Immaculate Immigrant 5
Virgin of Guadalupe



Virgin Mary Guadalupe Where Heroes Are BornJuan Ordúñez died on November 15, 1988. His four-panel mural, "Where Heroes Are Born" gives homage to the Mexican American recipients of the Medal of Honor in World War II and the Korean War. Ordúñez and two other friends painted the Virgin's image somewhat spontaneously. Although the image is no longer there today, for eighteen years it provided a spiritual space for the community of Lincoln Heights.

Architect, Gustavo Leclerc, believes that the ever-present Virgin of Los Angeles is a religious icon creating a special language. Leclerc sees her as "an extremely important translator or connector between diverse groups . . . and how space is negotiated." Her image, according to Leclerc, is even more powerful when people feel their cultural values are threatened, especially by the anti-immigrant sentiments prevalent today.

But devotions to the Virgin of Guadalupe are also sacred and personal. Maricela Cuadros, her personal art piece, "Creyendo en Milagros/Believing in Miracles," illuminated the darkness that overcame her at the death of her father. This experience led her to self-expression through art and evoked in her a global consciousness for humanity's welfare.

I look at the world around me. Where are we going, what are we doing? Symbolically [the Virgin of Guadalupe] is there to protect us, but she is also there for us to probably think about those two things.


Virgin Mary Guadalupe Creyendo en Milagros The woman in "Creyendo en Milagros," center stage, is holding a world that is a little dark and becoming even darker, according to Cuadros. "If you believe and really see the essence of who we are and who she is [the Virgin of Guadalupe]. . . then miracles can happen. She's holding [the world] because it is still possible." The tattoo emphasizes the Virgin's moral support in our life.

And on another very personal level of devastation, a beautiful mural of the Virgin of Guadadupe provides a perpetual prayer for the Eighteenth Street Gang's deceased homeboys.

Virgin Mary Guadalupe 18th St Gang

Virgin Mary Guadalupe Mother and SonJoey Terrill's experience is uniquely different but equally personal. He is a second-generation Chicano born in Los Angeles. Terrill, a gay artist, is active on the Board of Directors of VIVA, an organization for gay and lesbian Latino artists. Terrill looked at images of the Virgin all his life, and there was always an altar in his home. One oval frame with the Virgin of Guadalupe's image belonged to his grandmother. His grandparents were very strict Catholics and his mother grew up believing that the only measure of success or happiness was to be a wife and a mother "within the Catholic Church, of course." His painting, "Mother and Son," shows his mother at that stage in her life when she had achieved "success or happiness." Tragically, triggered by a traumatic divorce, Terrill's mother had a nervous breakdown, within five years of the photograph. Terrill believes the church abandoned his mother when she needed it most. "The breakdown of my mother was the starter impetus for me to constantly challenge and question authority, structure, infrastructure, politics, politicians, the priests, and the nuns." Because Terrill believed the Church was not there for him either, he left the Church and never went back.

One of Joey Terrill's most powerful works of art must be "Mother and Son," which dominates his home as one walks in. His vibrant painting, two feet wide by four feet tall, projects a reverence for motherhood through the veneration of the Virgin of Guadalupe. "Mother and Son" is an autobiographical art piece, a transposed image of his mother and himself taken from a photograph in 1957. Terrill was two years old, and his mother was a new mother and extremely happy. Terrill describes "Mother and Son" as a "secular image of a Chicana growing up in the United States bound by and limited by the teachings of the Catholic Church, particularly the Mexican Catholic Church." The graphics surrounding the image are significant events in Terrill's life: his sister's wedding; headlines of Robert Kennedy's assassination at the Ambassador Hotel; St. Joseph, the carpenter for whom Terrill's grandfather was named; the address where Terrill painted "Mother and Son"; Mexican blankets and sarapes, and Los Angeles City Hall. Roses appear throughout the painting, his mother's favorite flowers. Terrill flashed back to his mother holding him when he was a baby, the happiest time in their life. "'Mother and Son' is a homage to my mom and her suffering and what she went through. I'd like to think of it as a secular kind of saintly image."

