Controversial Mural Creates Discussion About Art and Culture
By Taylor Stevens
West Jordan - Either remove the murals or pay a $100 fee every day until they’re gone.
That was the ultimatum West Jordan City presented to the business owners of a 3200 West and 7800 South Mexican restaurant, after receiving a complaint from a resident on July 8 about the murals covering the restaurant’s façade.
Although some residents are unhappy with the mural, an equally vocal outcry to let it stay was enough that the city has since granted the Taqueria Azteca de Oro owners an extension. The restaurant is allowed to continue with business as usual until the council can reach a decision on whether to keep or change its ordinance mandating that signs can cover no more than 15 percent of a building’s exterior.
“This issue has never come up,” said Kim Wells, West Jordan’s public information officer. “The council will be looking at the sign code as a whole and inviting public input as we work through this issue.”
The decision to grant the extension to restaurant owner Miguel Dominguez came after the council’s July 22 meeting, in which a group of around a dozen residents filled the building, holding signs that said, “We are here” in Spanish.
Residents spoke at the council meeting about the cultural significance and implications of the mural’s images, which include a portrait of Cesar Chavez, an American farm worker and nonviolent civil rights activist who helped found the National Farm Workers Union.
“I want to say that it’s important for Hispanic youth ... who feel marginalized for several reasons, that we allow them to recognize that there are heroes in their community and they deserve the same respect that we would give to anyone else who has shaped our country and shaped the thought process in this country, Cesar Chavez being one of them,” said Salt Lake resident Michael Clara during the public comments section of the meeting.
After the July 22 meeting, the city posted a Facebook survey to collect further citizen comment on the issue.
One resident, Ashleigh Whitmore, took to Facebook to express her frustration at the situation.
“As an artist and future educator, I am extremely upset and personally offended by what West Jordan City is doing to the restaurant on 3200 West and 7800 South,” she wrote. “What happened to independence and self-expression?”
Independence, self-expression and culture all tie into the passionate outcry the murals have created. At a vigil held July 23, the day after the first city council meeting discussing the issue, over 150 people assembled at the restaurant to celebrate their Mexican-American culture and heroes—and to discuss the importance of art.
“I’m really here for the younger kids and for all you guys to learn about our culture,” said Miguel Galaz, the mural’s artist, who went to high school in West Jordan. “The whole intention for this is to show people our culture and to have respect for each other.”
Creating cultural awareness is an important aspect of the project for Galaz, particularly in light of the racism that initially met the murals due to misunderstandings of their content and messages.
The city said that the content of the murals had nothing to do with their decision and that they were simply following protocol and ordinances.
“The content of the murals at the Taqueria is not the issue and never has been,” Wells said. “The owner of the property, as well as the artist, has been advised that the content is not a violation, only the coverage area.”
Dominguez said that since the July 22 council meeting, the city has been cooperative and is moving the situation forward in a timely fashion. Many members of the city have been vocal in their support of the murals as well, including Councilmember Chris McConnehey, who attended and spoke at the July 23 vigil.
“Your voices are heard; they do make a difference,” he said. “Please, please, please keep doing this. This is your community—please do with it what you want. Talk to other elected officials and get involved.”
Councilmember Jeff Haaga attended the vigil as well, and reflected on his experience at the Aug. 12 council meeting.
“Culture is important,” he said. “Not only my culture that comes from pioneer heritage, but also my grandkids’ culture that comes from South America. It’s important and they are part of our community.”
Although it’s unclear what will happen with the murals in the upcoming months, the owners expect that the city will continue to work with them—and with the feedback they have received from residents.
“There is a public process that we are obligated to follow under state law,” Interim City Manager Bryce Haderlie said at the city’s Aug. 12 council meeting. “But obviously our goal is to work with the citizens.”
Whatever happens, it seems that the murals at Taqueria Azteca de Oro will continue to spark conversation about culture, art and freedom of expression on both sides of the issue, as long as they are up for residents to see.
“Hopefully we’re going to cover the whole wall [with paintings], and we’re going to need you guys here,” Galaz told the people assembled at the restaurant’s vigil. “The place has been quiet for 14 years—this corner has been just dead for 14 years. And now that we start putting paint on it all of a sudden we have complaints saying it has too much color. Come on, people. What do you mean it has too much color? They can look at the two gas stations that look exactly the same way all they want—we’re not telling them to look.”