Immaculate Immigrant 6
Virgin of Guadalupe



Virgin Mary Guadalupe Rogelio CastanedaThe Virgin of Guadalupe is a stellar presence in Los Angeles. She crosses all boundaries and borders; she is inclusive, engaging and participatory - privately and politically.

In the 1980s Aurora Castillo and Juana Beatriz Gutiérrez, concerned with the environment in their community, founded Mothers of East Los Angeles (MELA). They initiated an eight-year struggle to prevent a $100 million prison from being built in their community (four hundred families participated). MELA also took on another battle against a proposed toxic waste incinerator in the city of Vernon.

Elsa López is particularly proud of the "lead awareness" campaign that affected hundreds and thousands of children and families. Over thirty schools were contacted in an effort to raise the consciousness of doctors, teachers, parents, children, and the county about lead contamination. Their efforts facilitated the passing of a law requiring mandatory lead testing in preliminary examinations for all children in the WIC program. López explained the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe in the marches was "considered a blessing for a safe and peaceful protest."

Jim Jones and Johnny Garcia, through their Pico-Union Association, protested against drugs and crime in the community two years after the 1992 riots. The Virgin's image led the march.

Education in the 1990s also brought university students together expressing their ethnic pride and the importance of Chicano Studies in the universities. Guadalupe's image accompanied their fasts.

In the labor force, on Monday afternoon, April 11, 2000, "Janitors for Justice" strengthened their resolve to continue their fight for better wages and picketed at Arco Plaza in downtown Los Angeles. While others carried their identifying picket signs. Janitor, Nester Soleno, confidently carried a statue of the Virgin.

Judith F. Baca, Los Angeles muralist and founder of SPARC (Social and Public Art Resource Center) believes "She [Guadalupe] is a perfect icon in the sense that she references power." And she appears on countless city streets not only in Chicano and Latino L.A., but also in the Asian, Anglo, and African American communities. It is an impossible task to give an exact or even an approximate number of murals displaying the image of the Virgin in Los Angeles. Some have been destroyed in the process of renovation. While many murals have been destroyed, others survived chaos.

In 1992, after the "not-guilty" verdict in the Rodney King beating trial, the demographics of a community not too far from central Los Angeles changed from mainly African American to Latino. Together, the two groups created an extraordinary mural with a unique history, located on the east wall of The First African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. It is the oldest Black congregation in the city of Los Angeles, founded by an escaped slave, Biddy Mason, in 1872. But in the late 1980s, the community was in turmoil. Three gangs, the Drifters (primarily Latino) and the Bloods and Crips (primarily Black) were fighting over the east wall of the church and defacing it with graffiti on a regular basis. The church members would remove the graffiti; the gang members would put it back again. There were gang shootings and two janitors had been shot at as they were removing the graffiti.

Although the First AME Church was already involved in some forty different ministries serving the families of the community with food, counseling, and computer training, Reverend Cecil L. Murray, Senior Minister, believed art could send a great message to the people. Recognizing the positive values of the community and of the respective cultures in the community, Murray envisioned a mural that would emphasize the ideals and the contributions of the Blacks and Latinos "beyond the limitations of the negative." Murray believed that "art [would be] the perfect medium of God" to attain this goal. He strongly believed that if the Blacks and Latinos could see themselves coming together as a community, this message would reflect the spirit of the First AME church "that welcomes and unifies all cultures."

The church contacted Bernard Stanley Hoyes, Jamaican artist and community member. Hoyes recommended going to Los Angeles High School and Crenshaw High School to select their four best art students. He emphasized the significance of the educational aspect of the project, and the importance of the artists' participation in every phase.

Hoyes met with the gangs, listened to what was happening and enlisted them to help with the project, and the church employed the gang members. Parents were also contacted. Hoyes assumed the responsibility for the crew's safety, and was present before, during, and after the end of the workday. He chose the images for the mural, but the ideas of how to use the imagery came from the youth.

Although Bernard Hoyes came to know about Mary as an altar boy when he was growing up in Jamaica, he first saw the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico City the summer of his sophomore year in college. "You just couldn't go away without noticing her . . . I kind of got infected in terms of visual splendor."

Hoyes stated he prefers painting original imagery - the "revival theme" of Jamaica, "a cross between African retention and Christianity (Catholicism, Anglicanism, or Protestantism)." This theme has brought Hoyes national and international recognition. However, Hoyes believes that some of his paintings "that have become icons unto themselves in the African American community are kind of on the verge of the Virgin of Guadalupe images - basically, with the female figure in command."

The undertaking of this mural produced extraordinary events. The time estimate for the mural was one month, but it took four. Although Hoyes welcomed participation by young persons interested in the mural, there were many setbacks for the mural: shootings, and pink paint smearings on it. Some gang members that were painting the mural during the day were getting drunk at night and would graffiti the mural again. The gangs were also restless. Lucky, a gang leader, who was in jail, was furloughed for the weekend. He was an aspiring artist whose passion was Guadalupe. While trying to find a solution to the unrest, the police unofficially granted the young persons complete freedom to "tag" the entire rest of the wall from the end of the mural to the end of the block.

