Famous work celebrates Latin history and
labor’s struggle for social justice
An artistic treasure in San Francisco’s Mission District has a new lease on life, thanks to a helping hand from IBEW Local 1245’s San Francisco unit.
“500 Years of Resistance” graces the outside of St. Peter’s Parish at 24th and Florida streets, covering two walls. It is one of the great examples of mural art in a city known for its murals. Painted 21 years ago by world renowned muralist Isaias Mata, the mural has been memorialized in the internationally acclaimed book, “San Francisco Street Art: Mission Muralismo.”
But time can take a heavy toll on outdoor art. “500 Years of Resistance” has begun to crack and peel. The Parish, along with the Precita Eyes Muralists’ Association, recently had been looking for some way to restore this masterpiece.
Enter IBEW Local 1245’s San Francisco unit.
“I’ve been on 24th Street for years and years, I eat in the neighborhood. I have seen that mural many times,” said San Francisco Unit Chair Vince Jones. “I just never paid close attention to it.”
But when Local 1245 Organizer Eileen Purcell and Business Representative Landis Marttila approached Jones about involving the unit in the mural’s restoration, he jumped at the chance.
“I thought it was a good idea,” said Jones. “The mural has a good story line. It goes from the beginning of time and runs around the building to modern times,” telling the story of native peoples before the conquest, and their resistance after the conquest.
Jones said this portrayal of an epic story in mural form reminds him of another epic story told in a mural: the Book of Genesis portrayed on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican, by the artist Michelangelo.
The San Francisco unit was in the right place at the right time to help.
Purcell, a San Francisco native, was already working with other groups trying to find a way to save the mural. At the same time, Local 1245 Business Manager Tom Dalzell and the union’s executive board have been encouraging units to find ways to become more involved in their local communities. Purcell joined Local 1245 Business Rep Landis Marttila in asking the San Francisco unit to become part of the restoration project.
“There’s so much more we can do when we work together than when we try to do something on our own,” said Purcell. “The San Francisco unit saw this as an opportunity to make a difference, to make something happen.”
At its March meeting, the unit contributed $500 toward the project. It was an important boost to the committee that has been planning the restoration, which includes Jeannette Saccheri, the 48-year veteran office manager of St. Peter’s Parish, Jose Artiga of the SHARE Foundation, and Susan Cervantes, the founder of Precita Eyes Muralists’ Association. When Mata, who is a native of El Salvador, agreed to return to San Francisco to restore his artistic creation, there was reason to celebrate.
“This mural is important to this community, a part of the 24th Street ‘cultural corridor,’ ” said Purcell. “It is a celebration of Latin identity, history and culture, and it is also an affirmation of the power of labor organizing. By helping this restoration, the San Francisco unit has found a wonderful way to become involved in this local community.”
But the IBEW’s effort didn’t stop there. The union also reached out to Gunnar Lundenberg at the San Francisco Bay Area Port Maritime Council. Lundenberg was impressed by mural, and after a presentation by Local 1245 Business Representative Hunter Stern, the Council donated $200 to support the mural.
Others have come on board as well, in an outpouring of support from neighborhood, labor, religious, academic, and foundation groups. Mata’s restoration work is now well underway and should be completed by May.
You can visit the mural at the corner of 24th St. and Florida in San Francisco.