Huge Day of Dead mural wraps around Little Village restaurant

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A Day of the Dead mural now wraps around a long-time restaurant in the heart of Little Village.

Graffiti writer and Little Village resident Elizabeth Reyes was commissioned by AARP Chicago to paint the mural.

"I'm in awe," said Laura Gutierrez, the co-manager of Nuevo Leon Restaurant, 3657 W. 26th Street.

"It defines our culture, it defines us as a community," said Gutierrez. "I think we needed an uplifting. An uplifting in color, spirit, mind body and soul."

Gutierrez who is first-generation Mexican-American helps her father, Emeterio Gutierrez run the restaurant he established in 1977.

Gutierrez says the exterior of the restaurant has always been painted but she says this mural is a first and the largest of its kind for the community.

For Reyes, the project is a continuation of her first AARP commissioned project, which wrapped a CTA Pink Line train.

Reyes says she made sure to incorporate the elements typically used on Día de los Muertos like water, candles, pan de muerto, and the orange cempasúchitl flowers.

Much of Reyes's work focuses on Day of the Dead.

For her, the day means remembering her grandmother, brother, uncle and other loved ones who have passed.

"Especially during this project, a lot of my thoughts were remembering my family," said Reyes. "On this day specifically, we get to really celebrate their lives."

According to AARP, 1 in 7 people in Chicago act as caregivers to loved ones. The mural is supposed to serve as a reminder that caregivers are not alone.

"We are taught to take care of our loved ones, we are taught to be caregivers," Gutierrez said. "So it's also paying them back for what they did for us."

Reyes says she and her crew worked 12-hour days, non-stop for two weeks on the mural.

While she worked, she says she also had her living parents in mind.

"Through the commission, I will at least be able to help pay my mom's pay her bills," said Reyes. "My mom has not stopped working and it means so much to be able to provide for her."

Reyes says she would play the favorite music of her loved ones like Tigres del Norte, Ramón Ayala and Vicente Fernandez. Community members would also stop by and listen to the music and watch her work.

"I noticed a lot of daughters bringing their mothers or grandparents to look at the wall," Reyes said. "It was great just seeing them as seniors enjoying that tradition."

The mural is almost complete. Reyes is just putting the finishing touches on it.

A dedication ceremony will take place on October 18 at 5:15 p.m.

Gutierrez says the mural will stay up for as long as it lasts.

"I think we can always get a hold of Elizabeth to retouch," said Gutierrez.
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