The original sketch for the mural had the Virgin of Guadalupe being carried in a procession by children, similar to a Diego Rivera painting. On seeing this, Lucky exclaimed that he wanted her image to be much, much bigger. Lucky's participation, according to Hoyes, "gave [a] kind of sacrament to the wall." After that, there were no more problems. Hoyes added that Lucky wanted to keep his eleven-year-old brother from "gang banging." Hoyes believes that "Until she became apparent on the mural . . . the Hispanic community didn't feel at rest with the transformation of the wall." It is also significant that Hoyes wanted the Virgin to be seen from 23rd Street, where many gang shootings had occurred. These tragedies were challenged with the nonviolent participation of the men of the church, 150 to 200 of them, as they took back their neighborhood, walking the streets at night. "Ultimately . . . 14 rock houses [were shut down] by just refusing to let clients enter, and we began to make an impact."

Virgin Mary Guadalupe In the Spirit of Contribution

The mural, "In The Spirit of Contribution," honors the contributions of the Blacks and Latinos in this country, and the "uniting of cultures." From left to right, the man blowing an African horn represents the crossing of African heritage to the Americas. There are contemporary persons: Duke Ellington, representing the Harlem Renaissance; Paul Robeson, athlete, performing artist, and activist; Bo Jangles, dancer and entertainer; Marian Anderson, internationally renowned contralto, "representing freedom and dignity in high society"; Elijah Muhammad, contributor to a greater consciousness in the traditions of Islam, "unifying the bold strength of spirit and character of Africans in America." The skull represents death and the preciousness of life; Tommy Smith and John Carlos at the Olympic games proclaim their ancestral pride; the Supremes, the revolutionary female trio that united the youth in America through their music and a female choir symbolizing the movement of different causes are included. The dove above the woman dressed in red with outstretched arms symbolizes the unity of spirits.

From right to left, the Virgin of Guadalupe symbolizes the spirit of contribution; also shown are Emiliano Zapata, hero of the Mexican Revolution, Benito Juarez, Mexico's great Zapotec president, Frida Kahlo, feminist painter, and excerpts from Orozco's and Siqueiros' artwork. Also visible is an ancient Mayan sacrificial altar representing the belief that "in order for life to continue, life must be given. . . . The ceremonial table with fruit represents everyone coming to the table of life with their own contribution." The mural effected reconciliation between the young people and survived the Rodney King riots in 1992.

Virgin Mary Guadalupe Florencia 13 GangAnother community, Florence, was struck with violence from the same riots. It is home for Florencia 13 and also Pancho's Bakery. In the 1960s, gangs would graffiti the walls of the bakery. An agreement was made to stop the graffiti if the owner would let them paint a mural of the Virgin of Guadalupe on the side wall of the bakery. The graffiti stopped. During the 1992 riots, the buildings surrounding the bakery were looted and burned. Western Auto and the Korean Electric Store never recuperated, and the lots were cleared. Jorge Cedillo, an owner of Pancho's Bakery, remembers, "If it hadn't been for her [the Virgin], our business would not have survived the riots. I feel it in my heart and soul . . ." Cedillo also believes he himself is still alive from a tour of duty in Vietnam because of the Virgin. The mural is two stories high, and Cedillo delightfully expressed that "She shines so magnificently at night!" The bakery has also survived other disasters, including the San Fernando earthquake. Florencia 13 has contributed to the community with four other murals of the Virgin.

The largest demonstration in the history of Los Angeles was replete with Guadalupe images. On October 16, 1994, some 100,000 people protested anti-immigrant Proposition 187. Los Angeles, the city named after the Mother of God, as Queen of the Angels, was represented by every ethnic group.

Virgin Mary Guadalupe Peter QuezadaPeter Quezada, a self-taught artist, was not part of the Chicano Mural Renaissance of the late 1970s in East Los Angeles, but he came to know the Virgin of Guadalupe as a child and understands her significance in the Chicano community. "The people view her as an icon. She is the mother of Jesus Christ and in the Roman Catholic [Church] and [for] most Latinos, Jesus Christ is God." Quezada is deeply affected by the Virgin's religious and artistic character.

Because of Quezada's social conscience and deep pride in his community, he has been painting murals in Echo Park, Silver Lake, Lincoln Heights, El Sereno and on the walls of the Arroyo Seco tributary that feeds into the Los Angeles River. Besides his sensitivity to the sacred, his murals project his receptiveness to humor, education, peace in the community, and positive social behavior. Some of his many themes include skulls, such as the zig-zag man or death from the Grateful Dead album cover; Warner Brothers' Yosemite Sam; images of Betty Boop; cuddly white bears; zoot-suiters and pachucos; the character of the joker encouraging students to stay in school or to "have the courage to say no to gangs."

