PILSEN — A new mural at 18th and Carpenter streets is shining a light on Pilsen’s essential workers who have put themselves at risk amid the coronavirus pandemic.

This story also appeared in Block Club Chicago

Inspired by the dedication of Latino workers, artists Mateo Zapata and Pablo Serrano created the mural to pay homage to three essential workers: Juanito, a butcher shop worker, Rosalinda, co-owner of the Los Jazmine’s where the mural is located, and Javier, a U.S. Postal Service worker from Pilsen.

The mural is set against an indigenous serape pattern and Pilsen is prominently featured with the words “El corazon de Chicago” — “the heart of Chicago.”

“Each one of these people symbolizes not only the work ethic but also how real … their love is for the community,” Zapata said. “These are real people on this wall with real stories.”

Throughout the pandemic, Zapata has been highlighting the essential workers who are putting their lives on the line to keep the country running.

Serrano, who worked with Zapata on the mural, said the piece reflects on what’s happening at the moment, noting that coronavirus has disproportionately impacted Chicago’s Latino and Black communities.

“Since March 15, we’ve been trying to wrap our head around dramatic shifts that have exacerbated a lot of the stress and tension … and quality of life issues that we are dealing with,” Serrano said.

“Essential workers didn’t have a choice,” Serrano said. “They’ve been grinding. We are obviously over-represented in deaths, case counts and economic impact. … It’s atrocious the weight our communities are carrying.”

Before the pandemic, Zapata oversaw the creation of the Selena Mural at Cermak Road and Wood Street which aimed to bring attention to local corner stores. The new mural is an extension of the project — an effort to attract customers to the corner stores like Los Jasminez, 1100 W. 18th St.

Zapata lauded the corner store for staying open throughout the pandemic.

“Supporting local businesses is very important,” Zapata said. “I don’t see enough awareness about the importance of supporting local businesses. These businesses employ people in our community.”

Jose Guadalupe Hernandez, 54, co-owner of Los Jasminez, said the mural is beautiful and “representative” of the moment faced by the community.

Zapata said he hopes the mural reminds Pilsen children how powerful the neighborhood is.

“We have to remind each other of who we are and how powerful we are when we do stick together,” Zapata said. “… Our community is essential at the end of the day.”


This story is a part of the Solving for Chicago collaborative effort by newsrooms to cover the workers deemed “essential” during COVID-19 and how the pandemic is reshaping work and employment.

Essential Workers logo

It is a project of the Local Media Foundation with support from the Google News Initiative and the Solutions Journalism Network. The 19 partners span print, digital and broadcasting and include WBEZ, WTTW, the Chicago Reader, the Chicago Defender, La Raza, Shaw Media, Block Club Chicago, Borderless Magazine, the South Side Weekly, Injustice Watch, Austin Weekly News, Wednesday Journal, Forest Park Review, Riverside Brookfield Landmark, Windy City Times, the Hyde Park Herald, Inside Publications, Loop North News and Chicago Music Guide.