To the wave of tricolor flags, singing and danzas Azteca, the Virgen de Guadalupe procession returned to East Los Angeles on Sunday after a one-year hiatus.
A few thousand Roman Catholic devotees lined up along Cesar Chavez Avenue to greet images of the mother of Jesus and view floats, bands, dancers and marchers.
The parade’s theme was “Always Forward in Mission and Hope.” Yet Sunday’s procession and subsequent Mass celebrated by Archbishop José Gomez felt like a homecoming for many.
“It’s a great blessing to be back and in person,” Gomez said. “Last year we couldn’t have it because of the pandemic, so the community presence is a great joy.”
Pico Rivera resident Nancy Aguirre, 25, watched the procession with her mother and grandmother near East Los Angeles College.
“It feels good to have this back in East Los Angeles,” Aguirre said. “There’s so much to enjoy: the music, the dancers, the Virgin Mary and our culture.”
Sunday marked the procession’s 90th edition. The event was founded in 1931 in East Los Angeles by refugees from the Cristero War between pro- and anti-secular forces in Mexico.
Last year, procession organizers hosted a pandemic-sensitive car rally in San Gabriel that included a small Mass in the San Gabriel Mission’s parking lot.
Humberto Ramos, one of Sunday’s organizers, said it was important to return to East Los Angeles.
“Last year took a toll, and many parishioners and archdiocese folks I’ve spoken to said they wanted to come back to East Los Angeles,” said Ramos, parish life director of Epiphany Church in South El Monte. “They were really excited, so we got to work.”
Ramos said there was apprehension in the community due to COVID-19. There were 20 floats this year, about half as many as in 2019.
Another challenge was fundraising. Ramos said the event’s budget was $40,000, including nearly $19,000 to host the Mass at East Los Angeles College.
Despite those obstacles, enthusiasm was not lacking.
Alex Coronado, 44, is among the millions of Virgen de Guadalupe followers.
A native of Guatemala City who emigrated to Los Angeles in 2005, he initially questioned the devotion of his Mexican Catholic friends at Lincoln Heights’ Maria Auxiliadora Church.
“They were always talking about the Virgen,” Coronado said. “I didn’t understand why she was so important.”
He joined his parish’s guadalupanos group 12 years ago, inspired by its participants’ devotion to the Virgen de Guadalupe, and led this year’s float-building efforts. The parish’s float depicts a scene on Mexico City’s Tepeyac Hill in which the Virgen de Guadalupe visits the Indigenous peasant Juan Diego Cuāuhtlahtoātzin. Red and white orchids, yellow roses, purple tulips and cacti adorn the float. A winding road behind Juan Diego leads to the San Gabriel Mission.
“She is my inspiration and is adored by millions of immigrants like me,” said Coronado, who credits the Virgen de Guadalupe with helping him overcome alcoholism.
Sunday’s procession commemorates what the faithful believe was a series of appearances by the Virgen de Guadalupe to Juan Diego. According to Catholic tradition, on Dec. 12, 1531, Juan Diego delivered a sign requested by Spanish Bishop Juan de Zumárraga of Mexico City, who was skeptical of the Virgen’s encounters. Juan Diego cut and carried flowers from a desolate, rocky hill and delivered them in his tilma, or cloak, to the bishop. When Juan Diego presented the flowers, an image of the Virgen de Guadalupe appeared on his tilma. That cloth is venerated in Mexico City.
The story is well known to students at Resurrection Elementary School in Boyle Heights. Eighth-graders Jacob Martinez and Keyra Sanchez and seventh-grader Olivia Puga were three of six students designated to march in the parade and carry the school’s banner.
“This is about our faith and culture,” Olivia said, when asked about her motivation to volunteer.
Jacob added, “We’re thankful to God and the Virgin Mary to be a part of this.”