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Frida Kahlo Mural Creates Controversy

Portrait of Diego Rivera and Malu Block and Fr...
Portrait of Diego Rivera and Malu Block and Frida Kahlo de Rivera (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cafe Tola, a restaurant known for its vibrant artwork and mouth-watering empanadas, recently cooked up some controversy when it displayed a mural of Frida Kahlo wearing a Blackhawks jersey.

The restaurant, located at 3612 N. Southport Ave., is a family-run business that takes pride in its authentic food, colorful murals and connection with the Lakeview community.

But the depiction of Kahlo sporting a Blackhawks jersey has left some customers offended by what they characterize as cultural appropriation.

“[The mural] is racist,” posted Meiver De La Cruz on Cafe Tola’s Facebook page.

De La Cruz didn’t stop there.

“Frida was a communist. She would never wear this racist jersey. This is awful appropriation, and I am boycotting your shop and telling all my friends to do so.”

Several customers that posted negative comments about the mural on the cafe’s social media page, including De La Cruz, could not be reached for comment.

Gerardo Salamanca, owner of Cafe Tola, said the murals were inspired by his family’s love for art and the community of Chicago. He said he is proud of Chicago, and he wants to fully represent and support the community through the murals of Cafe Tola.

Salamanca said his wife, Victoria Salamanca, has a fascination with Kahlo so the café tries to incorporate her into its murals.

“We put out what we love,” Gerardo Salamanca said. “We don’t have time to look at the negative comments online, so I don’t really pay attention to what’s put out there. I like to think if you put out what you love and you’re passionate about it, people will react in a positive way.”

Although some customers were offended, others gave positive feedback about the mural, saying it is celebrating two cultures coming together.

“I would say it’s more of a celebration [of cultures],” said Allison Gallagher, a Lakeview resident. “If anything, I think [the mural] has made people look up Frida Kahlo and learn something new.”

Other customers pointed out that the mural would have been more offensive if the owners were not culturally connected to Kahlo.

“I think it would be a problem if the owners weren’t Mexican, but I think it’s pretty authentic to the heritage,” said Brian Venegas, a customer at the cafe. “I am Mexican, and I have no problem of a mural of Frida Kahlo in a Blackhawks jersey.”

Luis Rivera, the artist of the Kahlo mural, said he created several murals for Cafe Tola in the past including a mural of Kahlo as Rosie the Riveter. He said although it was never his intention to make anyone upset and he disagrees that the mural depicts cultural appropriation.

“I think it’s kind of frustrating,” Rivera said. “But people are going to have their own opinion about it.”

For all the uproar, it was another Chicago sports team that put the issue to rest.

A Cubs jersey was painted over the Blackhawks jersey on Oct. 9.