• Sigma Lambda Beta

A Mexican Artist Inspiring Detroit

During Hispanic Heritage Month, Sigma Lambda Beta will be publishing pieces that showcase the culture of our membership. We talked to Brothers from around their country to get their thoughts and expertise.

A detail from the north wall of Diego Rivera's Detroit Industry murals shows workers on the automobile assembly line.

“As I rode back to Detroit…I thought of the millions of different men by whose combined labor and thought automobiles were produced, from the miners who dug the iron ore out of the earth to the railroad men and teamsters who brought the finished machines to the consumer, so that man, space, and time might be conquered, and ever-expanding victories be won against death.”

― Diego Rivera, My Art, My Life

As you walk through the Detroit Institute of Art, you’ll notice the faces of men from different cultural backgrounds working in various assembly lines. You’ll also see scientists and engineers working on advancements. There are 27 fresco murals that when when taken as one entity, represents the idea that all actions and ideas are one. Famous Mexican artist Diego Rivera painted these murals between 1932-1933 and they became one of his best known works. The murals are located across the street from Wayne State University where our Psi Beta chapter resides. We speak to some Brothers from Psi Beta and other Brothers who call Detroit home to get their thoughts on what the murals mean to them.

A Detroit native, Brother Christopher Maxwell (Rho Chapter) shares his feelings on what the murals mean to the city of Detroit. “I think the murals represent many aspects about what makes Detroit what it is and the love for its people.  You can look at the artwork and see people of many colors working together and their connection to the city’s trademark of being the Motor City.  It is a tasteful, artistic expression of understanding Detroit’s culture and the people that make up the city.  Even more, all this was seen from an outsider’s point of view and you can see how his appreciation and respect for the city is shown through his style, use of people, and homage to the city’s relevance to the auto industry.”

When asked about the above Rivera quote, Brother Adnoris Geovanni (Pi Alpha Chapter) says, “These words resonates with me as a resident of the city of Detroit. When I made the decision to move to Detroit I looked at the opportunity to work in a city whose main attitude was one of never giving up, of never letting the “work” become overwhelming. The city of Detroit has gone from industrial haven to a wasteland, only to be born again with more vigor and resolve than ever. As you walk through the Rivera court you see those diverse masses in the painting, forever diligent, resolute, and dedicated. That is what Detroit is, Detroit is the true spirit of what it means to a part of this nation, diverse, hardworking, and forever creating a new America.”

Brother Richard Mendoza (Psi Beta Chapter) calls Detroit Home and he shares his opinion on what the murals mean to him, “Being from Detroit, I have always seen Diego Rivera’s Industry Mural as a representation of the spirit of Detroit. A city that isn’t afraid to get its hands dirty and put in the work that has to be done. A city that is known for its hard working middle class, its dedication, and a willingness to never give up.”

Brother Richard also explains, “I think the murals inspire the Latino community because it forces us to remember our past. For many Latinos they found their way to Detroit in search of work and a better life, the “American Dream”, around the time the mural was being painted and found themselves working at the Ford Rouge plant. The mural also has symbolism to the Aztec culture.” One of the machines that Rivera depicted in his murals strong reminded him of the Aztec goddess Coatlicue.

aztecgoddess
stamping machine

The Aztec goddess Coatlicue and Rivera’s stylized representation of her as a stamping machine. (Photo from Luidger/Wikimedia; image courtesy of Graham Beal.)


Brother Adnoris also shares his thoughts on what it means to him that a fellow Latino made these murals, “It’s all about representation. When you see an artist and you can relate to, socially, economically, or culturally, it’s a huge deal. When you walk into the [Detroit Institute of Art] and you see the Diego Rivera court and you know that this was created by a fellow Latino, you can then picture yourself in that role. As a youth going to the DIA on day trips this was always the case. Seeing that and understanding that could be you always made you feel worth something.”

We thanks the Brothers Chris, Adnoris, and Richard for their contributions to this piece.