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WW interviews Puerto Rican muralist

Published Jun 24, 2006 8:49 AM

The Puerto Rican Cultural Center in Chicago and its allies in the Local Initiatives Support Corp. and the Division Street Business Development Association are planning a whole week of activities around the theme “From Memories of Resistance To Communities of Hope: Commemoration of the 1966 Division Street Riots.”

These activities include everything from the 29th annual Puerto Rican People’s Parade to poetry readings and a new theater production. An important event in this series took place on June 14: “Reclaiming Space-Affirming Our Culture: Paseo Boricua Celebrates A New Mural.”

Community-based artist Martin Soto is in the process of creating a beautiful new mural at the corner of Division and Washtenaw depicting the 1966 uprising. Workers World writer Eric Struch spoke with Soto about the new mural’s political significance.

WW: What are the main issues facing the Puerto Rican community in Humboldt Park today and how does the mural address these issues?

MS: Gentrification is a pressing issue in this community, and having art in a permanent mural stands as a testament to the resolve of Puerto Rican people not to be pushed out of yet another community. These physical affirmations of our identity are put up on walls and built into the wall, so they’re in— not necessarily in a desperate sense—but when there’s no other recourse, we are attaching our hopes onto this wall and holding on to dear life, like in a hurricane maybe. I think this mural, at least, I wanted to be an anchor, to be a physical anchor to all my people. There’s a reason why they asked me to do it. And I know because I have such a love for my people, man. You know what I’m saying? And I’m putting it into this wall because if it wasn’t that, I’d put all my money into every single possible property in this whole neighborhood. If I was a multi-billionaire, I would literally just buy it and give it to Puerto Rican people.

Right on.

Next: Chicago uprising 40 years ago