“El Despertar de las Américas” Mural
The Latino Cultural Center (LCC) houses one of the largest indoor murals in the City of Chicago. The mural is called El Despertar de las Américas (The Awakening of the Americas) and was completed in 1996 by Chicago muralist, Maestro Hector Duarte. The artist worked with a group of UIC Latino students in the selection of topics for the mural and its execution. Although the topics were a reflection of social life in the mid-nineties that included concerns about identity and stereotypes, immigration, gender roles, human rights, poverty, and education—they remain relevant in Latino communities today. In the summer of 2011, the artist returned to restore the mural and add a new section that highlights the transnational lives and global concerns of Latinas and Latin American women.
Since 2012, one of the LCC staff’s priorities has been to animate The Awakening of the Americas mural to 1) teach and learn for equity and social justice, and 2) expand cultural understanding among people of different backgrounds and identities. The LCC staff has been accomplishing this through tours of the mural and their Arts-Based Civic Dialogues Initiative (ABC Dialogues). As of 2016, these have engaged over 5,000 UIC students, faculty/staff, community members, and especially high school students. The different scenes in the mural serve to spark these dialogues and tours by linking cultural heritage to contemporary life. However, the LCC staff experienced that a few scenes in the mural were very limiting. Thus in the spring of 2015, the LCC staff conversed with Maestro Duarte to address this, and also consulted with their Ambassadors Group to collect feedback. Maestro Duarte considered the suggestions but ultimately had artistic license. The LCC staff engaged with the artist in discussing more philosophical questions such as: 1) When does public art become a record of history? and 2) When is it open to revisions (consented by the artist) to infuse relevancy to contemporary life and link the past to the present? The revisions to the mural were relatively minor, and included issues such as environmental and climate justice. Thus, they came to a middle position on the questions above, and the mural was revised once again in the summer of 2015.