Published on TexasHighways.com
Almost 500 years after her alleged emergence on a hill in the northern part of Mexico City, La Virgen de Guadalupe remains an important part of Mexican culture and identity. She is the country’s patron saint, the mother of the people. Her appearance in front of the peasant Juan Diego essentially created, even if loosely, the bridge joining Indigenous and Spanish cultures. Depending on a person’s perspective, she’s a symbol of liberation or conquest (some scholars now see La Virgen de Guadalupe as the coopting of the Indigenous goddess Tonantzin). Because she’s been such an important figure since first materializing as an apparition in 1531, she’s even been placed on flags during battles. Wherever there are people of Mexican heritage, there will likely be something there to honor La Virgen de Guadalupe.
Today, La Virgen de Guadalupe’s likeness is everywhere from tattoos to murals in both Mexico and Mexican neighborhoods across the United States. Her presence is especially abundant around El Paso, where homes and businesses have outdoor altars dedicated to La Virgen de Guadalupe. They are a way of honoring her year-round in the same way ofrendas honor lost ones during Día de Los Muertos on November 1.
Some of these altars are in the open. Others are behind a fence or a lock and key. Some are colorful, with elaborate decorations that include lights so La Virgen de Guadalupe shines through the night. Others are simple, little more than plain statues. Some are figures protected from the sun in shells made of rocks and cement, and yet others are simply protected from the sun with wood enclosures. Some are small. Others are big, with the entire home seemingly dedicated to their devotion. And though they’re each different, they all honor La Virgen de Guadalupe.
These are just a few of the homes around El Paso—there are countless more—that pay homage to La Virgen de Guadalupe with altars.