In recent years, Chicago has exploded with the color and life of public art, especially murals. The city has also become an incubator for young artists through programs like those at Yollocalli Arts Reach, the youth initiative of the National Museum of Mexican Art.
One mural by Yollocalli Arts Reach artists graces Gary Elementary School in Little Village near 30th and Ridgeway. “Que La Libertad Nos Bese En Los Labios Siempre” depicts the figures behind a pivotal moment in Chicago’s labor history – the Haymarket Affair. Muralist Arturo Fresán worked with a group of teens to create the design.
“The way that we work at the Yollocalli street art studio is we want to teach the teens that street art is not just graffiti, but it has a lot of different expressions,” said Fresán. “We want to guide them from that kind of talking through art to the community and engaging in a conversation that is not directly oral but rather using images and colors and making people wonder, what is this for? What is this about? So I brought up the idea given that Little Village is more like a working class neighborhood, so let’s talk about the story of labor rights. It’s something that is very important in Chicago – it’s one of our main exports.”
Among the Yollocalli group was artist and Little Village native Nayehli Alvarez, who said she hopes having a mural celebrating labor history in a working-class neighborhood like Little Village will result in more awareness and understanding of the fight for labor rights.
“When the topic was brought up, I was like, wait, hold on, I haven’t really thought about it that much,” said Alvarez. “So it was nice to be able to learn about it and then also incorporate it in street art.”
“A lot of times, especially when you come from neighborhoods like Little Village, [the perception is] it’s almost like it’s something you have to rise from. Here, especially with this mural, it’s something you can just take a stand in,” she continued.
“It’s something that needs to be passed on, that there have been a lot of struggles for us to get what we have already,” said Fresán. “So giving it up for some sort of commodity might not be the best idea.”