Virgin Mary Guadalupe Enrique Marquez Yousef, a Christian Orthodox and citizen of Los Angeles for over 15 years, believes the Virgin Mary is the Mother of God. Mary Geris has lived in Los Angeles for 25 years and she agrees. They feel her protection, and believe she is a mother for everyone. According to Yousef Geris, "She is important everywhere, not just here in the community. . . . We saw her [in Cairo]. . . . She appeared many times above the church." According to Yousef, a lady with cancer who attended that church was cured by the Virgin Mary. Yousef wanted special flowers on the mural on the east wall of their liquor store and Mary Geris wanted a special face, one that would make her feel the Virgin was watching over her. They decided that a portrait of the Virgin of Guadalupe would be perfect. It took over a year-and-a-half to find the right artist, Enrique Márquez, from Veracruz, Mexico. Yousef visited the mural every Sunday and put candles and incense there because, he explained, he was unable to go to church. He [saw] people go to the mural and tip their hats; others "make the sign of the cross . . . Everybody, they love it."

Actually, Enrique Márquez thought the theme of the Virgin was marvelous even though he stated he did not believe in the Virgin of Guadalupe. The face was very challenging for him and took longer to paint than the rest of the mural. Márquez stated he felt impelled to ask about the very large flowers that Yousef and Mary wanted, and they did not want the angel or the moon, as with the traditional Virgin of Guadalupe. They wanted angels on each side of the Virgin. Márquez insisted that he was never interested in the Virgin of Guadalupe but admitted he used a small image he had of her and copied the image and the tunic onto the wall. Márquez explained further,

Once I started to paint the image, the face in particular, many things began to happen. The people in the motels, all of them felt something, an emotion that is something beyond me. I can't describe it. That's something only the people themselves can describe. Cholos would also come by, interested.


Márquez also remembered a Chinese woman, about 75 years old, who made the sign of the cross as she walked over to the mural. "An ecstasy occurred, a rapture, perhaps that's what happened to Juan Diego." The mural was destroyed during the construction of Staples Center.

Virgin Mary Guadalupe Sir DukeThe more one drives around Los Angeles, the more murals one discovers, such as in South Central where I saw Juan Abelar in the process of painting one. He started painting her image when he was about eleven years old so that people would stop writing on the walls. He has painted over 25 murals in the community.

"Sir Duke" (Wilbert O'Neil Bornier), also from South Central, has painted nine murals of the Virgin. Duke is originally from Louisiana and migrated with his parents to Los Angeles when he was about 5 years old. He first started to paint her image when he learned that she was the Mother of God. As I interviewed Duke about his artwork, nothing could have prepared me for his answer to my question, "When you think about her, how does she make you feel?" He answered quietly, after a long pause, "Good. She is like a mother. . . . She makes me feel like Jesus Christ."

Virgin Mary Guadalupe Pedro AstorgaAlthough some murals are very sophisticated, some display simply a "pure" love of her presence, like the one painted by Pedro Astorga, manager of an apartment complex close to downtown Los Angeles. A few blocks from these apartments, another image caught my curiosity because of the Christmas decorations surrounding it. The owner of the store, Ismael Anguiano, (personal conversation in 1997) told me the image was retouched by a man who had learned to paint her in prison. In an interview with Father Dennis Keaney, assigned to Folsom State Prison for 22 years, he stated he has seen tattoos with her image, and prisoners regularly request holy cards with the Virgin's image. "The Virgin of Guadalupe is a symbol of consolation, a liberator from oppression . . . This is what keeps them sane. . . The Virgin of Guadalupe is a bond to tradition and culture. She represents hope when there isn't any."

Virgin Mary Guadalupe El Mundo de Barrio Sotel Virgin Mary Guadalupe Juan Abelar Virgin Mary Guadalupe Fireworks

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