By Frances J. Vasquez | Collaborating columnist

The lanes, walls and adobes of Riverside are adorned with visual stories – tales, legends and tales are depicted in vibrant imagery. The muralists express their voice in various artistic spaces. There is a revival of muralism in Riverside – like a geographical collage, they produce art everywhere: storefronts, buildings, schools, alleyways. Murals are inspiring and provocative modes of visual storytelling. Like an urban canvas, the muralists convey their community’s history, concerns and aspirations for social justice.

The bilingual creative writing group Tesoros de Cuentos meets at SSgt. Salvador J. Lara Casa Blanca Library in Riverside. Inspired by a unity event hosted by State Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera, we aspire to give a literary voice to the Chicana/o community.

We moved from an inner introspection of memories and memorial writing to an outward perspective in the community to draw inspirations for writing from the abundance of spectacular murals across Riverside. Kimberly Olvera-Du Bry, an art enthusiast, collaborated on the workshops – our theme, “Storytelling via the Arts: Riverside Murals”.

Frances J. Vasquez sits on the board of the Inlandia Institute and coordinates the Tesoros de Cuentos bilingual writing workshops in Riverside. (Photo courtesy of Lily Rivera)

As outdoor artists, we ventured into the environment to see and write stories in the murals. Powerful images emerged with messages of social justice, fairness, repression – and love, resilience, triumph and hope. These images delight the senses to inform, incite, provoke and express stories of unity, cultural pride and identity.

Writer and artist Ed Fuentes wrote that “…murals have long been a mechanism for telling the story of a place, relating political positions, and portraying the heroes of a community”. Fuentes asserted, “Visual storytelling takes up a space in mainstream art culture and a place in the larger Riverside narrative, adding other storylines.”

It posits that Chicano heritage muralism is part of our DNA heritage from the long tradition of muralism in Mexico. Casa Blanca has compelling examples like the César Chávez mural by Tony Ray – view from Casa Blanca Street. It celebrates the work and legacy of Chávez and activists who have worked for social and environmental justice.

The “Riverside Tales” mural by Pável Acevedo, FC Aragon and Carlos Castro pays homage to the heritage of the Harada family and many multicultural civil rights luminaries. Guest artists included Maurice Howard, Inland Mujeres, Darren Villegas and others. The magnificent mural adorns an alley on University Avenue near Orange Street. Acevedo immortalized his daughter Pilar as the goddess Calafia holding her staff. Kudos to Andy Melendrez for serving delicious homemade refreshments.

  • “To go up!” The mural can be found on Market and Ninth streets and features 32 unique portraits of African Americans who have impacted American history and illustrates that black is beautiful. Frances Vasquez, facing and left to right, Scharlett Stowers Vai, Albert Contreras and Richard Gonzalez visit the site of the mural on March 25, 2022. (Courtesy Kimberly Olvera-Du Bry)

  • A mural by Jesus A. Castañeda is presented in Placita...

    A Jesus A. Castañeda mural is featured at Placita Restaurant on University near Chicago Avenue. Scharlett Stowers Vai, left to right, Albert Contreras, Dora Harmon, Frances Vasquez, Jose Luis Vizcarra and Richard Gonzalez at the mural site on April 22, 2022. (Courtesy Kimberly Olvera-Du Bry)

  • Muralist Juan Navarro led a tour of Eastside Arthouse and...

    Muralist Juan Navarro led a mural tour of the Eastside Arthouse and El Trigo Restaurant on Park Avenue. It was painted by portrait painter Rosana Cortez with assistance from Navarro. Here, Navarro, facing, with from left, Frances Vasquez, Scharlett Stowers Vai and Richard Gonzalez on April 22, 2022. (Courtesy Kimberly Olvera-Du Bry)

  • Frances J. Vasquez sits on the board of directors of the Inlandia Institute...

    Frances J. Vasquez sits on the board of the Inlandia Institute and coordinates the Tesoros de Cuentos bilingual writing workshops in Riverside. (Photo courtesy of Lily Rivera)

Pável Acevedo’s book, “The Shell in the Clouds” El Capazón en las Nubes “Ma’ Conch’t do’t Nub’t” represents three languages: English, Spanish and Zapotec. He writes: “The legend of the turtle and the buzzard”, “…is derived from the Zapotec oral tradition spoken in Oaxaca. The moral of the story is self-acceptance…. inspired by Zapotec stories, in a contemporary context, shared by his grandfather to explore migration, immigration, borders and the duality that many immigrants face after leaving their homeland for a new nation.

The butterfly motif is seen in many Riverside murals, symbols of change, hope and transformation. Mariposa Alley on Ninth Street near City Hall features colorful migrating monarch butterflies — created with repurposed cans by artist and restorer Martín Sanchez. Across the aisle, a sign invites you, “Love Blooms Here” with an array of whimsical flowers and butterflies. The “How to Fly” mural was painted by Joey Koslik and Patrick Barwinski.

A whimsical “Dia de los Muertos” mural by Jesus A. Castañeda is featured at Placita Restaurant on University near Chicago Avenue. Skeleton Mariachis and José Guadalupe Posada-inspired dancers perform on a starry night. The symbolism is omnipresent: nopales, “papel picado”, butterflies, hummingbird, moon rabbit, pyramids, etc.

A Jesus A. Castañeda mural is featured at Placita Restaurant on University near Chicago Avenue. Scharlett Stowers Vai, left to right, Albert Contreras, Dora Harmon, Frances Vasquez, Jose Luis Vizcarra and Richard Gonzalez at the mural site on April 22, 2022. (Courtesy Kimberly Olvera-Du Bry)

Muralist Juan Navarro led a mural tour of the Eastside Arthouse and El Trigo Restaurant on Park Avenue. It was painted by portrait painter Rosana Cortez with assistance from Navarro. It showcases the art of Mexican floral embroidery and the face of a beautiful Latina with a red rose in her hair, framed by strands of wheat and illuminated by a bright moon.

“Riverside Resilience” by muralist Darren Villegas adorns the back of the Box Theater on Fairmount Boulevard. The large and impressive mural praises the merits of the city in terms of art and innovation: the parent orange tree and its fruits and flowers, schools, arts and culture.

Maternal love is unlimited. A local mother’s love inspired the creation of a stunning mosaic mural. Her child endured overt racism at school. “She went to school one way and came back a little different because of that experience,” Rochelle Kanatzar said in an article for The Inland Voice. Support came from several artists and friends to create a mural inspired by Maya Angelou’s famous poem “Still I Rise”:

“You can write me in history / With your bitter and twisted lies, / You can trample me in the very dirt / But still, like dust, I will rise.”

The “Rise!” The mural can be found on Market and Ninth streets and features 32 unique portraits of African Americans who have impacted American history and illustrates that black is beautiful. We encourage visits to the Riverside Murals – please send us a note of your impressions. Remember, “Las palabras vuelan; los escritos quedan”, Spanish for “Words fly; the writings endure.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Frances Vasquez is passionate about arts and letters.