By Mia Mendoza
This column is part of a series on Chicago neighborhoods represented at Walter Payton College Prep. This column hopes to showcase the activism, art, and community present across the city and across Payton’s hallways.
Adorning the gates of a Little Village community garden, a painting reads, “Somos lxs semillerxs de justicia” which translates to “We are the seeds of justice”. Developed by the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, Semillas de Justicia is a garden serving as a hub for intergenerational exchanges of organic foods with and for the residents of Little Village. The space for the garden was initially brought to the attention of local residents because of its strong oil smell, and it was discovered that the empty lot was being used as a deposit for leftover old oil barrels. Little Village residents responded by demanding this area instead be turned into a green space. The saying “Tierra es vida” highlights the soulful connection of many, within our community and with nature. These captivating paintings are just one example of the beauty of artistic activism that is seen throughout Little Village or La Villita.
In La Villita, colors cover the walls with murals. It is a place of cultural riches. Mercedes Rodriguez, class of 2023, commented on the importance of the murals in Little Village, “[They] leave a marker and tell [the] story [of] who’s there”. Rodriguez goes on to describe the importance of the murals, “[They] quantify our celebrations, our struggles, and are part of what makes our people so special”. Rodriguez is among the many artists from Little Village who celebrate the culture and resiliency of the neighborhood. Jay Villareal, class of 2023, notes, “[In Little Village] the art brings peace into the neighborhood and promotes unity”.
Little Village Environmental Justice Organization’s (LVEJO) new Youth Organizer, Leslie Cortez visited Little Village Library to meet and speak with youth. Youth were asked about environmental issues they are passionate about and topics they are interested in learning more about. Cortez distributed beautiful pins, coloring pages of La Villita, and water bottles to the attendees all of which were laid out on a painted tapestry representing the community. Cortez mentioned that environmental and other social issues are like a ball of yarn: once you pinpoint one specific societal injustice in underserved communities to pull out work on, it unravels exposure to many more challenges to be addressed.
After researching a social issue in particular, many more interconnected topics surface. Little Village is one of the neighborhoods in Chicago most exposed to air, water, and land pollution. LVEJO works to address these issues, while appreciating the role of creativity and art in social movements. The artistic garden, murals, and LVEJO’s work highlight artistic activism as a defining part of the identity of Little Village. Highlighting this aspect of the neighborhood is a step towards celebrating the communities Payton students are from.