A newly installed sepia-toned mural depicting Sonoran-Mexican miners was unveiled this month at Taqueria Sonora.
“It’s not just a mural about anything, it’s about Sonora,” said owner Sergio Jimenez. “It makes Taqueria Sonora more Sonoran than anywhere else.”
The mural, painted the Fresno-based artist Jose Luis Cerrillos on removable wood panels, was installed on Sept. 4.
“This town is very interesting because you see the town in the old west style. That's why the painting goes so well in the town, because of its ambiance,” Cerrillos said.
The mural is not intended to be an exact geographic reproduction of old-town Sonora. Instead, it purports to capture the spirit of its founding colonists whose home state bequeathed the foothills Gold Rush town with its namesake.
“I think the people that come to Sonora come from around the world and they come with ideas about the old west,” said Cerrillos. “The history of Sonora is it was founded by Mexican-Americans. The history of this town is about mining.”
In the first panel, Mexican miners on horseback wade into a river. One points toward a man in a fur-fringed coat on a river rock who dips his vessel into the water. Another man, flanked by two horses, looks at three Native Americans on horseback.
“It makes me feel like I’m in an Old West movie,” said Jimenez’s sister, Sonia.
The water-based acrylics used for the mural focused on sepias and browns, reminiscent of a traditional 19th century style.
Cerrillos said it was an intentional attempt at authenticity.
“This is a classic style, old west style. I think many people will take pictures of the painting,” Cerillos said.
The mural hearkens to the nascent colonization of the gold-rich creek systems which wound between present-day Sonora and Jamestown in 1848-49.
According to a historical overview of the City of Sonora in the Sonora Historic Resources Inventory by Carlo M. De Ferrari, experienced miners from the northern Mexican region of Sonora first traveled en-masse to the Sierra Nevada foothills between 1848 and 1849 following the discovery of gold.
They traveled very much as they appear in the mural — in companies, on horse or mule-back, and with their necessities to establish settlements. There were more than just miners, De Ferrari wrote, and also merchants, families, priests and prostitutes.
De Ferrari describes the “Sonoranian miners” and the Americans as on a “collision course.” The Mexican American War ended just a year before, ceding hundreds of thousands of square miles in current-day California, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming to the United States.
In the early days of the the encampments along Woods, Sullivan and Sonora creeks, new settlers spurred resentment, De Ferrari wrote, with Americans believing they had an “exclusive right to mine its gold.”
The division spurred separate campsites along Woods Creek. The Sonoranians first established a half mile above present-day Jamestown and named the area Santa Iago, but their prospecting pushed them further along the creek to locate undiscovered veins of gold.
At the time, the land was dotted with a “healthy growth of yellow and bull pines, incense cedars and a variety of oaks,” De Ferrari wrote. Within a few years, commercial logging and the felling of trees for firewood and cabins sheared away “much of the virgin forest that has existed when the miners had arrived.”
De Ferrari wrote that on March 17, 1849, the Sonoranians eluded the Americans by abandoning their camp and establishing again “at the site of today’s Sonora High School grounds and extended upstream along present Columbia Way to the bridge crossing the creek.”
The Sonoranians were known for their proclivity in locating bountiful placer deposits, so the Americans went in search of them. Following the lead of the Sonoranians, the Americans set up new camps along a branch of Woods Creek, now known as Sonora Creek, in what is present day Coffill Park. The camp was first called “Scott Town” — Ferrari speculates it was likely named for Charles G. Scott, a former soldier of the First Regiment of the New York Volunteers — but as the Sonoranians and other Hispanics overwhelmed it, it became known as the Sonoranian Camp.
Later, the name was simplified: Sonora.
Within a few short years, the camp mutated into a cosmopolitan trading center which attracted all measures of Wild West character and industry. Newcomers set up camp along an old Native American trail between the Sonoranian Camp at present day Sonora High School to the American camp at Sonora Creek — a trail which is now a state highway, or Washington Street.
Native American encampments were subsumed by the settlers and their economy. A site below Bradford Avenue and west of the Union Democrat office “was appropriated by Mexicans who erected a small bull and bear fighting arena there.”
Cerrillos and Jimenez plan to add additional murals to the interior of the restaurant — on the ceiling and beside the beverage refrigerators — though the exact design is still up for debate.
The miner mural has already caught the attention of passersby on South Washington Street through the slanted front window, and by a steady procession of regulars, Jimenez said.
“They love art. This is another different kind of art they haven’t seen in Sonora,” Jimenez said.
One idea for the new mural involves a painted frame where international tourists and visitors can post photos of themselves telling where they’re from.
“We love Sonora. We love the tourists who come from all over the world.”
Jimenez gestured toward the mural along the wall, “they’re so amazed by it.”
In just the past couple weeks, Jimenez said Taqueria Sonora has had visitors from the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy and Ireland.
Taqueria Sonora, located at 74 South Washington Street, is a family-owned and family run business.
On Thursday morning while Jimenez took catering calls, his brother Francisco Contreras manned the flat-top grill while his sister took orders.
The business opened in October 2013 and is known most for its “Taco Tuesday” $1 street taco special, Jimenez said.
The family traces their roots to Zacatecas and Jalisco, sharing their time between there and Riverbank in their youth. Jimenez graduated from Riverbank High School in 1993.
“This is my clan,” Jimenez said.
He was motivated to start his chain of taquerias while recalling advice from his father.
“Whatever you do, if you clean the bathrooms or if you cook, whatever it is, shoot for the one hundred percent. Then if you only get the ninety five percent, you’re OK. If you get less than ninety percent, then maybe not,” Jimenez recalled. “We take pride in what we do here, always.”
Cerrillos has done mural work at other taquerias owned by Jimenez: two in Manteca and one in Ripon.
The mural was purchased for $7,500. Cerrillos, who is originally from Jalisco, said it took him between four and six hours of work a day for about three weeks to complete it.
Jimenez said the mural was appraised by insurance at a value of $60,000.