“La Guadalupana Market,” Daly Street, Lincoln Heights, Los AngelesThe Virgin painted on the side of this market is accompanied by the words in English and Spanish, “please respect,” a request that she not be “tagged” with graffiti. One motivation for painting the Virgin in public spaces in Los Angeles is the fact that taggers usually will not deface her image.“Botanica Cuauhtemoc,” Glendale Avenue, Echo Park, Los AngelesThis painting appears on the front of a botanica, a type of shop combining natural medicines, such as herbs, with religious paraphernalia. This one is named after an Aztec ruler, Cuauhtemoc. The image of the traditional sacred heart of Jesus is replaced with a painting of the earth.“La California Tortilleria,” tortilla bakery, Cypress Avenue, Glassell Park, Los AngelesThis painting on the front of a tortilla bakery depicts the story of how the Virgin appeared before a poor indigenous peasant, Juan Diego. She instructed Diego to tell the Bishop of Mexico that he should build a church atop Tepeyac, a hill that was formerly the site of an indigenous goddess temple, and had him collect roses with his tilma, a sort of cape, to take to the bishop. When Diego went before the religious leader, the flowers turned into a painting of the Virgin.“El Mini Discount Store,” Pasadena Avenue, Lincoln Heights, Los AngelesPart of the Virgin’s appeal is her mestizo heritage. The mural at this local supermarket pairs her with indigenous iconography seen in the presence of hummingbirds, which are the symbol of the Aztec god Huitzilopochtli.“Guerrero’s Produce Mkt Inc.,” corner of York Boulevard and N Avenue 56, Highland Park, Los AngelesThese paintings on the side of a fresh market include Jesus and a much more unusual image of Moses parting the sea. Unlike most paintings of the Virgin, Moses has been repeatedly tagged. Jesus is unaltered, although the tagging comes close to his right hand.“Carniceria Los Tapatios #2,” butcher shop, West 3rd Street, Westlake, Los AngelesThis Virgin occupies one of the many small outdoor shrines found throughout Los Angeles, from storefronts such as this one to parking lots and stairways. They often are intended to be publically available to anyone and generally remain undisturbed.“Coin-Op Laundry – Lavanderia,” corner West 3rd Street and Columbia Avenue, Westlake, Los AngelesThe Virgin of Guadalupe is considered to be the symbol of Mexican Catholicism. According to the Center for Religion and Civic Culture, 3.3 million out of 4.9 million Latinos in Los Angeles County are Catholic, and another 970,000 are Protestant, with most of those either evangelical or Pentecostal. Most Mexicans are Catholic, whereas Protestant Latinos are more likely to be from Central America.
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.