LITTLE VILLAGE — Artist Héctor González hadn’t thought much about the enormous Virgin Mary mural he painted in Little Village until a friend shared a Facebook post from Congressman Jesus “Chuy” Garcia with the mural in it late last year.
“I was like, ‘Oh, man, that’s pretty cool that they still look at the mural like that and it’s Chuy Garcia,'” said Héctor, who is known as Disrokone. “But the one thing that got to me was [when] I focused in on it I was like, ‘Man, that mural is so faded now.'”
Héctor grew up in Little Village and painted the mural, which adorns the side of La Chiquita, 2367 S. Pulaski Road, after a particularly painful moment in his life. The now-Pilsen resident started restoring the mural in November and aims to have it completed for the celebration of Virgen de Guadalupe on Dec. 12.
Héctor said he grew even more determined to revitalize the piece after seeing the community struggle through the pandemic.
“I remember 26th Street as one of those places where there was [a lot of] commerce going on … and the newspapers talked about how much the street was making the same amount as the Magnificent Mile. I was saddened about the whole thing,” Héctor said. “I made it all the way to my mural and I parked in front of it and I’m like ‘Yo, this is not cool. The mural is literally a representation of what this neighborhood is like right now.’ It is kind of faded, kind of hurting…It needs something….And at that moment I was like, ‘Alright, I’m redoing the mural.’”
An unsigned mural and a promise
Héctor came to Little Village as a child from Mexico City. He began drawing and sketching from a young age, inspired by the graffiti movement in the ’80s. On trips to Mexico City, his uncles would take him to see the Diego Rivera murals and to cultural institutions across the capital.
In the ’90s, Héctor and his crew painted murals all across Chicago. He also began to fabricate art for people.
The Virgen de Guadalupe imagery always has inspired him, he said, but the mural grew out of a promise Héctor made during a challenging time.
His girlfriend died of cancer in 2001. Doctors in Chicago said there were no other options for her besides hospice care, so the couple sought out alternative treatments in Germany, he said.
In her remaining days, she asked him to get her a Coca-Cola. Héctor went out looking for one, but was in a German town not knowing where to find one.
Then, he saw a small church and went in there to pray and he saw the image of the Virgin Mary, which reminded him of home. He said he began praying to the Virgin Mary to help his girlfriend and to give him strength through this challenging time.
“I was trying to negotiate with the Virgin Mary at that moment,” Héctor said. “‘Please help me and I’ll help you somehow … I don’t even know how but I’ll do something to bring people closer to you and to remember you’re there and that you’re always taking care of us.’”
Héctor said he came up with the idea of painting an image of the Virgen de Guadalupe at the La Chiquita warehouse, where years earlier he painted a mural inside the grocery store’s restaurant.
Store owner Alfredo Linares gave Gonzalez his blessing to do the piece.
“I didn’t really publicize it. I didn’t even sign it. I didn’t want any credit to it,” Héctor said. “It was just like my gift to the community…a promise I kept [and] a way of telling my story.”
The mural took Héctor about two months to complete because he was still grieving. The mural also includes his late girlfriend; her mother; his sister, Norma; and a cancer patient from Chicago who also died. Héctor also painted himself in the bottom left corner praying to the Virgin Mary.
“It was that moment that was captured in my mind when I was in Germany … I did a backshot [of myself], where it could be anybody praying to the Virgen,” Héctor said. “I used [the mural] as a form of therapy [since] it was a super emotional piece for me.”
‘Little Village would not feel right without the mural’
Gonzalez sought city grants to help support the mural restoration and a young artists program he is launching, but was turned down, he said, delaying the project.
The restoration will swap original’s sepia tones with more vibrant colors, and add more color portraits representing the continuance of life, he said. It will also have his signature on it for the first time.
“It’s a little bit different now,” he said. “I’ve moved on from the tragic times. I’ve learned amazing lessons from those times … and I’ve done positive with my life. It just made me like a different man … I feel like I’m a very positive person. And I try to help people.”
Some in the neighborhood have spotted the restoration in progress and are spreading the word to others.
Julio Anaya, who oversees the Little Village Local community organization, said he saw Gonzalez working on the piece while driving and posted it on Instagram.
“I immediately pulled over because we always talked about the mural and wondered why there wasn’t a signature on and it always had dawned on us on who had actually painted the mural,” Anaya said. “I knew this was an opportunity to know who was behind this iconic piece.”
Gonzalez said people have stopped by while he’s worked to thank him for redoing the mural and tell him stories of what the mural means to them.
“The mural of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Little Village has always had a special resonance in the community since most of us grew up watching her along the walls in the neighborhood,” Anaya said. “Little Village would not feel right without the mural on 26th and Pulaski as her image is symbolic of the nurturing maternal force we all can relate to, and our cultural identity, she has always stood strong as the mother of challenging times, and marginalized people.”
To commemorate the mural and Virgen de Guadalupe celebration, Gonzalez said he plans to bring mariachi band to sing to the Virgin Mary, and have a father bless the mural as he did 18 years ago.
He wants people to look at the new design for inspiration to “feel good and excited” about their neighborhood.
“There’s still a lot of love here. There’s still a lot of inspiration here. There’s still a lot of community here. There’s still a lot of roots that are planted here… [I just want people] to feel whole again inside [because] that’s exactly what the Virgen de Guadalupe has always done for me,” Gonzalez said.
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