Urban murals are pieces of art that have been strategically placed in cities in order to bring attention to various issues and struggles faced by communities of color and minorities. These pieces of art were an integral part of the Chicana/o art movement, in fact, “muralism was the most important, widespread, cohesive, and publicized aspect of the Chicana/o art movement during the 1970s. As a major carrier of public communication to Mexican communities in the United States, it has been a vehicle of suitable solutions to problems facing those communiteis” (Goldman, 1993, 23). This Chicana/o Movement was derived from the “concept of Aztlan, which emerged in 1969. Aztlan was the notion that the entire Southwestern region of the United States was the spiritual homeland to a Chicano nation.” (KCET)
Two of the cities in which this movement took place and which I highlight in my exhibit are San Diego and East Los Angeles. Although these two cities are approximately 120 miles apart from each other, they both posses murals from the Chicana/o art movement with similar iconography. These images found in both location represent the way in which they have the ability to travel from artist’s mind to artist’s mind, breaking city limitations and gaining agency through people’s artistic abilities.
For starters, we begin in San Diego’s Chicano Park. The Chicano Park was “constructed under terminating structure of the Coronado Bridge… build for middle class commuters to the mainland, bisected and threatened to destroy the Logan neighbordhood.. In 1970, the Chicano community claimed the land beneath the bridge as a park and planted it with trees and flowers- thus making it into “liberated territory” in the spirit of other people’s parks of the 1960s. Since 1973, its pillars have been painted by artists from San Diego and many other parts of California, and it remains a living symbol of unity for the community. (Goldman, 1993, 52) Eric Avilas book “The Folklore of the Freeway” explains how the feeway revold was actually a racialized story and that “the men who led the freeway movement were all white men which in the 1950s, were highly regarded and respected by Americans for their expertise on technological command" (Avila, 2014, 2). However, he notes that not everybody was happy with having a structures run right through their cities. The story tell the victories of white middle-class or affluent communities and that the freeway revolt found the greatest success in wealthy cities like Princeton and Cambridge.
Of course, we also see this movement grow and uplift in cities like East Los Angeles with muralists like Judith Baca. After Baca’s own experience with Mural painting in East Los Angeles, she began to see and understand what murals can actually do, these murals and their symbols “could break down the divisions among…people, give them information and change their environment.” (Baca, 1985, 67) . This idea of breaking down division allows for upmost mobility and agency since there are no barriers keeping people restricted or apart. Once an environment is changed, it can produce new conversations and portals of knowledge that can provide exposure to different worlds which were once deemed unaccesable . “As the movement progressed, common themes emerged, variations on those themes developed, and our stories began to crystallize. We consciously avoided Western European aesthetics, instead privileging Chicano popular culture, religious iconography, Mexican calendars, tattoos, street writing, whatever could better and more accurately portray our direct life-experience. We did not even look closely at Mexico City, an influence far-removed from the Diaspora of the Southwest.” (Baca, The Art of the Mural).
Her influences and way of encapturing opppresive narratives and history are still found iin the city of East Los Angeles, particularlyThe Great Wall of Los Angeles, “Here Baca retells the events surrounding the 1943 aggressions suffered by Mexican American youth in Los Angeles. From June third to the seventh of that year, a mob of servicemen and civilians took to the streets of L.A. in search of zoot-suiters, who in the popular imagination at the time posed a threat to national unity and social cohesion. As a result, various young Mexican American men were physically assaulted and stripped of their zoo suits. ” (Latorre, 2008, 52) Although freeways were invating barrios, artists like Baca did not let this go unnoticed. For example, in Avila’s book, he emphasizes the physical ways in which activists took over the space, like Baca’s mural Division of the Barrios and Chavez Ravine where “A serpentine freeway writhes between and around these figures, and its supporting columns crash into the homes of the barrio below. (Avila, 2014, 77-78) and Hitting the Wall where a woman triumphs by breaking the tape of the finish line which breaks the wall on the freeway (Avila, 2014, 79). The imagery alerts the viewer of the reality behind the history of many Mexican American families in the Los Angeles are during the 1950’s and 1960’s, as it reflects Baca’s own experiences growing up in the San Fernando Valley.
These key points in the Chicana/o activist movement reveal the reality and importance of these murals. They are complex pieces art with the potential to tell stories of the deep histories that have often been neglected by United States history courses, and remind communities of the hard working people and living culture that Chicanas/os share.
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