It’s a typically gorgeous spring morning in Phoenix. Families paint color on a drab brick wall as others visit nearby booths and food trucks. Cumbia music and announcements pump out of speakers overhead.
Shaded by tents are representatives from local organizations who talk to visitors about health, financial services and more. Serving as both a backdrop and a centerpiece of the scene is a giant, vibrant, colorful mural depicting an intergenerational Latinx family and the Maryvale community where the artwork resides.
The March 31 event — fittingly held on Cesar Chavez Day — is the official unveiling of a mural by artist Isaac Caruso in collaboration with Arizona State University's School of Social Work, its Survivor Link AmeriCorps program, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions and community partner Chicanos Por La Causa (CPLC).
The 25-foot-tall and 130-foot-wide mural faces the CPLC’s Centro De La Familia, a community center in Maryvale located at 67th Avenue and Indian School Road. It was painted on the east-facing wall of the AAMCO building that shares the center’s parking lot.
The project was initially conceived by Seth Wilson, a Survivor Link student working to complete his Master of Social Work degree at ASU. Wilson currently interns at CPLC as a social work clinician and had the inspiration for the project while parking in front of the giant green wall next to the center.
“I was just, like, we need something that's more welcoming to our clients and staff and the community as a whole,” Wilson said.
Wilson collaborated with CPLC to develop the concept and connect with the artist, writing up a proposal that would serve as the thematic foundation of the artwork.
In it, he wanted to include Cesar Chavez, as well as a tie-in to CPLC's mission statement to help individuals become economically and politically empowered and self-sufficient — a key component of which, Wilson felt, is family and community support.
“I wanted to include that, because you're all from a family, no matter what it looks like,” Wilson said.
About an hour into the festival, crowds gathered near a platform and podium set before the mural. Speakers included representatives from the School of Social Work and CPLC, local community activists and even Cesar Chavez’s former bodyguard, who served as emcee of the event.
Pedro Cons, executive vice president of integrated health and human services at CPLC, spoke to the many transformations Maryvale has experienced over the last 40 years. For him, the project and the partnerships with ASU all come down to community.
“We're very proud that we were able to come in and help with some of the revitalization of the community. And, a mural like this, I think, just brings a community together in a bigger way,” Cons said.
The theme of the day was what people can accomplish when they are empowered to positively shape their community, working both at the grassroots and community policy levels to achieve social justice.
Caruso was chosen due to his previous experience with murals, as well as managing and including volunteers as a part of the painting project.
Painting began on Martin Luther King Jr. Day — an annual Day of Service for AmeriCorps members — which made Cesar Chavez day a fitting bookend for a scene connected with themes of social justice. The 75 AmeriCorps members from the School of Social Work Survivor Link program came in shifts to assist with painting and helped to plan the unveiling community event.
“The image is a reminder of the strength and resilience of Latinx families and their positive role in the greater Phoenix community,” said Jill Messing, an associate professor in the ASU School of Social Work and director of the Office of Gender-Based Violence, which houses the Survivor Link program.
The project is indicative of how Watts College is engaging with the Maryvale community overall — supporting and recognizing local efforts to bring to life collaborative initiatives like this mural. Watts, through the Maryvale One Square Mile Initiative, is seeking more opportunities to connect ASU’s programs and resources to create a positive and lasting impact on the community.