Mexican restaurant hosts art exhibit, fights for social justice
“South Philly Barbacoa ” uses their restaurant as a platform to raise awareness on undocumented workers’ rights.
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South Philly Barbacoa, a small Mexican restaurant off the corner of 11th and Morris St., hosted their latest art show at their location Friday night.
The exhibit featured works from the Taller de Gráfica Popular, an artists’ collective founded in Mexico in 1937. The artwork, which was framed and hung around the restaurant’s yellow walls, included political posters, works depicting important episodes and heroic figures from Mexican history, and early works by Leopoldo Méndez— founder of the collective and one of Mexico’s most important graphic artists.
Barbacoa co-owner Ben Miller called the art show the “most special one” because it’s the first time the brick-and-mortar shop hosted Mexican art.
“We’ve hosted five other art shows, including one for renowned Philly artist Isaiah Zagar, but none have really celebrated Mexican culture,” Miller said.
The art collection belongs to lawyer and Barbacoa regular Peter D. Schneider, who wanted to share it with the restaurant because of its political themes.
“The creators [of the art pieces] wanted their work to serve the common people of Mexico and their progressive and democratic interests, especially in light of the struggles of agricultural workers,” said Schneider, who’s been collecting the linoleum prints for 40 years.
“The artwork is fitting for a restaurant like this— one that serves the people by being active in immigrant rights.”
Since the opening of Barbacoa, Miller and his wife Cristina Martinez have been vocal about undocumented immigrant rights in the restaurant industry. They often hold community meetings, screen documentary films, speak at colleges, and collaborate with different chefs in the city. However, Miller uses his wife’s perseverant story to shed light on issues in the restaurant industry.
“My wife got fired from her previous job because she was undocumented,” he said.
“There’s probably an undocumented person working in every restaurant, and we speak for that community [...] using the publicity we get as a restaurant to advocate and acknowledge the workers and using my wife’s story as a bridge to bring solidarity to the industry.”
There are other unique aspects represented in the Mexican restaurant that customers can’t get anywhere else, according to Cristina, who co-owns the business.
“Everything is made fresh in the house. We take a whole night to make barbacoa, and we’re the only place that grinds its own corn and makes the tortillas by hand,” she said.
Additionally, Barbacoa enjoys collaborating with artists, musicians and the community. In this particular art show, they teamed with Schneider and percussionist Shakoor Sanders; together, they celebrated Mexican culture by providing artwork, live music, and tostadas with pozole.
“We use our space as a creative expression from the soul because you learn and grow by collaborating [with others] ,” Miller said.