One man in this large mural is wearing a backwards San Francisco Giants cap and a 49ers jersey — but the name on the jersey isn’t his. “Aztlan” refers to the modern Chicano movement and to the Aztec people who lived in North America long before Europeans arrived. Butterflies populate the mural, but the face of the biggest butterfly is the Mayan symbol of balance, or yin and yang. Each person, insect, animal, and object in the artwork — which is dense with electrifying colors — is a symbol of native American history and of the Mission District’s climate of gentrification.
“The beauty tries to hide the true message,” says Francisco Aquino, a longtime Mission District resident and one of the lead artists of the mural, which went up in early 2014. “We try to disguise it with all the flowers and the beautiful colors.”
The mural’s title translates into English as, “The Mission. The Culture. The Struggle. The People.” On the mural’s far left-hand side is a tech bus, along with hands trying to stop it from moving. On the far right-hand side is a deportation bus taking people from the United States, along with hands trying to prevent it from leaving. Aquino, 44, was born in El Salvador, came to the Mission at age 3, was schooled there, and has lived in the district ever since. “I’m a Mission boy,” he says.
The mural is one of many he’s worked on in the Mission. Aquino, whose street-art name is “Twick,” has been doing street art for 30 years. The mural’s other main artists — Eric Norberg, Jet Martinez, Eli Leppert, and Dagon — are also longtime Mission artists, as are the four other contributing artists: Joe Colmenares, Sesl, Sonie, and Cups. Because of the mural’s corner location at 25th and Mission, thousands of people pass by it every day. The work recalls the size and scope of Pablo Picasso’s Guernica, the 1937 painting that spotlights the effects of war. Like Guernica, La Misión requires time to take in — much more than just walking by and glancing. As Aquino points out, “There’s a lot going on in that mural.”