Nina Rocket & Sanhareb Nano
Taquería el Guerrerense is located On McDowell Road and 26th Street, a local migrant-run restaurant that serves traditional and tasty Mexican foods. On April 15th, 2018, we decided to visit this restaurant to learn about the value of this taqueria to the Mexican community in metro Phoenix. We also learned about some of the vibrant murals that enliven the walls of shops along McDowell Road. Candellaria Benitez, a friend of ours from Arizona State University, joined us to help with the Spanish translation.
At the restaurant, the clientele consists of typically Mexican families who are enjoying a traditional meal that reminds them of their homeland. The restaurant also offers Mexican pastries, tortillas, breads and assorted candies. To the left of our table was an income tax service operating as a separate entity. On their website taqueriaelguerrense.com, the owners explain that “they come from a small town in Guerrero, where their traditional foods are pozole, pork meat in green or red salsa and pecaditas”. Upon arriving to the United States, the owners decided to open a restaurant that reflects their homeland. Their statement on the website also explains that they serve their food with a product from Guerrero, Mexico called ‘pan estilo Xochipala’- a bread that is served with their meals.
Taquería el Guerrense might be a local and small taqueria, but it brings the Mexican community around the area together. Aside from their authentic and delicious menu, it also opens the door to other social services, such as income tax filings.
Whether you are leaving or entering the taqueria, you cannot help but notice the mural on the building next door, owned by family of the taqueria owners. Among the mural pieces that convey beauty and wonder are two large murals that share another message. Crossborder political artistry and expression is what first came to my mind when I saw them.
An entire wall of the Xochipala Dollar y Mas building tells a story. A mother holds her child, arms wrapped and clenched around her son, cuts on his face, despair on hers. They’re standing between two men. One man is dressed in camouflage, possibly military, aiming an assault rifle. The other man is dressed in blue and wearing a gas mask, possibly a police officer, aiming a shotgun. The weapons point at each other, with the mother and her son between them. The scenery between the men is peaceful; vernacular Mexican houses line dirt roads. The mother and child are sprouting above large pink calla lilies and small pink and orange pansies, but fire burns on the edges of the scene. On the left side, behind the soldier is a fire with a quote above the flames:
“Maldito el soldado que apunta su arma contra su pueblo.”
Translated to English, it means, “Cursed the soldier who points his weapon against his people.” It is a quote by Simon Bolivar, a Venezuelan statesman known as The Liberator for his revolutions against Spanish rule. The picture shows the soldier and the policeman aiming weapons at each other, but the quote makes us wonder if they also aim their weapons at the common people, and even the defenseless mother and child.
What is meant by this image of despair and corruption? Why do the owners of these establishments display this for the travelers of McDowell Road to see? Sanhareb and I asked our translator, Candellaria, to ask the owners what the murals meant to them. The woman who owns the taqueria with her husband said that the murals represent their culture. The mother in the mural looks sad because mothers suffer for their children growing up in poverty and with a corrupt government. This is why they left their home in Guerrero and relocated to the United States, to give their children a better life.
On the side of the restaurant and bakery Taquería El Guerrerense another large mural grabs attention to tell its visual story. Prominent figures artistically come to life on the wall, including the Mexican President who is holding a mask and seems to have a rat’s tail. The shadowy dark figures below are holding signs that reference the 2014 disappearance of 43 students from Ayotzinapa Rural Teacher’s College.
On the night of September 26, 2014, students from the school went to Iguala, Guerrero to commandeer busses for a demonstration in Mexico city as they have done every year to commemorate the anniversary of the 1968 Tlatelolco Massacre. Police, federal security forces, and drug lords were involved in the death of six people, and the disappearance of 43 students. The remains of only two students have been recovered.
The Mexican government issued many versions of the events and who was responsible in the days and months following the incident. Blame is placed in every direction and frustrated Mexican citizens have never felt satisfied with the official accounts. The injustice of this story expressed vividly in the mural is another example of why the owners fled their homeland.
The owners of Taquería El Guerrerense may have left the corruption of their homeland, but they brought with them their pride in their culture. Many of the murals are pleasant and beautiful as are the common people from their homeland. The Phoenix community is fortunate that this family settled here to share their delicious traditional Guerrero dishes and liven up McDowell Road with beautiful mural artwork, enhancing the community’s palate and the urban landscape.
Sad update: Many of the incredible East McDowell Road murals depicted above no longer exist! They've been painted over in flat blue, perhaps in preparation to sell the building behind Taquería El Guerrerense. This erasure reminds us of the ephemeral nature of much of the informal, migrant-inspired street art that enlivens the Phoenix cityscape. Our project has shown that migrant artists bring vibrant redesign and add colorful cultural flair to the city’s subdued design palette. It is disheartening that despite investing heart and soul, their creative, meaningful, and educational murals can vanish so easily--even as the city invests thousands of dollars in officially-sanctioned public art to similarly enliven its cityscape. kk