Chicago murals: Jorge Nambo-Palmeno wants kids ‘dreaming big’ about the future, art

When he moved from Mexico to the United States at 9, Jorge Nambo-Palmeno didn’t speak much English.

So he’d sometimes communicate with his new classmates through art — by drawing pictures for them. One of those early doodles was of a robot.

Nambo-Palmeno, now 29, still likes putting robots in his artwork. But he calls them “Nambots.” Like the one in the “Dreaming Big” mural that he completed last August at 15th and Wood streets in the Pilsen area.

Like many people around his age who moved from other countries, he embraces the term “Dreamer,” after the federal DREAM Act, aimed at helping people who arrived as kids and, though undocumented, grew up in the United States.

He says he hopes the mural will inspire kids who haven’t gotten much support for their artistic dreams.

“I’ve always had an interest in letting kids dream big and be inspired by art,” Nambo-Palmeno says. “I feel like there’s just something very therapeutic that kind of just progresses a kid’s mind.”

He says his Nambot is meant to show how simple art can be and that they’ll see it and think: “I can do that.”

“You don’t have to be a pro at art,” he says. “But they can definitely do something with their own hands and out of their own creativity.”

“Dreaming Big” is roughly 23 feet wide and 16 feet high. Nambo-Palmeno used spray paint to create it, maybe a dozen spray cans.

Artist Jorge Nambo-Palmeno.

Artist Jorge Nambo-Palmeno.

He says his fingers would go numb at times because he was gripping the cans so tightly.

Nambo-Palmeno moved to Chicago in 2017 and lives in Humboldt Park.

He says he uses a lot of pinks and purples in his art because he remembers how, when he was a kid, his two younger sisters really liked those colors. He says he looked out after them a lot because his mother and father both worked multiple jobs when he was young, with his mother often working night and morning shifts cleaning houses.

He says she paid for art classes for him with her first paycheck from doing house-cleaning and has supported his passion for art but that his parents sometimes wished he chose a career that guaranteed more financial stability.

“My parents kind of wanted me to have something more stable other than art, but I bet my money all on it, and ever since then I’ve been painting and drawing,” Nambo-Palmeno says.

“I come from Mexico, where art wasn’t necessarily considered to be a career path,” he says. “Pilsen is very highly populated with Latino kids. I just really want them to see it for themselves as far as seeing something that really speaks to them and hopefully encourages them to make something on their own.”

Nambo-Palmeno has several other Chicago murals, including one with the Chicago Bulls logo set against the backdrop of the Chicago flag on a concrete railroad retaining wall on the edge of Pilsen.

“I feel accomplished because, if you would have told little 10-year-old me that I was going to have a mural in Chicago that I made with my own hands that people would have been congratulating me for, I never would have figured that that would have happened,” he says.

“I hope to do big murals on the side of buildings, I hope to do brand deals and to start merchandise. I’m still dreaming big.”

Click on the map below for a selection of Chicago-area murals