Painted in English and Spanish as part of an aging mural near Cermak Road and California Avenue, one can read the words: “Where do good ideas come from? Are they falling from the sky? No. Are they innate in the mind? No. They come from social practice and from it alone.
The quote, fairly easy to find, is from the late Chinese leader Mao Zedong.
But there is no name or other marking to identify who painted the mural, titled “Education for the People,” from the late 1970s and filled with images including a man with a wrist in a shackle with “Chicano” written on it and the other arm tied with a rope.
Who painted it is something the artists wanted to know because they hope to restore the mural, which is faded and chipped.
“I’ve often wondered about the authorship,” says Chicago mural historian and writer Jeff Huebner. “We long thought it was Aurelio ‘Diaz’ but we weren’t ‘entirely sure’.
Now living in Mexico, Diaz, also known as Aurelio Diaz Tekpankalli, confirms that he painted “Education for the People” with the help of other artists.
Says there’s an ongoing effort to touch up the old paint, he says he’s all for it “if they’re going to do something of this quality” from the original.
Huebner describes Diaz as “the most prolific and committed community muralist in Pilsen and Little Village in the 1970s, 80s and 90s”.
In 1978, he “painted several murals on Cermak between California and Kedzie, sponsored by an organization called Residents for a Better Marshall Square Community,” Huebner explains.
He says “a number of his exterior works remain”, although many are “in a degraded state”.
Diaz also created a mural depicting 22 faces in 1976 on 16th Street with the help of students from the nearby parish of St. Procope.
That “education for the people” has remained largely intact “really shows you the level of respect she has in the neighborhood just because of her longevity,” Huebner said.
Diaz painted the mural on the side of a brick building that houses a hardware store. It sits across an aisle from a Subway sandwich shop.
Gloria Talamantes is one of the artists who want to restore it.
“It is important to maintain this so that we can continue to educate about the history of the area as well as the rich art history that existed in Little Village,” said the South Lawndale artist.
Talamantes says Diaz’s mural conveys to him “there is power within the people.”
She says “there are things we don’t learn in school” that can be learned “from murals and visual arts”. Last year, she and Delihah Salgado created a mural next to “Education for the People” titled “Modern Warriors” to “create a dialogue for young people in our communities about online safety.”
The two children in the painting are seated back to back – symbolic, says Talamantes, of the saying “I support you”.
In June, Talamantes, Jamiah Calvin and a Mexican artist named ROCO did another mural on the other side of Diaz’s work.
Talamantes says the new mural, titled “Joy,” is meant to “elevate anyone who passes by, but it’s also meant to be a representation of the neighborhood.” Cermak, in general, is a sort of dividing line between the African American community and the Latino community. We want to continue the work of solidarity between the races.
The artwork was part of the Brown Wall Project, “a city-wide public art initiative to beautify neighborhoods in the city of Chicago plagued by polished brown walls” created by city teams using brown paint to cover what they consider to be graffiti.