Blue Island residents repaint controversial Mexican-American mural

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In Blue Island it was time to repaint Mexican-American history. (WLS)

Friday was Mexican Independence Day, and in Blue Island it was time to repaint Mexican-American history.

In the south suburb, a mural once sparked controversy, a legal battle and racial tensions. But, over time, those issues faded and so did the mural.

"It shows our strength. Who we are. What we do. What we're about," Juan Cordova, labor activist, said.

"History re-visited, but in such a way that we can see society as actually a better place," Laura De Los Santos, community historian, said.

Better than 1974 when the city council filed a lawsuit to stop the muralists.

"Shortly after they began to paint, city officials said you have to stop. If you continue to paint, everyone here, including the building owner, could be fined or arrested," De Los Santos said.

The symbol for the United Farm Workers, the city claimed, was an ad, not art. Racial tensions boiled over.

"People were threatening to bomb the building if the mural was completed, the windows were broken," De Los Santos said.

Ray Patlan, the lead muralist then and now, remembers his lawyers' advice in the 70s.

"Just keep painting and so we did. Before the court case was over, we had finished the mural. Of course, it won," Patlan said.

It was completed but over time, it faded. And was painted over again. But Blue Islanders wanted it back and they called Patlan in California.

"I was in bed, but I almost fell over in bed. I couldn't believe it. I said, 'Hell yeah, I'll do it. Let's go,'" Patlan said.

So, on Labor Day, community members helped trace the new mural.

"It was covered up for 20 years, almost 20 years, here we are today bringing it back," Alderman Jario Frausto said.

They're bringing it back to tell the story of a workers and laborers like Juan Cordova who will be depicted on the wall.

"It influenced my life, now I get to go on the wall and hopefully I can influence the life of future generations," Cordova said.

Butterflies represent immigration and the Virgin represents faith.

"It's definitely a wonderful feeling to see it come together," Erika Valencia, a Blue Island artist, said.

But, most of all, the mural represents the people of Blue Island.

"They can be proud to say this mural influenced my life, and made me proud of who I am and now I can go forward and be the best Mexican-American I can be," Cordova said.
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hispanic heritage monthpaintBlue Island
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