Arts Issue 2018 | Interviews | Little Village | Politics | Visual Arts

Painting Politics

Alexander Tadlock uses art to encourage Mexican immigrants living in Chicago to vote in Mexico’s general election

Diana Delgado Pineda

Alexander Tadlock, an artist born in California and raised in Tijuana,  Mexico, was commissioned by the Mexican National Electoral Institute (INE) to paint a mural in Little Village. Located on 26th Street and Troy Street near the iconic Little Village Arch, Tadlock’s mural serves to persuade Mexican immigrants living in Chicago that if they register as voters in Mexico, their votes will be crucial in Mexico’s general elections that begin this July. 

Diana Delgado Pineda

Diana Delgado Pineda

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Can you explain what we’re looking at in the mural? What was your artistic process for creating it?

You see some hands raised, symbolizing the community. It’s well-organized in demanding essential things. As a matter of fact, I believe only education and arts can really change any society. [In the mural] you can see a book open, symbolizing free education for all. Some brushes raised, representing the arts and sciences. But also, respect and toleration from the hands with the finger raised. There’s “power to the people”, because I believe that this happens in Mexico, in the U.S.; whenever elections come, political parties try to deceive us, or try to give us a different impression. So, the only way to actually make things happen and to evolve as a society is if we come unite. That’s basically what you get to see in the mural. Also, the colors allow for these essentially Mexican characteristics—the patterns of the flowers come from indigenous south regions of Mexico, specifically from the artisans and indigenous women who embroidered these beautiful patterns. They are a part of our millennial culture and heritage.

I see you’ve been talking to some people whenever they stop by. What have you heard from the community so far?

I’ve been really amazed because even though we’re in Chicago, you can see that there is a real solid community of Mexican spirit. It happens everyday. The Little Village neighborhood is so similar to living in Mexico. Preserving all of these beautiful values from Mexican society and traditions along with the fact that they keep spreading to new generations, those born in the United States, has been beautiful. It’s been wonderful that there are a lot elders [in the mural], and that they immediately get recognized either as the colors or the symbols around the mural. At the same time, they have this feeling of…missing?

Nostalgia.

Nostalgia, exactly. It’s been beautiful that I’ve been having the time to share some of the best thoughts, histories, or stories about how this community was raised in the seventies, how the first Mexicans came here, and how they struggled to have a place in wild Chicago. It’s been an honor to be here and to be embraced by Mexican-Americans. They really believe that things should change in Mexico. I’ve been very surprised that they do care about what’s happening in Mexico and hopefully they hear the call to actually get together and do something for those who cannot.

Diana Delgado Pineda

Diana Delgado Pineda

It sounds like you’re very well informed about Little Village. Do you have any thoughts about the culture of the South Side or Little Village in particular compared to other parts of Chicago that you perhaps have seen during your stay here?

Yeah, I’ve been here for three weeks. I’ve been [working] every day on the mural—straight from waking up [to] going to paint—but I’ve had the chance to see a little of the city around, and I’ve noticed how this region in particular is a little bit different at least from the areas downtown, North, or East. What I’ve seen here is people get to socialize more than in the other neighborhoods that I’ve been around. People [are] more friendly—if you’re walking and someone sees that something falls behind you, they tell you. They kindly greet you in the morning. For the time I’ve been painting, people just come around, buy me a coffee, or give me a good chat. I’ve seen it not only with me but also all around. It happens spontaneously, and that’s what I’ve seen in this community, rather than in other sides of the city.

What are your hopes for this mural, now that it’s finished and on display?

One word would be “legacy.” I would like to give this [mural as a] present, especially for kids, for the new generation. I believe that if there will be more schools rather than police outside in the street, if there are more paintings than machine guns, then I believe there will be more artists than killers. [For] young people, students, I would like to leave this as a legacy, especially for kids to say, “Hey, instead of violence or xenophobia or ignorance, why don’t we all come together and explore new topics in arts or science?” Maybe I can spread out the seeds; hopefully I’ll be able to see new artists when I get back.

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