Shrines Watching over South Phoenix

By: Yolanda Anita Sanchez

Soft, colors explode around la cara de la Virgen de Guadalupe.  Plastic carnations of pink, yellow, and blue and twinkle lights that will sparkle tonight, showing off la Virgen.  Dark, thick, red brick shelter la Virgen from the bad weather. 

Today is a sunny, warm, beautiful January day.  I hear dogs bark, birds chirp, neighbors talking, airplanes passing, and a bouncing ball; all the “noise” does not distract me from the shrine.  I see the face of la Virgen staring down toward the right, her light blue veil shielding her body, and her hands clasped.   

The shrine is in front of a small light green house.  The house is well kept.  Steps lead to the front door.  Curtains (that look like bed sheets) close the outside world to the house.  Children’s toys surround the house, and a chain-link divides the yard from the litter and glass surrounding the property. 


 The shrine takes me back to my short summer living in Mexico, studying abroad in Guanajuato.  In Mexico, altars decorate everyone’s yards, and la Virgen was watching out for all of us.  I felt calm, comfortable during those times.  I didn’t feel like a stranger, standing where I did not belong, staring at a symbol.  I wonder if she misses Mexico, too. 


Yet, now she looks over a family in Estados Unidos.  They work hard, trying to set up a life for themselves in this foreign place.  They have erected a shrine to keep the culture with them.  South Phoenix serves as a habitat for shrines and Mexican culture.  “Instead of seeing signs of assimilation, I see its Latino character growing stronger,” Susan Phillips cites Camilo Vergara in El Neuvo Mundo: The Landscape of Latino Los Angeles.  Phillips explains that immigrants come to the United States with very little material possessions, but manage to instill their powerful culture in their new environment.  “…(S)ymbols and colors from south of the border dominate…” she contends (Phillips, 2001).


Now, I notice the boy playing next door with his bouncy ball.  I see the run down houses that surround the light green house with the shrine of la Virgen.  I notice the construction of a big, new house directly facing la Virgen.  A massive Ford F150 is in the driveway of the new house.  A man climbs out of the truck; he will likely be the proud owner of the new house.  I wonder what la Virgen thinks about her new view…


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