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An Elgin mural completed in November by artist Javier Pretelin Sanchez.

An Elgin mural completed in November by artist Javier Pretelin Sanchez.

Robert Herguth

Elgin artist uses Rosie the riveter, ‘Si se puede’ to create a mural about achieving dreams

When artist Javier Pretelin Sanchez created a mural in downtown Elgin, he wanted it to be “aesthetically pleasing” but also to say something, “kind of like a storyboard” with a message of hope, personal growth and fulfillment.

“On the left side, it starts out as a little village,” says Sanchez, who’s gone by Azuna for his artwork ever since he was younger and got involved in graffiti art.

The images of the modest buildings against the backdrop of leafy hills is meant to speak in part to the immigrant experience — Sanchez is from Mexico, moving to the United States when he was a boy — and more broadly to humble beginnings.

Elgin artist Javier Pretelin Sanchez.

Elgin artist Javier Pretelin Sanchez.

Below are pretty flowers, “a little illustrated message that no matter where you are, there’s always beauty in your surroundings,” says Sanchez, 29.

“Then, it goes into the main subject, which is a woman of color, and she’s flexing,” the Elgin resident says. “I wanted to celebrate not only women and empowerment to women but also celebrate women of color and giving kind of like a shoutout.

“I come from a family where my mother was my only parent, so I can see that empowerment, strong women and how important they are.”

If the woman’s pose seems familiar, that’s because Sanchez modeled her after Rosie the riveter, the iconic character in U.S. World War II posters, shown with a determined look, hair in a bandana, sleeves rolled up, meant to encourage women to get involved in the war effort, in part through factory jobs, under the banner “We Can Do It!”

In the mural, written in graffiti type is the phrase “Si Se Puede,” Spanish for “Yes, we can” — a slogan that traces to the struggles of the United Farm Workers union founded by Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez and has since been used in the immigration reform movement.

Javier Pretelin Sanchez’s mural as it was being completed in November.

Javier Pretelin Sanchez’s mural as it was being completed in November.

Sanchez says that’s a phrase that “I grew up learning” and proved inspirational “whenever you’d go through struggles” and “need a push.”

He colored those words gold “to kind of add power to the statement because it’s golden words that you can say to help or uplift people.”

Next to the woman, there’s an orange fist — which is supposed to be the talon of a bird, and it’s “holding onto a snake” in a “remake” of the centerpiece of the Mexican flag that shows an eagle biting onto a snake.

Sanchez says he wanted “to not only bring out the beauty” of the flag but also to emphasize the power it conveys.

The right side of the mural also includes a skyline — meant to contrast the small village to the left and show “growth,” or the potential that people have.

Lining the bottom of the mural are skulls in pink, red and blue — a nod to the Mexican Day of the Dead holiday that remembers those who’ve died.

The skulls are about remembering “our fallen ancestors” and helping us “remember where we came from,” Sanchez says.

The color choices in the mural were also purposeful, he says, with splashes of gray that give way to brighter hues trying to show that “good things come after dark times.”

Sanchez says he has “this love of art because of my mother.”

As a boy, his family moved a lot because of her work, Sanchez says, and “she’d have me doodle or draw.”

It wasn’t until he was a student at Elgin High School “that I started taking art more seriously, and that’s basically where I took off being an artist,” he says. “I started creating murals ever since 2019. But a lot of the murals I created were commissioned or for businesses.”

The “Si Se Puede” mural was “basically the first or one of the first ones that was a personal project.

“Elgin has always been a community” with a “humbleness to it, so I wanted to bring more public art to it,” he says.

A business owner, Dream Hall’s Kevin Echevarria, let him paint on his building last November on what’s been designated a “permission wall.”

The painting draws from Sanchez’s Mexican heritage, but it’s also supposed to convey “empowerment no matter who you are or what you do,” Sanchez says, that “you can do your dreams.”

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