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Chicano artist, students create new Five Points mural that celebrates their heritage

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DENVER — When a group of Denver students told Diego Florez they wanted to paint a mural about remembering the past and hoping for the future, he asked them to envision the idea with all five senses.

“Smell the future, taste the past, listen to both of them,” Florez told them. He is an artist, activist and first-generation American.

Once the group of 25 students from 6th to 12th grades in the Denver area wrote down their observations and ideas, Florez helped the group outline a design. The mural was part of Convivir Colorado's "immigrant impact" summer program. Convivir Colorado is a nonprofit that hosts a leadership program for immigrant, refugee, and first generation kids in the state.

Now plastered onto what was formerly a blank wall at 3264 Larimer Street, the group painted a serpent (representing a legacy of renewal), a chain-link fence (representing sacrifice for a better life), interwoven DNA of "Ancestral Power" (representing humanity without borders) and blooming flowers (representing hopes and dreams of a free future).

Florez said each part of the mural represents elements of the immigration journeys for the students and their families, as well as the balance of maintaining two cultures and identities.

“We want people to remember that even the DNA they have within themselves is a representation of their entire lineage,” Florez said. “Our ancestors are able to see the world that we have established and that we are living in through our eyes and through our very blood and make-up."

The mural hits close to home for Florez, whose mother was deported when he was 15 years old.

Colorado VoicesNew mural in Five Points honors the immigrant experience

(Thumbnail image courtesy Anthony Maes)

Sebastian Chairez, a student who worked on the project, said because the mural was painted with brushes and not spray painted, the group hopes it will last for several years to come, withstanding the rain and snow.

“For me, it’s just important to be a part of this community and making something greater, something that will last a few years,” Chairez said.

The new mural comes at a time when Colorado's historic, Chicano art is in danger — five of Colorado's Chicano murals recently made the National Trust for Historic Preservation's list of "America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places."

Three of the endangered murals are in Denver, with the other two in Pueblo and the San Luis Valley.

History Colorado wrote that the endangered murals "were inspired by the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and 70s, which used art as a means to educate young people and citizens-at-large about the significant contributions of Hispanos, Chicanos, Mexican Americans, and Latinos to American society. The Chicano Movement seeks to address civil rights, land rights, labor rights, educational equity and equal representation, and artist-activists have helped to create murals in Latinx neighborhoods to inspire pride and strengthen community."

While the vision behind the new mural came from a group of students and one artist, the group hopes all who walk by the Five Points site envision their own past, present and future while admiring the art.

“This mural is our students’ hope to activate people’s imagination, as they tell the story of their families’ immigrant experiences,” Florez said. “It’s important to tell this story in a neighborhood saturated with murals because it quite literally reflects a large percentage of Denver’s population.”


Julio Sandoval is a multimedia journalist with Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach him at juliosandoval@rmpbs.org.

Alison Berg is a multimedia journalist who can be reached at alisonberg@rmpbs.org. Her Twitter is @alison__berg.

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