Some of the most prominent Latinos in San Antonio, the United States, and the world have taken their place on Mi Tierra Café y Panaderia‘s iconic “American Dream” mural, a work of art that has become synonymous with honor y respeto throughout the city.
The sprawling art piece in the restaurant’s large back dining room was implemented about 25 years ago by Mexican artist Jesus Diaz Garza, said Jorge Cortez of La Familia Cortez, the family that owns Mi Tierra and three other local eateries. It began as an homage to the Mexican laborers and farmers who sold their goods at El Mercado, or Market Square, the historic commerce hub where Mi Tierra is still located today.
Over the years, the painting evolved to include the likenesses of the Cortez’s matriarch and patriarch, Cruz and Pedro Cortez, their children, and some of the family’s third generation as well. It now features more than 100 influential Latinos who have left their marks on the community, whether through politics, the arts, or community service.
“When I do something I do it big, so this (mural) had to be big for my father, Pedro, and my mother, Cruz,” said Jorge, who still plays a role in the family’s business operations today and curates the mural along with long time friend and local artist Jesse Treviño.
Generally speaking, the mural portrays all those who exemplify hard work, passion, and resilience, Jorge said. Robert Ytuarte, a Southside native and established portraitist, has been adding people to Diaz Garza’s original work on the mural one after the other over the past 16 or so years.
Ytuarte has, over time, become like family to the Cortezes, Jorge said. He has his breakfast at Mi Tierra every day and works closely with Jorge and the rest of the family to determine where the new portraits will go and what each will look like. The restaurant’s board of directors ultimately gives the final okay on who will be featured on the so-called “Wall of Fame.”
When it’s time to paint, Ytuarte closes off a section near the mural, mixes his paints, and gets to work, sometimes amid feasting families eyeing the artist in his prime, trying to catch a peek at the newest addition to the wall.
Ytuarte tries to complete each portrait during the “non-busy hours” at Mi Tierra, but the restaurant’s popularity often draws large crowds that spill over into the back mural room at any given time of day. The hustle and bustle means that the portraits take longer to complete than they normally would – about a week and half, as opposed to a few days, Ytuarte said.
One of the last portraits Ytuarte completed was of local attorney Frank Herrera, along with HUD Secretary Julían Castro, Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-Texas), and former Rep. Charlie Gonzalez, son of the late Henry B. Gonzalez who also is featured on the mural. Portrait unveilings of some of the more well-known dignitaries such as Herrera, the Castros, and Gonzalez are often marked with a special celebration or small gathering of the honored person and their friends and family, Ytuarte said.
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Speckled among the faces of household names such as former mayor Henry Cisneros, musician Flaco Jimenez, former Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, and late Tejano singer Selena Quintanilla, are a number of individuals who aren’t as widely known to the general public. Some of the Cortez family’s attorneys and accountants, some Mi Tierra staffers, and other close friends are featured. Bexar County Commissioner Paul Elizondo (Pct. 2) also made it onto the wall, along with Humberto Saldaña, the local architect who designed the UTSA Downtown Campus.
If you look closely, you’ll even notice Ytuarte on the wall.
La Familia Cortez is revamping the Mi Tierra website to include a special feature that will give viewers insight into each of the faces portrayed on the mural. Once it’s completed, you will be able to hover your mouse over each person on the mural and read their name and biography.
Ytuarte will begin work on the newest portrait in the coming month or two, but the subject’s identity won’t be officially revealed until the painting is completed.
Jorge said he and Ytuarte plan to soon incorporate another mural near the front of the restaurant, this one “dominated by the female Latina community.”
It’s all part of Mi Tierra’s mission to not only serve high-quality food, Jorge said, but also celebrate and promote the unique culture that Pedro Cortez brought to San Antonio from his home in Guadalajara, Mexico. His story as an immigrant, like so many others of various nationalities, is one not to be forgotten, Jorge said.
“There’s something special about brown cultura, and there’s something even more special in the American story, the immigrant story,” he said, and that’s what the mural portrays along with Latino traditions and culture.
“And that has not been lost.”