The Virgin of Guadalupe is a Constant on the Changing Streets of Los AngelesBreaking News
tags: Los Angeles, urban history, Mexican American history, Latino/a history
There’s nothing that Oscar Rodriguez Zapata enjoys more than going out for a drive to explore Los Angeles’ vast neighborhoods in search of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
He packs his Nikon Z6 II and a Fujifilm X100V and photographs murals, landscapes, storefronts and people across the city’s Historic South Central and Eastside to South Bay. Street vendors, lowriders and the L.A. skyline are among his favorite subjects.
But his biggest LA muse is the Virgin of Guadalupe, said Zapata. Murals, mosaics and other artwork depicting the brown-skinned virgin and patron saint of Mexico grace the walls of laundromats, liquor stores, mini markets, churches, bakeries, taquerias and tire shops.
“Whenever you see a virgencita you feel safe. You know that your people, your gente, your raza are around,” said Zapata, 35, who, though raised Catholic, identifies as nonreligious. “It makes you feel welcome.”
January marked 10 years since he began documenting images of Guadalupe, at first on his phone for his own pleasure, but eventually taking his hobby more seriously, particularly as he noticed more and more Guadalupe images were vanishing. In late 2017, he created an Instagram profile devoted to his photos of Guadalupe murals in order to preserve them. He now has more than 6,000 followers.
Zapata focuses on examples of the Virgin on dilapidated buildings in need of a fresh coat of paint or the more intricate and colorful ones that take up entire wall space, as they risk succumbing to gentrification and displacement of Latino communities in L.A.
The Virgin Mary, he said, “is much more than a religious symbol.”
“It’s part of the community and part of who we are,” Zapata said.
Our Lady of Guadalupe is celebrated in many Catholic parishes across Southern California on her feast day, Dec. 12, marking the appearance of Mary to St. Juan Diego, an Indigenous man, near Mexico City in 1531. But Guadalupe finds her way into shrines and murals in Latino neighborhoods year-round, and chroniclers like Zapata document her to pay homage to the culture, faith and traditions of their LA neighbors.
Across Los Angeles, images of the Virgin are believed to thwart vandalism and act as “protector(s) of small immigrant-owned businesses,” according to journalist Sam Quinones’ 2016 book of photographs of murals of the saint, “The Virgin of the American Dream.”
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