As seen in Phoenix New Times

The politics along 16th Street are clear. The predominantly Hispanic neighborhood that stretches from about Adams Street north to Thomas Road is your best bet for authentic Mexican crafts, fútbol equipment, and a strong margarita — if you can keep your eyes off the murals that seem to pop up on a weekly basis.

“Murals create community,” says Silvana Salcido Esparza, who owns Barrio Café near Thomas Road on 16th Street and is in the middle of a large-scale Mexican mural project, in response to SB 1070, along 16th Street in downtown Phoenix. “And that’s exactly what we need.”

Esparza was enraged when SB 1070 passed — and it wasn’t just the legislation.

“When TV crews came to Phoenix in the middle of all this protest, they were taking video of our streets and our neighborhoods, specifically our Mexican neighborhoods, and they looked terrible,” she says. “I couldn’t believe what I saw, because for such a beautiful community with legals, illegals, whatever, we should have more to show.”

So she started taking names. She signed up local artists with neighborhood businesses. She covered the cost of paint, and the painters — many of whom are Mexican, but plenty of whom are not — donated their time.

Artists Gennaro Garcia and DOSE painted the project’s first wall, on the side of Deportes America, on 16th Street. It’s hard to miss; a large face of the Virgen de Guadalupe is chiseled in plaster and surrounded by bright, colorful flowers. The two artists hope it welcomes more visitors to the street; they call it Bienvenidos a Arizona.

Esparza’s hoping to cover every wall she can on 16th Street, or Calle 16, along with better maintenance of neighborhood corners, stronger enforcement of the speed limit — even mariachi nights, which she’s currently pursuing with ASU’s Herberger School of the Arts.

Esparza’s also a big fan of Nomas’ art. It’s up in her kitchen, and the two often have long talks about street art and SB 1070 before Nomas has to go home to make dinner for his wife and kids.

It wasn’t a surprise to see his work pop up along 16th Street. While Nomas’ stencils are more political than Gennaro Garcia’s soft Madonnas, angels, and salsa dancers, his style fits right in with the ephemeral and colorful artwork that’s decorating neighborhoods and calles throughout Arizona.

A few of Nomas’ latest pieces have been spotted around the neighborhood and along Roosevelt Row. It’s a simple yet intricate hand-cut stencil of the Virgen. You may not recognize her as a piece by Nomas; he left her unsigned and anonymous.

“My work is about more than my name,” he says. “Though I’m sure anyone who knows my stencil would know that it was me . . . it’s about the community and letting people everywhere know that what is going on is wrong.”

Nomas isn’t Mexican, but his wife is. He says he’d rather not talk about how SB 1070 has directly affected him but remembers being told to “go back to Mexico” at gunpoint from a passing car. He says all he could think to do was throw his can of spray paint into the guy’s back windshield as he drove away.

Esparza says she’s looking to get artists like Nomas to do larger-scale work on walls. She recognizes that the murals created so far don’t have bold, written statements, faces of Brewer or Arpaio (or Hitler, for that matter). They can’t be moved to a protest or carried like signs on wooden sticks. But they can make a street feel more like a community and perhaps take “extreme” out of the equation.

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