Hundreds of people from Turlock and the surrounding communities celebrated the 202nd year of Mexico’s independence from Spain on Saturday in front of a brand new mural on First Street courtesy of local artist and UC Merced professor Richard Gomez. Titled “Chicano Downtown,” the mural aims to serve as an ode to Chicano culture and to tell the story of the westside neighborhood.
The mural, which took roughly two weeks to complete, filled the entire exterior north side wall of the building at 132 S. First St, which was once occupied by his grandfather Paul Gomez's business, Pablo's Restaurant, and later the Mexican Kitchen. It depicts a pair of female faces in traditional Mexican and Aztec garb alongside a blue and green 1960s Chevrolet Impala, where a rooster sits atop. Smoke coming from the vehicle’s tailpipe turns into a hex pattern where birds are flying through.
Gomez completed the project with the help of local artists Perla Cerna and Thore, as well as videographer Alec Castellano.
“This mural is already bringing a lot of people together from different backgrounds,” Gomez said, speaking to a large crowd at Saturday's unveiling ceremony. The event was complemented with a classic car show and performances from a traditional Aztec dance and prayer group Azteca Kuautli, local ballet folklorico group Los Luceros de Osborn and rock band Valley Wolf.
“We had this idea of naming this space, claiming it and making it our own, and that’s what we did,” Gomez said. “This is now officially Chicano Downtown. We’re calling it this now.”
The mural is also another way in which Sergio Guttierrez, owner of Taqueria La Primera, hopes to beautify and revive First Street. He joined House of Random on the street two years ago and welcomed Cafe Rome into his business space earlier this year. This summer, he began hosting his own Cars and Coffee events, a once-a-month morning car show as a way to attract more visitors to the area of downtown Turlock. Gomez had approached Gutierrez more than a year ago expressing his desire to put a mural on the building that holds so much of his family’s history.
“I was all for it,” Gutierrez said.
The two have a similar vision of reviving First Street. Gomez explained that he would like to see the strip take on a life similar to that of Chicano Park in San Diego, a place known for hosting community events like celebrations and live music.
“I’m looking to create a landmark in Turlock,” Gomez said.
In July, the wheels were put in motion to make Gomez’s vision of a mural a reality as the Carnegie Arts Center in Turlock received a grant from the Heartland Creative Corps. Chicano Downtown is just the first of two murals Gomez will be painting with the help of the grant, in what is now being called the West Side Story Mural Project.
“We found out about the grant first of July, roughly, and Richard and his fabulous team moved quickly and have done an incredible job,” said Lisa McDermott, director of the Carnegie Arts Center.
The second mural will be on display at the Carnegie Arts Center in January.cy
“Since Lisa took the helm [at Carnegie], it’s been a mission to engage our local community and be a part of Turlock, the greater Turlock, especially making connections here on the westside,” Gomez said. “There’s a lot of history here. The sky’s the limit here. We’ll see who does something here next.”