It’s the best of all worlds. Our community gets to celebrate because we have a history that no one else has. I’m thankful I was able to find a sponsor like SRP who believes in what we are doing, wants to help in this community. And to be able to work with two talented artists that I grew up with is a dream come true. All the stars aligned.

Dr. Louis Olivas, American Legion Post 41 senior vice commander
25
May
2022
|
13:24 PM
America/Denver

Hispanic Heroes Honored by SRP

Community Mural Complete and On Display at American Legion Post 41 in South Phoenix

A great piece of artwork gives insight, elicits emotions and communicates a message. On the south-facing wall of Arizona’s first Hispanic American Legion Post in one of Phoenix’s oldest neighborhoods, a new mural does just that.

The newly minted 18- by 45-foot artwork tells the story of the historic Grant Park neighborhood, a community rich in Latino culture and history.

“We are the best kept secret in the community,” said Dr. Louis Olivas, American Legion Post's 41's senior vice commander. “If you grew up here, you know who we are. If you didn’t, no one knows what American Legion Post 41 is. We have a history that no one else has. We want to be exposed to the greater general community.”

Historically speaking, being seen and accepted by the “greater general community” would be serendipitous in the story of Post 41, which sits on the corner of Second Avenue and Sherman Street. Olivas said there was a time in Arizona history immediately following World War II when Latino veterans were shunned and “not truly welcome or treated in a friendly manner at other American Legion Posts in the Phoenix area, despite their military service to their beloved country.” In 1946, Latinos created their own place: American Legion Post 41, the first Hispanic Post in Arizona.

Olivas grew up in the Grant Park barrio and attended dances and family events at “the legion,” as locals call it. Last year, he had the vision to tell the story of the community and Post 41 through art visible to the entire neighborhood.

“I went to SRP and asked for help because in my experience as a community activist, SRP has one of the strongest social conscience perspectives in our community,” Olivas explained. “This mural tells a story that no other Post can reflect on. If you are veteran, you are gonna be touched, even if you didn’t grow up in this barrio.”

With community support and funding from Salt River Project, Olivas commissioned two lifelong friends to create the mural — fellow veterans and world-renowned local artists Jose Andres Giron and Roman Reyes. The pair, who attended art class together at Phoenix Union High School in 1962, spent five weeks working alongside each other. With each brushstroke, the Vietnam veterans took great care “to get all the facial features just right” and tell their community’s story. To tell their own story.

“The mural depicts the story of Post 41 and the Chicanos that went off to war during World War II,” Reyes said. “They went and fought for our country, but when they came back, they faced a social war. They weren’t allowed to own homes south of Washington Street because of redlining. Banks would not give them loans. Mexicans were not allowed to go swimming in public pools. These were all great causes for them to gather and form Post 41 to address all these issues.”

The mural is titled “Los Veteranos Y Sus Familias” (“The Veterans and Their Families”). It depicts Hispanic families beginning in wartime and progresses on to their children, who despite the racism and segregation endured by their ancestors went on to become doctors, attorneys, lawyers and engineers.

“This means a lot to me to get to do this at our age. We are in our 70s now. We are supposed to be retired, but now we are just tired,” Giron joked. “The mural is very important to us because we both served. We are both a part of this American Legion. We have history here that goes back 50 years.”

The project took one year from concept to completion. However, it took generations of sacrifice for the story to finally be told for all to see and experience.

“I’ve done a lot of really phenomenal things (during my art career),” Reyes said. “I’ve done two murals for the Sheik of Abu Dhabi. I did the masks and body suits in the “Lord of the Rings,” but this mural is great because it’s personal. I’m a veteran. It’s something we fought for, stood for. I chose to become an American citizen. I am from Mexico and came across when I was 5 years old. I think our images will resonate with my family and so many families. We hope veterans and the community come to see this.”

For SRP, supporting the mural demonstrates the not-for-profit utility’s ongoing commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. 

“At SRP, we have the privilege and duty of providing water and power to our community, along with the honor of supporting communities that are underserved,” said Erika Castro, SRP’s Community Engagement senior strategist. “The mural shows and tells the hard, beautiful and resilient story of a neighborhood that has often gone unseen or unheard.”

Olivas added, “It’s the best of all worlds. Our community gets to celebrate because we have a history that no one else has. I’m thankful I was able to find a sponsor like SRP who believes in what we are doing, wants to help in this community. And to be able to work with two talented artists that I grew up with is a dream come true. All the stars aligned.”

ABOUT TONY F. SOZA-RAY MARTINEZ, THUNDERBIRD POST 41
Since our charter in 1945, our American Legion Post has been welcoming VETERANS from all branches of our Armed Forces. Today, we continue to welcome all military personnel serving our country. Joining our Post enables you to continue serving your God, Country and Community. Our mission is to implement the goals, aspirations, dreams, peace and blessings for our country, friends and families embodied in our preamble below. For more information, to join or become a Booster or Sponsor, visit www.legionpost41.org.

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About SRP

SRP is a community-based, not-for-profit public power utility and the largest electricity provider in the greater Phoenix metropolitan area, serving approximately 1.1 million customers. SRP provides water to about half of the Valley’s residents, delivering more than 244 billion gallons of water (750,000 acre-feet) each year, and manages a 13,000-square-mile watershed that includes an extensive system of reservoirs, wells, canals and irrigation laterals.