PILSEN — Across a fuchsia-colored backdrop, five portraits of the late singer Selena Quintanilla now grace the corner of West Cermak Road and South Wood Street in Pilsen.
As people passing by stop to take photos of the new mural, they’re popping into corner store Carnicería Maribel, 1801 W. Cermak Road, too. The added attention its bringing to the family-owned grocery store, butcher shop and taqueria is exactly the point of the new artwork, according to the team behind the project.
Mateo Zapata, a Pilsen native and founder of Inner City Culture, said the project aims to support the family-owned businesses that have called the neighborhood home for decades.
“The significance of corner stores in communities of color is very much ingrained in Chicago’s culture and history,” Zapata said. “As gentrification … continues to hit Pilsen, there’s clearly been a wave of local businesses closing.”
Graffiti artist Ascend was tapped to create the Selena mural, which began in May and was completed on Aug. 6. Depicting her Grammy win, album covers and iconic performances, the mural captures definitive moments of the Queen of Tejano music’s career before she was murdered in 1995 at the age of 23.
Carnicería Maribel has been owned by the Banda family since the 1990s. Since work on the mural began, owner Alejandro Banda said he has seen more people dropping in to shop or grab tacos.
Banda said the effort to bring new attention to small businesses through artwork in line with Pilsen’s “cultural identity” spoke to him.
It’s a way to give the businesses renewed power so they “continue to prosper and continue to be a staple in the neighborhood,” Banda said.
Banda called the end result “phenomenal.”
“It’s brought so many people to Wood Street,” Banda said.
“Selena meant a lot to people … young, powerful, and empowering. I’m happy to have something so beautiful on our wall,” Banda said.
In addition to calling attention to small businesses, Zapata said the mural aims to serve as more than just “decorative art.” It’s meant to empower the Latino community by paying homage to a well-respected cultural figure who connected with different generations of Latinos and immigrant community domestically and abroad, he said.
“Selena represents the reality of a lot of first, second and third-generation children of immigrants in the United States. Her identity, music and style represented reality from being two different sides of the border,” Zapata said.
Zapata said the mural’s success shows what can happen when people work together.
“Sometimes our communities can be divided, but when we work together as local business owners, activists and creatives, really powerful things can happen,” Zapata said.
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