FIVE-PANEL ADELANTE MURAL, Sterling, IL
Themes from Latino/Chicano Art & History
Mexican-Americans of Sterling, Illinois have deep historical roots in the Americas, a heritage reflected in mural arts across the country. See the Links page for other Latino/a art, culture, and community websites. The Adelante mural reflects themes found in the poetry, theater, music, and mural art of Chicanos and other Latinos across the United States. The mural has become part of a local reality, a living culture. Through the mural, the photos, or a visit to Sterling, you can learn what "community," "memory," and "place" mean in the everyday life of Midwestern Latinos.
MAIZ and MOUNDS: Respecting Indigenous Roots
The Chicago artists highlight details of golden corn, blooming tassels, and ripening fields, to remind the viewer that maize was domesticated in Mexico by the ancestors of Sterling's Latino residents. Local farmers still produce the Native American duo of maize and squash (el maíz y la calabaza). Along the Rock River, in Sinnissippi Park, children climb over ancient Mounds built by the indigenous Hopewell culture 1500 to 2500 years ago.
Best selling fantasy author Terry Brooks (born in Sterling) wrote about the Sinnissippi Mounds in his books that feature "Hopewell" Illinois: Running with the Demon, and Knight of the Word. Learn more about these books, and read excerpts at: http://www.randomhouse.com/features/brooks/author/TBRtranscript.html
SACRIFICIO: Defending National Sovereignty
The central panel of the "Adelante" mural pays homage to young Mexican men from Sterling who fought in World War II, and the metals for heroism won by some who never returned. Like other Latino veterans, those who returned to Illinois soon realized that they were not treated like "real Americans" despite their efforts and sacrifice. In the face of exclusion from public facilities, veterans and their families began their own social organizations and clubs [e.g., the well-known G.I. Forum of Texas] during the late 1940s and early 1950s.
SEE ALSO THE SILVIS, ILLINOIS "Heros' Street" MEMORIAL: www.herostreetusa.org/
TRABAJO: Working Fields and Factories
From the turn-of-the-century train of the first panel, to the 1937 electric steel foundary, and cucumber-producing farms of the second panel, "Adelante" artists emphasize the contribution of Latino labor to building Sterling and other towns of the Midwest. Generations have labored on the railroads that first brought settlers to the region, and in the steel and hardware factories along the Rock River linking Sterling and Rock Falls, Illinois. Each summer, the great-grandchildren of early Mexican immigrants, along with the newest arrivals from Mexico, go out into the cornfields to "de-tassel" the hybrid maize to prevent cross-pollination.
FAMILIA Y COMMUNIDAD: Sticking Together, Building for the Future
The real people shown on the "Guadalupe / Ancestors" panel were chosen among many generous donors to the mural project by lottery. Their faces reflect the determination to hold together families, build neighborhoods, and to remember their forebearers: Juan Gonzalez (with black tie), built the first small Mexican grocery and Cafe, and Al Silva (white hair and moustache), has been a volunteer couch over several decades, teaching young men boxing skills. A recent family reunion brought FIVE generations back to Sterling in Summer 2000, where Al Silva is pictured with other members of the "Casteneda" clan. Janet Silguero, who helped to raise funds for the Latino Mural and to plan a lively QUINCEÑERA party when her daughter turned 15, is pictured in the foreground. Artist Roberto Valadez joins the pueblo of Sterling at the bottom left of the mural in a self-portrait.
HOUSING: "The WestEnders"
The portrayal of children in "Silver City" during the Depression and WWII eras, named for the railroad boxcar housing painted silver with war-surplus paint, reminds the local community about how their ancestors often struggled to build homes and neighborhoods through their own efforts. Old or new, made of wood or brick, Latino homes and neighborhoods have extended from the traditional working-class "WestEnd" into all areas of Sterling and Rock Falls. LEFT TO RIGHT: Children in "Silver City"; Italian and Mexican homes near the mill on Wallace Street; WestEnd home during the holiday season; Gonzalo Reyes family home with flag flying for Fiesta week; the Mena family home on West Third Avenue (first Latinos to own one of the homes originally built for plant managers of the steel & wire mill):