CHICAGO (CBS) – Take a stroll through Pilsen and one thing stands out: vibrant murals on the walls of many buildings.
For the neighbors, they are more than paint. They tell the story of the streets.
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As part of Hispanic Heritage Month, CBS 2’s Marissa Parra accompanied an artist on a quest to save her work.
Walking through the streets of Pilsen is like walking through a time capsule; its murals telling the story of its people, and there is a struggle to preserve them
It may sound calm, but it’s an artist’s conversation.
“It’s like being in a trance, but that’s the tongue,” Salvador Vega said.
Art is a universal language for a Chicago pocket where the English language doesn’t always come first
“The arts really represent the people who live here,” said Diego Morales.
From top to bottom of 18th Street in Pilsen, the walls tell the identity of the neighborhood
“Gentrification, ask for affordable housing,” Morales said. “Representations of our indigenous roots.
“Problems concerning Latinidad, national problems, Mexico,” he added.
Morales was part of the 25th Ward’s effort to save and restore the vanishing murals.
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For Vega, the circle has come full circle: at age 19, he commemorated peace activist David “Boogie” Gonzalez, a member of a Reformed Latino gang later killed in a drive-by shooting in 1973.
“For me it’s a gift to do it again,” said Vega. “I was wanted by ‘Boogie’ sister.”
In 45 years, time has taken its toll on the mural.
Now, with the help of the arts and culture committee of the 25th arrondissement, Vega doesn’t just draw his brushstrokes, he creates new ones.
“Tell the story that can be told with more impact,” he said.
Born and raised in Pilsen, a proud Chicano, Vega said it’s not just his heritage, it’s ours.
“It’s the gallery, the urban gallery, the open-air expression,” he said. “Here, it’s for everyone. It’s no longer mine, it’s ours.
The 25th arrondissement’s arts and culture committee will restore other murals, but it’s not cheap.
In a statement, Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25e) said: “Pilsen’s murals reflect who we are and where we come from – they really are a pillar of Mexican-American culture that is Pilsen. But over the decades the murals have been repainted and torn down, which is why we have been meaning to partner with the community to preserve our murals and promote.
The alderman said the neighborhood arts committee has:
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- Development of a strategy to preserve the murals on 16th Street and parts of 18th Street.
- Started planning with CDOT to design bike lanes and improve sidewalks to raise awareness of the beauty of our murals.
- Planned restoration of historic murals like the Boogie Gonzalez mural at 18th Street Station and began the process of inventorying the murals in collaboration with the Chicago Public Art Group
- Helped local artists learn about City grants
- Intervened and prevented young artists from painting on historic murals by putting them in contact with local art legends.
If you want to help finance the next project, you can make a donation to 25e Neighborhood arts and culture fund.