Acknowledging the risk of painting on public or privately owned property, Quezada accepts "the probability of [his mural] piece being hit up. Every time you do a mural you are really just rolling the dice that it will be accepted by the people in the area." However, according to Sojin Kim, "Quezada's work has had remarkable longevity . . . Few pieces exhibit much graffiti." Quezada moved to Highland Park (northeast Los Angeles) in 1976 and befriended many gang members of different affiliations in the numbered avenues. He welcomes taggers and gang graffiti writers to participate in his multi-themed murals to discourage them from participating in antisocial behavior. According to Quezada, the graffiti-covered walls he chooses are "for the most part no-man's retaining-walls on abandoned property. [They] have been hit up by graffiti for a long period of time." After working for ten years at Security Pacific Bank, Quezada left the bank and started a full-time position with community Youth Gang Services (CYGS), one of the nation's largest anti-gang agencies. When funding stopped, Quezada continued counseling against gang violence and graffiti on his own time. "He has earned a certain amount of renown and respect," according to Sojin Kim, author of Chicano Graffiti and Murals: The Neighborhood Art of Peter Quezada. It is not uncommon for newspaper reporters and residents of Echo Park to refer to Quezada as "the graffiti warrior," among other accolades. Yet, a neighborhood police forum concerning gang problems characterized some of his murals in the context of gang promotion. However, Quezada abhors violence and graffiti and explicitly avoids reference to any gang. The only time Quezada uses gang names or taggers' nicknames in the "roll call" or "honor roll" is when he does not know them by any other name or if they have died. The "honor roll/roll call" acknowledges their assistance in painting the mural. Several young people assisted Quezada's non-traditional mural of the Virgin of Guadalupe on Maycrest and Huntington Drive in El Sereno. The mural has remained graffiti-free for many years, but it was not effortless.

Roberto Esparza, a mechanic shop owner, asked Quezada to paint her image on the outside wall of the family's store where a shooting had occurred. It was a heavily-graffitied gangster area across the street from his shop. Quezada was reluctant to accept the commission because in the past he had refused to paint her image because some people, according to Quezada, "hide behind her," or because of graffiti or gang problems. "I've done fewer Virgin Marys than I could have simply because I won't do her so people can hide behind her. I have more respect than that." Yet Quezada agreed to paint her "for the neighborhood kids." And he invited gang members to participate. Quezada remembered, "They would come around when I was wrapping things up [or] when I was measuring, and I knew them. But they didn't participate on this one." The mural project became a major undertaking for Quezada. It was vandalized on three different occasions. First with a weak black spray can. The second time, they threw a bucket of paint over it, and the third time, a second bucket of paint was strewn all over the image. Each time Quezada "cleaned it up and repainted it, starting from scratch." Quezada speculates the culprit was making an anti-religious statement, perhaps related to fundamentalist Christians who "regard Catholic reverence for the Virgin Mary as a threat to the primacy of Christ."

Virgin Mary Guadalupe Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum 1999 Virgin Mary Guadalupe Insude Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum 1999


Quezada believes the survival of the mural came down to a show of "will power. Who had the more will, the person that was doing the vandalism or the person that was cleaning it up? It really did a lot of good for the community. These kids are now in their late teens. They remember it, and they can look at it, and they can still say they had a hand in it because they did." On the other hand, Esparza believes the image has served as a truce for the many gang problems because of the poem that he asked Quezada to inscribe on it, Si Tienes Penas O Problemas, Yo Te Los Resolvere./If you Have Problems Or Miseries, I shall Resolve Them." And it also changed the awareness of the community. After the mural was completed, Esparza explained, "sometimes we put flowers out there for her, and some people steal the flower vases, and they steal the flowers - but they regret it - and they return them." Esparza added, "Her image is one of the most venerated images throughout the world."

Julio Martínez, a Central American immigrant came to the United States at age 10. He first lived in Hollywood where he became interested in photography at age 13. About a year later Martínez became interested in art and moved to East Los Angeles and became an ardent student at Self Help Graphics. Never having seen an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Guatemala, Martínez was intrigued with the murals of East Los Angeles that were just about in "every other building," and the interpretations vary. Martínez continued,

The murals in the outlying communities are more like 'commercialized icons' . . . whereas in East Los Angeles they are a more 'personal act.' In East L.A. anybody can paint a mural of the Virgin. You don't have to be a professional artist. They do it because they love her and they identify with her in a certain way that they feel the faith of their community. Most everyone here has something to identify with each other, which is the Virgin.


As a "thank you" to the community of East L.A. and Self Help Graphics for helping him succeed as an artist and community member, and a desire to bless the community with her protection, Martínez painted his own version of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Martínez painted only the face of the Virgin, ascending. "I didn't know how the people were going to react [because] the Virgin is coming from the earth because she comes from the earth. Most everything that you see has grown out of the earth. If it lands here, that's a different story."

Virgin Mary Guadalupe Julio Martinez Virgin Mary Guadalupe Daniel Marquez


Virgin Mary Guadalupe Tailgate Virgin Mary Guadalupe George Rodriguez


Virgin Mary Guadalupe Hope St LAVirgin Mary Guadalupe Pinatas


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