The Virgin of Guadalupe and the $1 Taco: Public Space and Christian Imagery in Latino Los Angeles

Inspired by the Chicano mural movement that swept Los Angeles in the 1960s, these public paintings of the Virgin and other religious figures are evidence of the ways Latinos are reshaping their experience of public space in American cities.

In certain Los Angeles neighborhoods, paintings of religious images are common on the exterior walls of small, local businesses, such as grocery stores and restaurants, generally catering to low-income immigrants from Mexico and farther south. These commissioned paintings are most often of the Virgin of Guadalupe and less frequently of Jesus or other Christian figures. The Virgin is a transnational import from Mexico, where many believe she appeared as a vision to a Christianized indigenous man in 1531. The Virgin of Guadalupe has, in recent years, become widespread in parts of the United States and beyond, appearing everywhere from tattoos to detailing on cars. In 1999, Pope John Paul II declared her the patroness of the Americas.

Inspired by the Chicano mural movement that swept Los Angeles in the 1960s, these public paintings of the Virgin and other religious figures are a form of folk art. In some cases, the Virgin may be joined on the same wall by other symbols of Mexican identity, such as Aztec figures, or more prosaic items, such as proclamations that the shop takes EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer) cards, the price of tacos, or the availability of freshly made tortillas.

Scholars, such as Clara Irazábal and Grace Dyrness, suggest that public displays of symbols like the Virgin help immigrants maintain connections with their homeland and are evidence of the ways Latinos in particular are reshaping the experience of public space in American cities by bringing their own religious signs into secular spaces. This iconography enables immigrants to publically express their own identities and values. Indeed, Mary Louise Pratt suggests that the transborder appearance of such religious figures constitutes what she calls “vernacular imaginaries,” reminding us that cultural expressions of globalization involve far more than Western commercial brands like McDonalds and Nike.

Discussion and Comments

  1. Cool to learn that this imagery can potentially fend off vandals. I’ll keep an eye out for some in the valley!

Leave a Comment

Fields marked with * are required.

NOTE: Your email address is not published on the site.

Your email address is never sold, shared, or used for any nefarious purposes. You may unsubscribe at any time without hurting our feelings.

NOTE: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately.