where I work for the community, the students and the families, for them to appreciate it.”
A focal point of the mural is that all the animals are endangered and connected to the region. Rodriguez said even at times Mexican and Chicano culture is endangered and that is why it is important for people and students to see themselves represented in art.
“Be proud that you can see yourself in the artwork,” he said.
As an educator, Rodriguez takes it to the next level and participates with students in an afterschool program called Texas Afterschool Centers on Education. Currently giving students the chance to be active by riding bikes around campus, last year he organized a group mural project that involved the participation of 53 students.
The mural is in the heart of Port Isabel Junior High and is looked upon with pride at what students can accomplish with the right guidance. Rodriguez said planning the mural took a semester in itself. He then projected the mural onto the wall and had students paint the mural all by themselves.
Asked how art can be used as a form of self expression, Rodriguez replied, “Sometimes it’s not easy, like talking and expressing with words. I don’t have to say anything, I paint a big picture and … that’s more than what I can say with words. It’s great for someone to express themselves and get messages across that they can’t with words.”
A few of his other murals that can be seen by the public are “Rest in Paint Azone” at 515 E. Cano St. in Edinburg; “Mission Home of the Grapefruit” in the Walmart Supercenter at East Expressway 83 in Mission; and “Unity” at 741 W. Ocean Blvd. in Los Fresnos.
With many of his murals painted over throughout the years, the life of a muralist is knowing that the art will not be there forever but in the words of Rodriguez: “That’s how life is. Nothing lasts forever, so enjoy it.”
Editor’s note: This story is the next in a series of stories observing National Hispanic Heritage Month.