‘They’re telling a story’: Vibrant murals preserve culture in Southwest Detroit’s Mexicantown

‘We’re still here and we’re still thriving,’ Maria Elena Rodriguez says

There are about 40 murals in Southwest Detroit that were painted in the last decade.
There are about 40 murals in Southwest Detroit that were painted in the last decade.

DETROIT – There are about 40 murals in Southwest Detroit that were painted in the last decade.

Local 4 spoke with a lifelong Detroiter, grandmother and historical author about the role murals play in preserving Latino culture.

“Despite all the chaos that’s been thrown at us over the last 10 years, we’re still here and we’re still thriving,” historian Maria Elena Rodriguez said.

Read: Here’s why Hispanic Heritage Month starts in the middle of September

Mexicantown has long been synonymous with Southwest Detroit. It’s a vibrant community with immigrants from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Central America. Their rich history has been captured in murals painted throughout town.

“What they’re painting is their life, their experiences, they’re telling a story so two stories are being told throughout Southwest Detroit and that’s been down through murals,” Rodriguez said.

The murals have exploded over the last decade, fueled largely by young artists. Muralist Stephanie Felczak is passionate to contribute.

Read: Who was the country’s first Hispanic presidential candidate?

“Before this mural that yellow was here, this red is here, this teal is here. I mean, these are the colors that you just drive through and it’s a part of this neighborhood,” Felczak said.

Preserving culture, promoting economic opportunities, and connecting people.

“You have some wonderful traditions you have mariachis, you have bright colored flags that are out there like a fiesta,” Rodriguez said.

The history of Mexicantown is captured on every street corner. Many communities didn’t survive the great recession of 2008 but that wasn’t the case for Mexicantown.

“Believe it or not we had 1,000 additional businesses open,” Rodriguez said. “And they’re still open and I attribute them to a lot of them are recent immigrants. ... A lot of what they have gone through to struggle to get all the way up here to Detroit, opening a business was a piece of cake.”

The Latino community still battles stereotypes but this art form is breaking down misconceptions.

“We’re not holding back or we’re not hiding. We’re expressing who we are and the love we have for color, for nature, for repetitive festivities, for God, you know, for love,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez said the deserts don’t get more authentic than this. She encourages everyone to come down, eat some food, see the artwork and connect with people during National Hispanic Heritage Month.

Read: Complete National Hispanic Heritage Month coverage


About the Authors:

Priya joined WDIV-Local 4 in 2013 as a reporter and fill-in anchor. Education: B.A. in Communications/Post Grad in Advanced Journalism

Kayla is a Web Producer for ClickOnDetroit. Before she joined the team in 2018 she worked at WILX in Lansing as a digital producer.