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For the Love of Guadalupe

Impulso, Profile, Mireya Olivera Posted: Dec 11, 2009

Guadalupe Pedraza roams the streets of East Los Angeles looking for buyers for his original artwork, which are made of the plaster that he works into images of his namesake, Our Lady of Guadalupe. Sometimes he is only able to sell a few of the pieces at a price of $30 apiece. Sometimes none at all. But he just keeps on looking for customers.
Virgen de Guadalupe artThe Virgin of Guadalupe, handcrafted artwork created by
Guadalupe Pedraza, who studied art in Mexico.

Pedraza doesnt have any other options. The middle-aged immigrant from the Mexican state of Puebla recently lost his job at the Huntington Library in the upscale suburb San Marino, where he had worked as a gardener for 12 years, crafting shrubbery into animals and other figures. He says he earned enough to pay his $700-a-month rent and feed his family before a lack of immigration papers led to his recent dismissal.

Pedraza brings some formal training to his efforts to survive as an artist, having studied painting at the School of Fine Arts in Puebla. He also brings a faith in the subject of his art works as he seeks to make a living on the streets. Indeed, Pedraza says the images of Our Lady of Guadalupe help him fight depression.

Our Lady of Guadalupe is believed by Roman Catholics to be Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ. Catholics also believe that Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to an Indian peasant named Juan Diego at place near present-day Mexico City in the 16th century. She instructed Juan Diego to tell the local bishop to build a church on the site, and then caused roses to grow in the middle of winter to help the peasant convince the skeptical cleric. Our Lady of Guadalupe is the Patroness of Mexico and Central America, and widely revered by Catholics in those countries as well as many Latin American immigrants in the U.S.

Pedraza says he also finds comfort in crafting images of Sleeping Woman, which bear pre-Columbianand pre-Catholicinfluences from him native land.

"I met another artist who showed me his technique, and now I make them with my own style focusing on the pre-Columbian sculptures," Pedraza said.

The tough economy means keeping prices low, and Pedraza can only make three of the pieces a day, at most.

And selling enough of the artworkswhether images of Our Lady of Guadalupe or Sleeping Womanremains a struggle in any case, according to Pedraza.

"I am able to get the food, but the sale of the artwork is just for paying the rent, he says. It's a freefall, one crumbles emotionally. My family has also changed. My poor children don't dare ask me for even a hamburger."

Pedraza says that the first places he visits to sell his artwork are the restaurants and flower shops of East Los Angeles. He says he often encounters businesspeople who are hard-pressed because theyre sales totals are so low these days.

"There are people who tell me: How do you expect me to buy something from you if people don't have jobs or are hardly working to make enough for their expenses? says Pedraza. Theyre as desperate as me. One day I went into a gift shop after selling two pieces on the street, and the lady told me 'I envy you. I haven't even sold a flower all day.'"

Pedraza says he has a permit to peddle his art on the street, but adds that he still gets pushed around by cops.

"Sometimes the police kick me off the street even when I show them my sales permit," he said. "When I arrived here, it was the land of dreams, of opportunities. Now what I'm going through is a nightmare, because that's how one feels.

Pedraza says he is hoping to get some breathing room on December 12, when Latinos throughout the city will celebrate the annual feast day in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12. Anything less could lead to big changes for him and his family.

I don't go back to Mexico, because I think it would be difficult for my children, who are good students, to get used to it, Pedraza said. But if the situation gets worse, they can study over there.

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