Plaza De Las Americas Benito Juarez Statue
Backstory and Context
After getting off of the Red Line at Grand/State, if you walk south on Rush, you can spot the Plaza of the Americas on the Magnificent Mile. At the plaza stands the flags of the countries in the Organization of the American States and, most importantly, a statue of the first indigenous Mexican President, Benito Juarez. If you went to the site in 1999, you would have seen a bust of Juarez instead. Benito Juarez was the president of Mexico from 1861 to 1872. His advocacy against the United States during and after the US-Mexico War and popular liberal agenda made him one of the well-respected presidents in Mexican history. Much of his legacy can still be seen today in Chicago and within other Latinx-dominated cities in the US. For example, Juarez has been memorialized through this statue downtown and the bust which is located in a Mexican art museum in Chicago. The memory of his successes in office and his story of being poor to becoming a leader stuck with the Mexican people. Benito Juarez’s positive relationship with Mexicans who later immigrated to the US allowed for his presidency and background story to be memorialized with a statue that is now in downtown Chicago.
Throughout his presidency, Juarez was praised because of his background and his liberal policies that attempted to make Mexico independent from expansionists. One aspect of Juarez that made him well-liked by many Mexicans was his indigenous heritage coupled with being from the lower class[i]. He was relatable for the majority of Mexicans and had endured many of the same struggles as the poor and working classes. Juarez embraced Mexico’s indigenous heritage following the Mexican Revolution in 1910. Furthermore, his liberal policies were aligned with the interests of the people who were tired of being oppressed by the US. For example, Juarez critiqued the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo because it stripped away Mexican territory and gave it to the US. His rejection of the treaty was supported by other Mexicans who felt as if their power was taken away by the US. By creating policies that were supported by many Mexicans, Juarez would create a supportive following while also promoting nationalism. Also, he maintained a positive relationship with Abraham Lincoln and the US after they recognized Mexico's independence from the French in the 1860s[ii]. Juarez was able to positively impact Mexicans by embracing their culture and history, while also trying to show their strength and solidarity against colonialism.
Prior to his bust being made, the Plaza of the Americas was first created in 1963 in order to honor the union of Pan-American states[iii]. At the plaza stands the flags of each country that belonged to the Organization of American States at that time. This organization was created in 1948 to defend the states’ independence and territories[iv]. Pioneer Court, the designers, also wanted to memorialize the legacy of Simon Bolivar – who promoted union among Pan-American countries after many Latin American revolutions such as in Cuba [v]. This plaza is on the Magnificent Mile surrounded by the most popular buildings in downtown Chicago. The area for the plaza was dedicated the Ambassador of Costa Rica at the time, Gonzalo Facio[vi]. Now, the flags surround the statue of Benito Juarez, along with rows of flowers to maintain the beauty of the site. The site, however, does not receive as much praise and recognition from the Latino community compared to the statue because its history is not as well-known compared to Juarez's history. It, however, still is a site that expresses solidarity among Pan-American states.
Eventually, Benito Juarez was memorialized in downtown Chicago because of his impact on the Mexican community in the US. In 1977, a bust of Benito Juarez was donated by the then president of Mexico, José López Portillo y Pacheco. The bust was donated to the “people of Chicago” (as inscribed) by Portillo without a known sculptor or reason for the donation[vii]. Later on, the bust had to be replaced because it was worn down by the weather. On February 23rd, 1999, a new statue of Juarez was erected and replaced the bust. The 16 foot tall, bronze statue was donated by Heriberto Galindo – the former consul general of Mexico within Chicago[viii]. Now, the old bust of Juarez sits in the National Museum of Mexican Art in Pilsen. Currently, the statue is a meeting place for Mexican community groups like the Mexican Civic Society of Illinois. Every March 21st, the group hosts a ceremony to honor Juarez by singing the US and Mexican national anthems. Chicago has also made the site more interactive by allowing people to hear a speech of his by calling a phone number located on the statue[ix]. Overall, the statue still is important for Latinxs that live within the city as seen by their celebrations of him.
The statue of Benito Juarez in the Plaza of the Americas is one of many memorials dedicated to the president in Chicago. His progressive policies and promotion of nationalism resulted in his legacy being brought into the US. Because of his positive impact on Chicago's Mexican community, he would later be memorialized within the Plaza of the Americas and elsewhere in the city. Even today, the plaza remains a place where Latinxs are able to celebrate the legacy of Benito Juarez and honor the solidarity within the Latinx community.
[i] McCaughan, Edward J. “Social Movements, Globalization, and the Reconfiguration of Mexican/Chicano Nationalism.” Social Justice, vol. 26, no. 3 (77), 1999, pp. 59–78. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/29767161.
[ii] McCaughan, Edward J. “Social Movements, Globalization, and the Reconfiguration of Mexican/Chicano Nationalism.” Social Justice, vol. 26, no. 3 (77), 1999, pp. 59–78. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/29767161.
[iii] Serrato, Jacqueline. “La Plaza De Las Américas, Unión Panamericana.” Hoy, 28 Sept. 2018, www.chicagotribune.com/hoy/chicago/ct-la-plaza-de-las-americas-en-chicago-20180928-story.html.
[iv] OAS. “Organization of American States: Democracy for Peace, Security, and Development.” OAS, 1 Aug. 2009, www.oas.org/en/about/who_we_are.asp.
[v] Serrato, Jacqueline. “La Plaza De Las Américas, Unión Panamericana.” Hoy, 28 Sept. 2018, www.chicagotribune.com/hoy/chicago/ct-la-plaza-de-las-americas-en-chicago-20180928-story.html.
[vi] Serrato, Jacqueline. “La Plaza De Las Américas, Unión Panamericana.” Hoy, 28 Sept. 2018, www.chicagotribune.com/hoy/chicago/ct-la-plaza-de-las-americas-en-chicago-20180928-story.html.
[vii] “Smithsonian Institution Research Information System.” SIRIS, siris-artinventories.si.edu/ipac20/ipac.jsp?uri=full&ri=5&aspect=basic&menu=search&source=~!siartinventories&profile=ariall.
[viii] “STATUE OF MEXICAN HERO JUAREZ IS UNVEILED.” Chicago Tribune, 23 Feb. 1999, www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-1999-02-23-9902230150-story.html.
[ix] Serrato, Jacqueline. “La Plaza De Las Américas, Unión Panamericana.” Hoy, 28 Sept. 2018, www.chicagotribune.com/hoy/chicago/ct-la-plaza-de-las-americas-en-chicago-20180928-story.html.