Graffiti writer, Elizabeth “Bel” Reyes, is climbing scissor lifts at 26th & Lawndale to reach the highest points of Nuevo León Restaurant.
Her latest work is a continuation of an art project she did last year, commissioned by AARP, that wrapped the CTA Pink Line train with a prominent Day of the Dead design by Reyes during the months of October and November.
The aim of the AARP campaign is to make visible senior citizens—and their caregivers—in Chicago’s Mexican-American and Latinx communities, who are under resourced when it comes to elderly care.
Day of the Dead, or Día de Muertos, is observed Nov. 1st and 2nd, when the spirits of deceased relatives and friends are believed to come back to earth, guided by the food and drink offerings that loved ones place in a designated altar. It is an indigenous ritual that is embedded with Catholic elements.
“The community has been embracing us. It’s so dope to feel the energy from the community, even if they’re just honking and waving,” Reyes said. “We’ve been getting a lot of positive vibes from the employees, the señoras and señores walking by, and the students going to school in the morning.”
Reyes, who grew up in Little Village, had to power wash and scrape the remains of the old paint on the wall before getting started.
She’s keeping the skeleton family and orange cempasuchitl flowers from the previous year and incorporating mariachis and the Little Village arch into her new design.
Laura Gutiérrez, who co-manages Nuevo León with her 74-year-old father, Emeterio Gutiérrez, who opened the restaurant in 1977, said she wanted to bring some vibrant colors to the community, “something positive.”
“Alvaro approached me since last year, and I said definitely, the wall is there. We just asked them to add La Sierra de La Silla,” a mountain and landmark in Monterrey, Nuevo León, she said. Her family is from Sabinas Hidalgo, an hour and a half away.
“The customers are excited. Chuy García was here the other day and took a picture,” she added.
Alvaro Obregón, an outreach director at AARP and a caregiver himself, coordinated the project in its second year.
“I grew up in Pilsen and still live in the same building I arrived to [from México] when I was one year old. We frequented family in Little Village almost every weekend and I feel part of both neighborhoods,” he said. “I’m so grateful for the support from the Gutiérrez family who have allowed their building to be a canvas for this vibrant new work of art and to Liz for her incredible talent.”
Reyes expects to complete the mural with the help of assistants Jesse Navarrete, Abie Vasquez, and Derrick Ware.
Nuevo León Restaurant and AARP are planning an inauguration ceremony on October 18th at 3:30pm, attended by Ald. Mike Rodríguez and other elected officials, with food from Nuevo León and music by the Chicago Mariachi Project.