• June 26th, 2022
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Disappearing Murals Causing Heritage, Cultural Identity to Vanish


Photo: Courtesy CMPC Pueblo’s Plaza Verde Park, a 1978 mural by Leo Lucero.

Last week, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named the historic Chicano/a/x Community Murals of Colorado across the state to its 2022 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. The Chicano/a/x community murals illuminate an often untold, overlooked, or erased history in cities where Hispanos, Chicanos, and Mexican Americans were key to their development. Although the exact number is unknown, it is believed that more than 40 historic Chicano/a/x community murals exist across the state of Colorado, including the Denver region, Greeley, Pueblo, and San Luis.

 

Chicano/a/x Murals of Colorado Project (CMCP) nominated these heritage murals to the “11 Most” list, due to increasing threats including rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods in communities across Colorado and a lack of legal protections that put murals at high risk of destruction and erasure. Colorado’s harsh climate can also cause deterioration and fading that threatens murals. As muralists of the Chicano movement age or pass away, there is limited time to restore original murals, and some have already been lost or painted over.

 

“The Chicano/a/x community believes that erasure of these murals is more than a loss of artwork, it is an erasure of cultural identity and a signal that Chicano/a/x heritage ‘does not matter.’ In many instances, the murals were created by the community, for the community—literally illustrating the significance of these neighborhoods,” says Lucha Martinez de Luna, the Director of CMCP. She continues, “The murals represent the memory of a people. They say ‘I am here’ and validate voices who are facing ever fewer cultural support systems.”

 

As a part of its efforts to preserve these murals, CMCP sought support from local partners at History Colorado’s State Historic Preservation Office, non-profit Historic Denver, and the City and County of Denver’s Landmark Preservation staff. To make its case to be on the 11 Most list, CMCP highlighted a representative sample of five Chicano/a/x community murals they are seeking to protect and preserve, in addition to many others.

 

Photo: Courtesy CMPC “Huitzilopochtli,” by David Ocelotl Garcia, on 8th Avenue between Federal and Decatur in Denver. / “Huitzilopochtli”, de David Ocelotl García, en la 8ª Avenida entre Federal y Decatur en Denver.

“These murals are enduring artistic expressions of cultural identity and are powerful representations of history, creativity, and pride,” says National Trust Chief Preservation Officer Katherine Malone-France. “These murals should be recognized as significant contributions to our American cultural landscape that help ensure that our country’s full story is told.”

 

The Chicano/a/x Community Murals of Colorado represent the Hispano history and culture of the Chicano/a/x people of Colorado. They were inspired by the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and 70s, which used art as a means to educate young people and citizens-at-large about the significant contributions of Hispanos, Chicanos, Mexican Americans, and Latinos to American society. The Chicano Movement seeks to address civil rights, land rights, labor rights, educational equity and equal representation, and artist-activists have helped to create murals in Latinx neighborhoods to inspire pride and strengthen community.

 

The murals are not just works of art, they are designed to publicly share important stories about Chicano/a/x, Mexican American, Latinx and Colorado history and are an integral part of the Chicano/a/x cultural identity. The murals provide a sense of place and legitimize the Chicano/a/x presence in the community, linking past, present, and future.

 

“These murals help tell the stories of our Latino, Chicano, and Mexican-American history, and have an important place in our communities. The City and County of Denver is a proud partner in helping CMCP preserve this legacy, which includes helping develop preservation tools for the murals, establishing cultural districts like in the La Alma Lincoln Park neighborhood, and working with our communities to protect meaningful places where murals like these exist,” said Laura E. Aldrete, executive director of Denver Community Planning and Development’s Landmark Preservation team.

 

Photo: Courtesy CMPC Mural by Alicia Cardenas in Denver at 2700 Larimer St.

It is hoped the 11 Most Endangered Historic Places nomination will create awareness about why these legacy murals are significant and in turn propel efforts to survey, designate, protect, and preserve these important historical visual texts. While numerous murals have already been lost, new technology promises to help restore these cherished works of art that have been painted over.

 

These five murals submitted by CMCP as a representative sample of Chicano/a/x community murals are:

 

-In San Luis, “San Luis-Sierras y Colores,” by Carlos Sandoval, painted in 1986, commemorates the oldest town in Colorado, San Luis de la Culebra, founded in the 1840s by Hispano settlers when the area was still part of Mexico.

 

-In Pueblo’s Plaza Verde Park, a 1978 mural by Leo Lucero, symbolizes the spirit of the Indigenous people and the land before colonialism.

 

Photo: Courtesy CMPC Emanuel Martínez’s 1978 “La Alma,” in Denver at 1325 W. 11th Ave (La Alma Recreation Center).

-In Denver, on 8th Avenue between Federal and Decatur, 2008’s “Huitzilopochtli,” by David Ocelotl Garcia uses symbolism to represent spiritual philosophies specific to the healing of the mind, body and soul.

 

-In Denver at 2700 Larimer St., a 2020 mural by Alicia Cardenas symbolizes taking down statutes and representations of the history “we thought we knew,” to empower those harmed by it.

 

-Finally, in Denver at 1325 W. 11th Ave (La Alma Recreation Center), Emanuel Martinez’s 1978 “La Alma,” commemorates the birthplace of the Chicano Mural Movement in Colorado that began in the La Alma Lincoln Park neighborhood. Specifically, the mural celebrates the legacy of Indigenous and Mestizo descendants over the past and present, and seeks to inspire youth to create a promising future.

 

This is the first time the National Trust has included murals on the 11 Most Endangered list, and it reflects the growing commitment of the Preservation Movement to include places that reflect the diversity of the nation. Previous Colorado designees to the 11 Most Endangered Historic Places list include Mesa Verde National Park, Denver’s Larimer Square, the Valley Floor of Telluride and the towns of Central City and Black Hawk. Concludes Malone-France, “By focusing greater awareness on these community landmarks, we can encourage their protection and preservation for generations to learn from and celebrate.”

 

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