Celebrating Hispanic Heritage in Murals

As I was perusing the online catalog this week with Hispanic Heritage Month in mind, a number of photographs of murals stood out to me. The mural tradition has long been strong in Hispanic communities in the United States, perhaps most notably as a part of the Chicano art movement of the 1960s and 1970s. These murals are mostly concentrated in the Southwest, but span the United States.

The mural below in Buffalo, New York was designed by Philadelphia public artist Betsy Casañas.

In 2017 Buffalo, New York, artist and educator Betsy Casanas was invited by the city's Albright-Knox Public Art Initiative, the Hispanic Heritage Council, and the Rich Family Foundation to create what became this mural celebrating the contributions made by the region's Hispanic and Latinx communities. Photo by Carol M. Highsmith, 2018. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/highsm.52676

In 2017 Buffalo, New York, artist and educator Betsy Casanas was invited by the city’s Albright-Knox Public Art Initiative, the Hispanic Heritage Council, and the Rich Family Foundation to create what became this mural celebrating the contributions made by the region’s Hispanic and Latinx communities. Photo by Carol M. Highsmith, 2018. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/highsm.52676

Casañas explained in an interview hosted by the Albright-Knox Art Gallery why the mural depicts three women (two shown in the image) of African, Indigenous and Spanish descent: “… when you’re working in these spaces it’s really important for the people to see a reflection of themselves in the work around them.” Photographer Carol M. Highsmith captured the mural as part of her work documenting landscapes and the built environment throughout the United States.

Some murals honor community leaders. Labor and civil rights activist César Chávez is featured in a mural by Melchor Ramirez, seen below in Tucson’s Cesar Chavez Park.  The mural draws a direct line drawn between the labor organizer and an ancient Indigenous past, depicting Chávez in the style of an Aztec deity, much like Tonan, seated next to him.

<em>A portion of artist Melchor Ramirez's mural honoring Chicano activist Cesar Chavez in a small park bearing Chavez's name in Tucson, Arizona. To his right is a depiction of the Aztec goddess Tonan. In an adjacent portion of the sweeping mural, historical figures Leo Tolstoy and Mahatma Gandhi are shown.</em> Photo by Carol M. Highsmith, 2018. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/highsm.49380

A portion of artist Melchor Ramirez’s mural honoring Chicano activist Cesar Chavez in a small park bearing Chavez’s name in Tucson, Arizona. To his right is a depiction of the Aztec goddess Tonan. In an adjacent portion of the sweeping mural, historical figures Leo Tolstoy and Mahatma Gandhi are shown. Photo by Carol M. Highsmith, 2018. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/highsm.49380

Photographer Camilo J. Vergara captured a number of murals by Chicano artist Manuel G. Cruz that depict historical as well as imagined scenes highlighting the Indigenous and Hispanic roots of the Southwestern United States and Mexico. In the Los Angeles mural below, Cruz shows a woman constructing a Mayan calendar.

Woman making the Mayan calendar, Manuel G. Cruz, Monctezuma Cafe, Cesar Chavez at Bernal, Ave., Los Angeles. Photo by Camilo J. Vergara, 2007. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/vrg.07567

Woman making the Mayan calendar, Manuel G. Cruz, Moctezuma Cafe, Cesar Chavez at Bernal, Ave., Los Angeles, 2007. Photo by Camilo J. Vergara, used by permission. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/vrg.07567

The scene in another mural by Cruz below shows Miguel Hidalgo y Castilla leading a charge in the Mexican War of Independence from Spanish rule. A church is prominent in the background, along with an image of the Virgen de Guadalupe.

Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, leading the 1810 Mexican revolution against the Spaniards. Mural by Manuel G. Cruz, Cesar Chavez at N. Lorena, Los Angeles. Photo by Camilo J. Vergara, 2001. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/vrg.05770

Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, leading the 1810 Mexican revolution against the Spaniards. Mural by Manuel G. Cruz, Cesar Chavez at N. Lorena, Los Angeles, 2001. Photo by Camilo J. Vergara, used by permission. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/vrg.05770

Hispanic Heritage Month provides an opportunity to look at how the collections of the Prints & Photographs Division reflect the contributions of Hispanic individuals and communities to the United States. I am grateful that photographers are documenting important local art, sharing a piece of America’s Hispanic heritage and enabling the Library of Congress to provide these images to researchers across the country and the world.

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One Comment

  1. Christopher C.
    October 5, 2020 at 6:29 am

    Great blog post! I recently wrote a personal essay on my grandfather Manuel Cruz. Feel free to check it out if you’d like to learn more about his work. Thank you again for sharing his art Ms. Lindberg.

    https://medium.com/@EastLosHeart/my-grandfather-the-chicano-folk-artist-of-boyle-heights-and-east-l-a-508a44f59d8e

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