These Chicano Murals Are Among the Most Endangered Sites in the U.S.

Chicano Murals BELatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of Rocky Mountain PBS.

There is nothing more dangerous and sad than to see history erased before our eyes. Whether due to human ignorance or the wear and tear of nature, there are monuments that erode with the passage of time and lose the voice with which they tell the story of our ancestors.

And we are no longer talking about the Neolithic or prehistoric caves. We are talking about murals made more than 40 years ago by those who fought for the rights we barely enjoy today.

That’s what the National Trust for Historic Preservation wanted to communicate with its Endangered Places 2022 list, which includes more than 40 Chicano murals from across Colorado that are at risk of disappearing.

Their inclusion on the list reflects the preservation movement’s commitment to include places that reflect the nation’s diversity, the National Trust said in a statement.

The murals use bold images and color to tell the “often untold, overlooked, or erased history in cities where Hispanics, Chicanos, and Mexican Americans were key to development,” said the Trust, a non-profit that seeks to preserve some of the United States “greatest treasures” by raising awareness of the threats they face.

These are paintings conceived by Chicano artists during the height of the civil rights struggle and heirs to the Mexican muralism that gave us names like Diego Rivera and Alfaro Siqueiros, artists who spoke of identity in huge architectural dimensions.

Leo Lucero’s mural, for example, located in Plaza Verde Park in lower east Pueblo, depicts the spirit of indigenous peoples and the land before colonialism.

Leo Lucero's chicano mural BELatina Latinx
Image courtesy of Andrea Chalfin/KRCC.

More than just works of art, the murals “are designed to publicly share important stories about Chicano/a/x, Mexican American, Latinx, and Colorado history and are an integral part of the Chicano/a/x cultural identity,” the Trust said. “The murals provide a sense of place and legitimize the Chicano/a/x presence in the community, linking past, present, and future.”

Lucero’s mural, a mural in San Luis, and three in Denver were nominated to be added to the National Trust’s list by the Chicano/a/x Murals of Colorado Project, which chose them because of the “increasing threats” they face, “including rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods in communities across Colorado and a lack of legal protections that put murals at high risk of destruction and erasure.”

As reported by the Pueblo Chieftain, in addition to the Lucero mural in Pueblo, the other murals selected to represent the more than 40 community murals across Colorado on the National Trust list are:

“San Luis-Sierras y Colores,” by Carlos Sandoval. Painted in 1986, it commemorates Colorado’s oldest town, San Luis de la Culebra, founded in the 1840s when the area was still part of Mexico.

“Huitzilopochtli,” by David Ocelotl Garcia, in Denver, on 8th Avenue between Federal and Decatur. Painted in 2008, it depicts spiritual philosophies about healing the mind, body, and soul.

An untitled mural at 2700 Larimer Street in Denver by Alicia Cardenas symbolizes the removal of statues and representations of colonial history to empower those harmed by it.

Emanuel Martinez’s 1978 “La Alma” mural in Denver at the La Alma Recreation Center, 1325 W. 11th Ave. marks the birthplace of the Chicano Mural Movement in Colorado, which began in the La Alma Lincoln Park neighborhood, and seeks to inspire young people to create a promising future.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation designation could then set in motion restorations and measures for protection from vandalism, thus preserving unique pieces of history.