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  • Guadalupe Murals: Devotion on the Streets of Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles

    A mural on an outdoor wall, with a virgin figure at the center, with orange, red, purple, and blue stripes radiating out from her. At the base of the mural, several bouquets of flowers on a tiled step.

    Guadalupe mural on Mednik Avenue in East Los Angeles.

    Photo by Natalie Amador Solis

    In Latinx cultures, Our Lady of Guadalupe is colloquially venerated as the mestiza Virgin Mary, a brown-skinned young woman with long black hair, dressed in a rose-hued gown and blue-green mantle adorned with gold stars. Surrounded by a radiant mandorla, she stands with the palms of her hands together with a contemplative gaze that projects kindness and warmth. Believed to have miraculously appeared in 1531 near present-day Mexico City to an Indigenous man named Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, Our Lady of Guadalupe is a constantly reclaimed figure in Latinx—and especially Mexican, Mexican American, and Chicanx—communities.

    Throughout Los Angeles, and particularly on the eastside, murals of Our Lady of Guadalupe are everywhere: guarding liquor stores, embellishing areas of public worship, constructing neighborhood identities, and commonly appearing as Instagram backdrops. Set in a dynamic urban environment, Guadalupe murals create sacred space, serving as sites to express everyday devotion and protection for local business owners adorning their storefronts.

    Growing up in Los Angeles, the sheer number and artistic variations of Guadalupe murals intrigued me to the point that I began photo documenting them and interviewing local community members about their relationship with the murals. Most of my research took place in Boyle Heights, a neighborhood east of the concrete-laden Los Angeles River with a multicultural past, previously home to the Jewish community and currently home to a predominantly Latinx population threatened by gentrification. Neighboring Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles is an epicenter of Chicanx art and activism with the “single largest Chicanx/Mexicanx population in the country.”

    While Los Angeles was once honored as the mural capital of the world, the mural ordinance restrictions enacted by the city in 2013 and rampant gentrification have contributed to the decrease in new murals and the destruction of existing, beloved ones. My hope is that online visibility can lead to appreciation and advocacy for muralism, especially the Guadalupe murals that create sacred space, inviting community members to engage with our cultural and spiritual heritage.


    Click on the image above to view full slideshow

    Natalie Amador Solis is the Latinx curatorial assistant for the Folklife Festival program Creative Encounters: Living Religions in the U.S. She is a graduate of Harvard Divinity School and an alumna of the Smithsonian Latino Museum Studies Program.

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