The mural design for “Generations” reflects the history, identity, and faces of El Punto, La Pointe, The Point through the changing times of the 20th and 21st centuries. It depicts the story of many of the Point leaders whose organizing efforts in the past have led to the vibrant and welcoming community we know today as El Punto. The mural design reads like a timeline narrative from the past to the present, from top to bottom. The central core, the backbone of the design, is a series of large-scale portraits of different generations of women who lived or worked in the Point neighborhood: starting at the top there is a young French Canandian bobbin girl from the Naumkeag Steam Cotton Mill; moving to the top center, at the pinnacle is Lucy Corchado a long time community organizer and president of the Point Neighborhood Association; moving down to the right is Punto businesswoman Altagracia who works with the “rollos” in a teenager’s hair at her hair salon; in the lower middle there is a portrait of a smiling Laura Assade director of diversity and inclusion for Salem Public Schools; below Laura, a young child eats an empanada at an event in Espacio, a Punto community space. Additional images related to the central core of the design are: the portrait of Isabel Fernandez a Punto resident working at the Harbor Sweets candy company which has been here for over 50 years and is the largest employer in the Point; a little girl on a swing at Mary Jane Lee Park, which is at the heart of El Punto; the young basketball player is Evelyn Oquendo who was a star player at Salem High and Salem State College, leading both schools to championships, and now she is the athletic director at Collins Middle School. These large portraits anchor the design by their scale and monumentalism, while the smaller portraits, places and activities surrounding them amplify and fill in with details of the neighborhood story. I chose to focus on generations of women in the Point and to highlight their story in the core of the mural design, because women have played such a central role in shaping the community.
The narrative at the top of the design, which is entirely in “sepia” greys, focuses on the early 20th century history of the Point when it was primarily a French-Canadian neighborhood (La Pointe). The French immigrated to Salem to work in the large textile mill called Naumkeag Steam Cotton Company (Pequot Mills). At the top there is a depiction of the textile mill complex (now Shetland Mills) and to the right there is a large-scale image of a bobbin girl working in the factory. Above the mill buildings is a depiction of a famous textile strike that took place at Pequot Sheets in 1933. A female member of the National Textile Workers Union, Anne Burlak, speaks to a crowd of strikers, highlighting the role of women in organizing the strike, which was successful in raising wages. This example of French workers strike activism connects to the early Latino community activism for decent housing, healthcare, and citizenship depicted on the right. In the top left corner, we see the ruins of the 2nd St. Joseph’s cathedral which was burned along with the textile mill and most of the Point in the tragic 1914 fire. In front are the grandparents of former Salem Police Chief Bob St. Pierre. Adelard St. Pierre was a fireman who worked to control the 1914 fire that destroyed the point. His wife Delphine is at his side. Below them are several other French boys, including Adelard Gagnon who lived in La Pointe on Prince St. and worked in the mills. His family lost their home during the 1914 fire.
The upper right corner of the design represents the origins in the 1970’s of the Latino community in the Point and the early organizing struggles for housing, health care, voting rights and citizenship. Several early community protests are represented in the upper corners, where residents carry signs such as “No More Slumlords” and “Queremos Igualidad”. Below that are portraits of community organizers including Gladys Rodriguez who moved to the Point in the 60’s and was a founder of the Port Neighborhood Action Group. To her left is Justino Arroyo, a Point businessman (Arroyo’s Market, now Marc’s Market) an early Point activist/organizer and father of Lucy Corchado, a future Point activist. Lucy, who is to his left, is the head of the Port Neighborhood Association and was elected to city council in 2003. She looks towards her father, in acknowledgement of his precedent of looking out for his neighborhood, El Punto. To the right of Gladys who worked at Harbor Sweets for a period, is another housing rights organizer Orlando Carrion. Moving down the right side, there is a portrait of Justo (Johnny) Grullon, a founder of VOCES and a longtime activist around healthcare, AIDS prevention, citizenship rights, and voting rights. Behind him a healthcare worker takes the blood pressure of an older Point resident during one of the health campaigns sponsored by VOCES. Both Justino Arroyo and Johnny Grullon were involved in organizing Latino softball teams, seeing it as an extension of their community organizing efforts. The image to the left is a representation of a softball game at Palmer Park. Early Point organizers saw the softball leagues as a means of bringing people in the community out, where they could involve them in other neighborhood issues. This use of the softball leagues for organizing is analogous to the way the Northshore CDC’s creation of the Punto Urban Art Museum and its murals, has become a new way of building social cohesion and engaging people in the life of the community.
Below the VOCES section on the right side, there is a mother comforting her son in front of Marc’s Market, a landmark in El Punto. At the bottom center, there is a domino tournament taking place. Dominoes are an important cultural expression of the Dominican and Puerto Rican people. Moving to the left side at the bottom, two women are speaking with each other: Yamily Byas and a woman with a T shirt that says “Child of Immigrants”, expressing a message encompassing the central theme of the “Generations- Generaciones” mural story. In the background are several figures and tents with balloons representing La Fiesta En El Calle and its predecessor the Festival Hispano De Salem, another pairing that expresses the “Generations” theme. Above the signs are two musicians from the Festival Hispano (2003) playing traditional instruments (guiro and drums). Above the musicians on the left, is a portrait of an older resident whose hat identifies him as a U.S. Army veteran.
My explanatory narrative tries to identify all the specific images represented in the mural design that tells the story of El Punto-The Point-La Pointe. It is a complicated story which is always changing and evolving. I have tried to give the design a sense of movement with swirling background patterns, that reflect the rhythms and beat of the neighborhood changing through the years. I also want to reflect the friendliness, the dignity, and passion of El Punto’s residents through the portraits. On either side of the mural at the bottom, residents are embracing, reflecting the close, tight-knit, and welcoming feeling of El Punto.
Thank you to the Barr Foundation for funding this mural.