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Celebrating the man behind the Pilsen murals

Celebrating the man behind the Pilsen murals

By Wendy Esparza
Extra News

CHICAGO — Walking around the streets of the Pilsen neighborhood you are sure to run into his work. For Mexican-American artist and muralist, Francisco Mendoza, art was his passion and Pilsen his canvas.

“He created painted and mosaic murals bringing that medium on a large scale to the neighborhood for the first time,” said Robert Valadez, a long time friend and fellow artist. “He was creative, experimental and was always pushing the edge of his talent and abilities.”

Growing up in South Chicago during the 1970s when Latino presence was small and there were language barriers, according to his nephew James Larralde, Mendoza became sensitive to the needs of Latino children and wanted to make a positive impact on their educational development after earning a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from the Art Institute of Chicago in 1984.

Throughout his 25 years of teaching at Orozco Community Academy, Mendoza encouraged generations of students to participate in mural projects and help him in the creation of art commemorating Mexican history and culture.

“He was always thinking about the children and concerned with their welfare,” said Larralde who learned to paint from his uncle at a young age. “He once told me he used to be one of those kids and made art accessible to put them on the right track.”

Mendoza, 53, died on Monday, March 12 at St. Francis Hospital in Evanston after struggling with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the bone marrow, for a little over a year.

After being diagnosed in 2010, the community became outraged when Chicago Public Schools dismissed the artist from his teaching position disregarding his illness and seniority after having taught for 25 years. The loss of his job left Mendoza without health insurance and inspired people ...

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