Her image is a Los Angeles fixture that adorns murals in places spanning from Pacoima to East L.A. and from El Monte to Long Beach. LA photographer Oscar Rodriguez Zapata is honoring the influence of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
LA photographer Oscar Rodriguez Zapata is honoring the influence of Our Lady of Guadalupe
According to Historians, Spanish settlers originally named our city”El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles” (English: The Town of the Queen of Angels) in honor of the beloved Catholic figure.
The influence of the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe in Los Angeles is undeniable.
For many Angelenos, la Virgen de Guadalupe frequently referred to as “La Virgencita,” is a powerful protector and intercessor. She is invoked for everything from healing the sick to helping win soccer matches. Murals depicting her can be found throughout the city and one local photographer, Oscar Rodriguez Zapata, has made it a personal mission to document as many art renderings as possible of Mexico’s patron saint.
A Photographer’s Ode to the Queen of Los Angeles
“I noticed many Virgencita murals were being painted over due to gentrification so I decided to take action and document,” he explains.
To date, Rodriguez Zapata has photographed approximately 400 murals of the “Queen of Los Angeles” using his Nikon z6ii camera. And he has no plans of slowing down. His project already has a dedicated Instagram page with nearly 5,000 followers.
“I have a long list and still growing of images that I still haven’t shot,” he says.
His method for capturing the images is simple.
“I’m always keeping an eye out,” says Rodriguez Zapata.
Even though he’s gaining an audience on social media, he has never received a tip about where to locate the next mural. As a matter of fact, it’s almost as though Virgencitamurals make unexpected appearances when he’s around.
In one curious instance, as Rodriguez Zapata was traveling down a street he’s been taking for years to go to work, he suddenly noticed a section of a plain brick wall had toppled. When he peaked through the rubble, he caught a glimpse of a fading mural of the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe looking straight at him, on the edge of a decaying wall.
“The only reason that mural appeared was because part of the old fence surrounding the business collapsed,” he recalls.
And Rodriguez Zapata was there with his camera handy.
JADE’S MINI MARKET | HOOPER AVE. & E. 50TH ST. | CENTRAL-ALAMEDA, SOUTH LOS ANGELES
A city’s devotion to the Queen of Los Angeles
The Virgin Mary of Guadalupe is a popular figure in Los Angeles.
Chicano and Mexican-American artists including Carlos Almaraz, Gilbert Lujan and George Yepes have focused their talents on depicting her and every year on December 12, the Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels in Downtown LA welcomes Mariachis, Aztec Dancers and large crowds to commemorate the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
While historians acknowledge her influence within Los Angeles’ Latinx community, they also note that L.A.’s official patron saint is actually Saint Vibiana.
UCLA Professor Dr. Marissa Lopez has written about it and says Mexican Angelenos in the19th Century considered the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe the city’s guardian. In fact, the city’s official name, El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de Los Angeles, was named after her. However, in 1859, Spanish-born priest Thaddeus Amat became the Bishop of L.A., transforming how residents practiced Catholicism.
“He proposed a practice of the religion that stripped it of the Mexican cultural practices,” says Dr. Lopez.
Bishop Amat would kickstart his plan by introducing the image of a white woman– a virginal young lady named Vibiana whose remains were discovered in Rome. In 1853, archaeologists led by Pope Pius IX found vessels of blood along with a Latin inscription in her tomb that described Vibiana as “innocent and pure,” explains Dr. Lopez
“Amat was charged with taking the newly discovered saint’s relics to California and to build a cathedral in her honor,” she says.
L.A.’s first cathedral was named after St. Vibiana, but be that as it may, the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe never stopped being a powerful symbol of Mexican Identity.
And as the city’s Latinx population continues growing, it’s likely we may see many more murals of La Virgencita for years to come and loyal devotees who consider her the Queen of Los Angeles.
MEMO’S GARAGE | HOLMES AVE & E. 58TH PL. | FLORENCE-GRAHAM, SOUTH LOS ANGELES
LAS MANOS TORTILLERIA Y TAMALERIA | FLORENCE AVE. & MALABAR ST. | HUNTINGTON PARK
NOHPALLII STUDIO | 4292 UNION PACIFIC AVE. | LOS ANGELES
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