Tuesday, January 3, 2012

West Phoenix Murals of Unity and Diversity

Amidst the backdrop of anti-immigrant legislation, attempts to curb Ethnic Studies  and stunning foreclosure rates a group of Maryvale Neighborhood youth are creating some of the most politically charged murals in Arizona. “Coach” Paco Villagrana has been an inspirational leader of the projects, and is encouraging more murals. He has earned the respect of many people bringing together youth and elders to use the arts as a form of service and beautification while making a statement. 

"Breakfast With Obama. President Obama with Coach Paco"
These murals came about through traditional grassroots democratic means. Neighbors came together to talk. They recruited local artists, voted on the design content, and started painting. Without the support of formal arts institutions or organizations they set about creating murals up to 400 feet long.  In fact cultural institutions have all but ignored this, and most other neighborhood based cultural efforts in the area  deeming them of low artistic merit, and therefore unworthy of support. 

 2011"Gracias to those that never give up, honor our firefighters" 
Without the recognition of these institutions, and the resources they bring, many new immigrants remain neither in the center nor margins of our cultural fabric. The mural became a place to have a voice. It is in these places that true democracy takes place, where conversations about what to put in a mural, or what lot needs cleaning up can become a social networking opportunity. This is what building community looks like.
"Mural of Unity"
When the final Mural of Unity was unveiled it featured many civil-rights leaders, both locally such as Isabel Garcia and well known historical figures such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez, Robert Kennedy and President Obama.

Invoking such civil rights leaders drew an abundance of controversy. Some neighbors called the murals an eyesore, graffiti or “too much like a ghetto”. A week after the passage of SB 1070 The Mural of Unity was whitewashed. Not long after Coach Paco and neighbors returned, to create The Mural of Diversity. There was a desire among some of the artists and youth to paint unbridled images of a pregnant woman being handcuffed by soldiers. The final mural was toned down a bit, perhaps reflecting the intensity of the neighborhood conflict.

"2011 - Education Not Deportation"
Crime rates in the are have fallen in the past 12 years as immigrant populations increase. Immigrants bring with them the American dream, family and ethics of civic participation and hard work. As more service-based projects are planned the neighborhood is overcoming tensions by working together and getting to know each others stories. With this spirit more murals will undoubtedly appear in the streets of Maryvale. 

"Getting Ready to Paint"   

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