Mis Mañanitas a la Virgen de Guadalupe

Danzantes at Mass for La Virgen de Guadalupe

Early on in yesterday’s half marathon, just after entering Bonelli Park, I thought of La Virgen de Guadalupe. December 12th is her feast day, and it’s a big deal for Mexicans. I’ve been celebrating the day La Virgen Morena appeared to Juan Diego in the hills of Tepeyac in 1531 since I was a kid. I was born in to a family of Guadalupanos; we always participate in a big party at our home parish.

Fiesta for la Virgen de Guadalupe at St John Vianney

As I ran and admired the scenery, I imagined that my parents and grandparents were in Mass. Afterward, they would continue the celebration at the O’Callaghan Center. While I neared the finish line, they’d probably be eating tamales and drinking champurrado while enjoying the mariachi and the danzantes Aztecas. I attended the celebration Mass and party afterward for the first time in years last year.

Since I wasn’t there with them, I thought of the half marathon as my “Mañanitas”, my dedication in honor of La Virgencita. “Las Mañanitas Tapatías” is always sung for her on the feast day. Whether it was good or bad, my run would be for la Virgencita.

It turned out good. Better than I could have imagined.

After the race, Sean and I drove to my parents’ house so I could shower and change. Dad was at work getting the house ready for Christmas. My grandparents were supervising, er, relaxing and enjoying the late morning. Mom wasn’t around.

Something was off.

“Was there no celebration for La Virgen de Guadalupe today?” I asked dad.

“No,” he shook his head sadly.

Juan Diego y la Virgen de Guadalupe

It finally dawned on me. There could be no party. The party was always held in the O’Callaghan Center. Since the fire destroyed St John Vianey in April, all Masses have been held in the large multi-purpose room.

This year, the celebration for La Virgen de Guadalupe had been downsized. SJVs Guadalupanos still came together at dawn for the traditional rosary and “Las Mañanitas”. However, instead of a big party to bring the community together, there would be a low key gathering with pan dulce and chocolate.

I’m sure the low key celebration for La Virgencita was still nice, but it saddens me to think about all that the SJV community lost in the fire.

Note: The mosaic above is from Virgen de Guadalupe shrine outside SJV. It survived the fire (see lower left in this photo)

A change in plans

Soon after Sean and I got engaged, we started checking out wedding sites and blogs. We did some initial planning. I wrote a just family guest list for my side. It was over 150 people. We didn’t have anything set just yet, but first on the list was to make an appointment to talk to one of the priests at St. John Vianney. I had no doubts that I wanted to get married at SJV. I daydreamed about it last August at my neighbor Jorge’s wedding to his high school sweetheart, Heather.

Heather and her father

I talked about having the wedding at SJV with my mom. We discussed Sean going through RCIA (he has to become Catholic first). She was really happy to hear a Catholic wedding was part of our plans.

Less than ten days later, SJV was burned down by an arsonist. After I processed the news and watched the video of the fire and viewed the photos, I immediately thought of the fall 2012 wedding I wanted. It’s not going to happen in the same church where I made my First Communion, celebrated my quinceañera, and was confirmed.

What it looks like now...

I cried when I saw the burnt doors on the LA Times photo gallery. “Those were the doors I was supposed to stand behind on my wedding day,” I thought. I’m not going to stand nervously in the narthex (foyer, sorta) with my arm hooked through my dad’s arm. He isn’t going to walk me down the aisle. I’m not going to kneel at the sanctuary in front of the altar and say my vows there in front of my family and friends. I’m not going to hear the pianist play Canon in D on the gorgeous pipe organ. My mom and Sean’s mom won’t light the candle in front of the lectern. I won’t take a bouquet to the statue of the Virgin Mary on the left side of the church. Sean and I won’t walk down the aisle together. And we won’t be greeted and congratulated by friends and family outside.

I felt somewhat selfish thinking all this, but couldn’t help it. I never envisioned what my wedding reception would look like except that it would be big and there would be a mariachi, those things were a given since I’m Mexican. But the ceremony? That was a different story.

And now it’s changed

Odd moments in Mass

Spanish language children's choir at St John Vianney

I realized that I have very few digital photos of events in the church or even outside the church, but I have memories. Re-posted below is something I wrote for the old blog about some of the oddest moments I ever experienced at St. John Vianney. Two involved the founding pastor, