Long existing as an all-but-forgotten outpost in Mexico's northern frontier, Tucson's customs have deep indigenous/Mexican/Catholic roots. The annual calendar here is still defined by Catholic and folk celebrations, and June 24 marks St. John the Baptist's Feast Day - La Fiesta de San Juan. Without the Santa Cruz River, Tucson's existence would not have been possible, and as the desert hermit who baptized Jesus in the Jordan River, San Juan has special meaning for Mexican families. Tucson's seasonal calendar also turns around this time; from the dry summer months of May & June towards the summer monsoon season; which generally begins around the 1st of July.
El Día de San Juan is a day for musicians to serenade people named Juan or Juana at dawn, for family picnics by sources of water, and for engaging in water fights and bathing. Because water was used in the baptizing of Jesus, it was believed to have special powers on this day. For example, if one had eye problems, cures were sought by washing one's eyes in a stream.
La Fiesta de San Juan begins with a religious procession carrying a statue of St. John the Baptist to his customary altar to preside over the fiesta-- followed by a blessing ceremony performed by Aztec dancers. There follows an evening of live music and dance, games, piñata-breaking for kids, and food & craft vendors.
Historically, the fiesta also included lively celebrations and competitions on horseback. From the late 19th Century into the early 20th, there was a popular sport called Corrida de Gallos (Rooster Game). It involved burying a rooster up to its neck in sand while young men on horseback took turns racing towards it, attempting to pull it out of the ground as they galloped by. Due to its violence it was eventually discontinued. For many years, incredible young charras (horsewomen) known as Escaramuzas ("skirmish") put on rousing performances conducting elaborate dressage maneuvers at a full gallop, riding sidesaddle. Sadly, this rich tradition has been absent in recent Fiesta de San Juan's.
In my painting, I have tried to capture the essences of the many peoples and factions that give summer its meaning here in Sonoran Arizona:
Located at the base of Sentinel Peak (A Mountain), Barrio Kroeger Lane is set down on the birthplace of Tucson; named Chuk: Shon by its original inhabitants, the Tohono O'odham. There are remnants of ancient Hohokam and Piman settlements scattered throughout the area. It is still considered sacred land by the families (mostly Mexican-American and devoutly Catholic), who have lived here for generations. As with so much else in Tucson with development potential, this rustic neighborhood is endangered by the pressures of progress.
Barrio Kroeger lane gets its namesake from an Anglo doctor who served the neighborhood as a general practitioner. Due to its location on the banks of the Santa Cruz River, the area was also nicknamed Sal Si Puedes due to occasional flooding leaving only one or two exits out of the area.
What distinguishes this humble little neighborhood from most of Tucson’s other barrios is the continuing ownership of horses and small livestock animals. In early years, Tucson’s annual Fiesta del Día de San Juan was graced with rousing performances by Escaramuzas (ladies in folklorico dresses riding sidesaddle) from Barrio Kroger Lane. The railroad-tie corral fence is a defining feature of the neighborhood.
A gallo (rooster) crows as the young vaquero practices his skills with his lasso.
The walkway to the adobe house is made from TPBCO (Tucson Pressed Brick Company) bricks. TPBCO and other brick manufacturing companies thrived on the west bank of the Santa Cruz River in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and employed many of Barrio Kroger Lane’s residents.
The little hand-made capilla (chapel) was used to celebrate mass on special occasions. It was also built to honor elders unable to attend regular church. Succumbing to benign neglect, it has since been removed.
The cave high on the hillside is a tiny grotto-like cave honoring the Virgin of Guadalupe. The story goes that, in the 1950’s, a humble man with a devotion to Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe was thrown in jail for a crime he did not commit. From the jail he could see the A Mountain hillside, and every day he prayed to La Virgen. He promised her that if the real criminal was found he would build a shrine to her on that hillside. Sure enough, eventually the true culprit came forward and the man was freed. True to his manda (promise), he created this shrine honoring La Virgen de Guadalupe. The tiny grotto holds offerings to other saints, in particular San Judas, the saint of impossible causes, who is held dear by the neighborhood.
In more recent years, another shrine to the Lady was built on the mountain by local firefighters. She overlooks the sweeping intersection at Star Pass and Mission Roads, and is cleaned and seasonally decorated by Barrio Kroger Lane residents.
My thanks to Josefina Cardenas, long-time resident of Barrio Kroeger Lane, for helping me with this interpretation.
Barrio Hollywood is one of Tucson's many distinctive Mexican-American neighborhoods, famous locally for its annual Fiesta Grande - a fantastic street fair along Grande Avenue, its main arterial street.
This no-nonsense neighborhood is known for its history of activism fighting systemic racism, sub-standard education, and denigration of Mexican culture and use of the Spanish language.
This painting attempts to integrate neighborhood icons with a splash of timelessness. I also seek to honor the power of family in Tucson's barrios. Proud of its Lowrider Culture, this piece enlivened some of my own memories growing up immersed in Chicano & African-American communities of south-central L.A. and I remain a fan of classic low-rider cars and music genre to this day.
Renown Tucson author, Patricia Preciado Martin, grew up here. Her many books about Southern Arizona's people, history and culture have inspired me for many years. Barrio Hollywood is also home to Tucson's cherished artist, David Tineo.
For more information on Barrio Hollywood and its place in Tucson's history, see the booklet, Looking Into the Westside - Untold Stories of the People, now published on line.
Angelita Ochoa (below), (holding baby in the 1941 family portrait included in the painting), saw her 97th birthday in 1995.
A blog of inspirations, interpretations-- things that move and fascinate me in this place where I'm planted.