LITTLE VILLAGE — Little Village residents, elected officials and members from the American Legion Post 1017 unveiled a new mural on Veterans Day Thursday to honor the life of veteran Manuel Pérez Jr., who was killed in action during World War II.
The new mural by artist Sergio Maciel from Provoke Culture was installed in the Manuel Pérez, Jr. Memorial Plaza, 4345 W. 26th St. It was funded by the city and made possible by the Little Village Community Foundation, the Manuel Pérez Jr. American Legion Post 1017 and neighbors.
Pérez, a Mexican American private who served in the Philippines during the war, was killed in action on March 1945 at the age of 22. Born in Oklahoma, Pérez was raised in Little Village and posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions in the Battle of Luzon.
Maciel said the artwork tells Pérez’s story, incorporating his portrait, his Congressional Medal of Honor, a patch of the 11th Airborne Division Pérez belonged to. It also features an Aztec calendar and an American flag — a nod to his Mexican American identity — and a Philippine flag, to mark where he died.
“The concept of the mural was to create a large-scale scrapbook that celebrates the courage of [Pérez],” Maciel said.
Elena Duran, who lives next door to the plaza, was on the committee that helped plan and design the new mural. She said it’s important the community has a place to remember the lives of Mexican American veterans, whose service in the armed forces is often overlooked.
“Being here and honoring [Pérez] is so powerful. We want this to be a great honor to him,” Duran said. “We want this to be a place for families, art and culture.”
The plaza, which is the only memorial in the state named after a Mexican American veteran, according to the Little Village Community Foundation, was originally dedicated to Pérez in 1981 by former Mayor Jane Byrne. Pilsen is also home to an elementary school named after Pérez.
American Legion commander Abundio Zaragoza, who emceed the event, said he was grateful veterans from as far back as World War II through recent wars came out to celebrate the mural — and Veterans Day together.
While the city’s Alfresco grant program paid for the mural, it wouldn’t have happened without neighbors advocating for it, said Kim Close, chief operating officer of the Little Village Community Foundation.
“It was community driven work,” Close said.
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