By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
“The image at the Brooklyn Museum doesn’t conform to any of the traditional forms the Virgin has been depicted in,” Vergara explains. “It‘s only a Virgin because somebody says it is. If I showed it to my mother, she would think that artists are weird and they do strange things. But if I took her to South-Central to show her what’s going on there, she would be horrified.” The Virgen de Guadalupe, according to Vergara, resonates as “an image passed through time. This is the image you saw when you were a child, the image your mother saw, your grandmother saw. There are a lot of people who came from a Catholic culture -- even people who call themselves atheists -- to whom this image has a lot of meaning.”
Among the businesses along Central and San Pedro avenues, it‘s hard to find anyone waxing that romantic about the murals. The Virgen’s job in South-Central is practical: She‘s there to discourage graffiti. Even taggers would be reluctant to mess with the Virgen, the theory goes. But now, apparently, she invites graffiti.
And to the Los Angeles Police Department, that’s all it is -- graffiti. “I‘ve had people from New York calling me, I’ve had reporters call me, I‘ve had Europeans calling me, but all I know was what was on the news,” says Officer D. Roberson, a detective in the Newton Division of the a LAPD. “People are calling in from other places wondering why we aren’t doing anything about it, but they‘re not getting their stories straight. Someone from New York indicated it was churches being vandalized. Now, we have a police clergy and we would have been all over the case if that were true. But we haven’t even had a report. We‘ve only had one business call in, and they didn’t make a report. They had a mural at the liquor store, and someone came by and splashed paint on it.
”In our community here,“ Roberson continues, ”which is predominantly black, we have murals of Martin Luther King Jr., and Cesar Chavez, and lots of others. Some of them, they‘ve been defaced from time to time, and I don’t hear the big human cry on that.“
”If the street begins with San -- you know, like San Pedro -- they do it in red,“ Rafael Torres claims from his ladder. ”I think it might have something to do with the new year, you know, the millennium. If you take the last three numbers in this year, 999, and turn them upside down, what do you get? 666.“
”That‘s what they say,“ Marvin interjects. ”999 is worse than 666. And it could be that Satan worshippers are doing it, like a landmark before the year 2000. Then they can say they’ve done something before the year 2000.“
”So,“ I ask Rafael, ”your theory is, this person is a Satan worshipper who wants to make money painting Virgens?“
”Right!“ he says with a laugh. ”You got it! But that doesn‘t answer the question, does it? The question is, who is it?
“If you paid attention on the street, it would be easy to find out,” Marvin asserts. “It all could have been done in one night. It’s lonely around here at night. The streets are empty. Someone could have driven by, painted over the walls, and no one would have seen him do it.”
Veronica Hernandez confirms that most of the businesses who have seen their Virgens tagged report that it happened around a month ago. “When I heard the news in Spanish, they were saying it started when the Virgin Mary was coming from Mexico,” she reports, referring to a digital reproduction of the Virgen on Diego‘s shawl that has been touring Los Angeles since mid-September. But the vandalism started later, in early October, and some Virgens have been despoiled repeatedly. Several business owners have repainted their murals only to see them mauled again within the week. On the other hand, many Virgens remain intact: On Central and Nadeau, a mile south of Evita’s Furniture, the silver-filigreed Virgen on the side of an auto parts store has not been touched, nor is the man who painted it, Enoc Martinez, particularly concerned that it will be. “I‘ve been painting them for five years,” says Martinez. “All the ones I did are fine. If someone paints it over, I will fix it.”
“This is nothing to be afraid of,” Marvin declares. “It’s just a human being running around ruining paintings. It‘s just someone who wants to be heard.”
“Remember Chaka?” asks Rafael, referring to Daniel “Chaka” Ramos, the tagger who sprayed his name on an estimated 10,000 surfaces throughout the city before his 1990 arrest. “He was around here tagging everything he could. And you know, it was just because he wanted to get on the news.”
Uriel Hernandez, whose family owns the El Rey de Copa Mini Mart on 40th Street and Central, where Mickey Mouse seems to be as potent a talisman as the Virgen, agrees. “I think it might be the Jehovah’s Witnesses doing it,” he conjectures. “Because they don‘t believe she’s their queen, the way we do. But we aren‘t worried about them. We’ve been here 10 years and we know all the people around here, and we‘ve always felt safe. We put it there so there wouldn’t be graffiti. So it didn‘t work. Things happen.”