The “Education for the People” mural was painted on a wall near Cermak Road and California Avenue in the 1970s by artist Aurelio Diaz.

The “Education for the People” mural was painted on a wall near Cermak Road and California Avenue in the 1970s by artist Aurelio Diaz.

Robert Herguth/Sun-Times

Little Village mural mystery solved; now Aurelio Diaz work is in line for a restoration

Completed in the late 1970s, “Education for the People” has new murals on either side of it. An artist behind those wants to repair and rejuvenate Diaz’s painting.

SHARE Little Village mural mystery solved; now Aurelio Diaz work is in line for a restoration
SHARE Little Village mural mystery solved; now Aurelio Diaz work is in line for a restoration
Painted in English and Spanish as part of an aging mural near Cermak Road and California Avenue are the words: “Where do correct ideas come from? Do they drop from the skies? No. Are they innate in the mind? No. They come from social practice and from it alone.”

The quote, easy enough to find, is from the late Chinese leader Mao Zedong.

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But there's no name or other marking to identify who painted the mural, titled “Education for the People,” dating to the late 1970s and filled with images including a man with one wrist in a shackle on which “Chicano” is written and the other arm bound by a rope.

Who painted it is something that artists have wanted to know because they’re hoping to restore the mural, which is faded and chipping.

“I’d often wondered about the author,” Chicago mural historian and writer Jeff Huebner says. “We’ve long thought it was Aurelio” Diaz but weren’t “entirely sure.”

Now living in Mexico, Diaz, who also goes by Aurelio Diaz Tekpankalli, confirms that he painted “Education for the People” with the help of other artists.

Artist Aurelio Diaz in 2020.

Artist Aurelio Diaz in 2020.

YouTube

Told there’s an effort underway to touch up the old painting, he says he’s all for it “if they’re going to do something of that quality” of the original.

Huebner describes Diaz as Pilsen and Little Village’s “most prolific, committed community muralist in the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s.”

In 1978, he “painted several murals on Cermak between California and Kedzie sponsored by an organization called Residents for a Better Marshall Square Community," Huebner says.

He says “a number of his outdoor works remain,” though many are “in a degraded state.”

Diaz also created a mural featuring 22 faces in 1976 on 16th Street with help from students at nearby St. Procopius parish.

This mural on 16th Street was done by Aurelio Diaz in 1976 with the help of students. Restored by artist Sam Kirk, it’s part of a stretch of public art known as Galeria del Barrio.

This mural on 16th Street was done by Aurelio Diaz in 1976 with the help of students. Restored by artist Sam Kirk, it’s part of a stretch of public art known as Galeria del Barrio.

Rick Majewski / Sun-Times

That “Education for the People” has remained largely intact “really shows you the level of respect that it has in the neighborhood just by virtue of its longevity," Huebner says.

Diaz painted the mural on the side of a brick building that's home to a hardware store. It stands across a driveway from a Subway sandwich shop.

Gloria Talamantes is one of the artists hoping to restore it.

“It’s important to keep that up so we can continue to educate about the history of the area as well as the rich history of art that existed in Little Village,” the South Lawndale artist says.

“Education for the People” as seen in the late 1970s.

“Education for the People” as seen in the late 1970s.

C. William Brubaker Collection / UIC

Talamantes says Diaz's mural conveys to her “that there is power within the people.”

She says “there are things we don’t learn in school” that can be learned “from murals and visual arts.” Last year, she and Delihah Salgado created a mural next to “Education for the People” titled “Modern Warriors” to “create a dialogue for the youth in our communities about online safety.”

Artists Delilah Salgado and Gloria Talamantes created this mural, titled “Modern Warriors,” last year next to “Education for the People.”

Artists Delilah Salgado and Gloria Talamantes created this mural, titled “Modern Warriors,” last year next to “Education for the People.”

Robert Herguth / Sun-Times

The two kids in the painting are sitting back to back — symbolic, Talamantes says, of the saying, “I have your back.”

In June, Talamantes, Jamiah Calvin and a Mexican artist who goes by ROCO did another mural on the other side of Diaz’s artwork.

This mural — titled “Joy” — went up in June next to “Education for the People.” It was done by artists Gloria Talamantes, Jamiah Calvin and ROCO.

This mural — titled “Joy” — went up in June next to “Education for the People.” It was done by artists Gloria Talamantes, Jamiah Calvin and ROCO.

Robert Herguth / Sun-Times

Talamantes says that the new mural, titled "Joy," is meant to “uplift anyone who would pass by there, but it’s also supposed to be a representation of the neighborhood. Cermak, in general, is kind of a dividing line between the African American community and the Latino community. We want to continue the work of solidarity between races.”

The artwork was part of the Brown Wall Project, “a citywide public art initiative to beautify the city of Chicago’s neighborhoods plagued by the brown buffed walls” created by city crews that use brown paint to cover what they deem to be graffiti.

Murals

Chicago’s murals & mosaics

Part of a series on public art. More murals added every week.

Click on the map below for a selection of Chicago-area murals

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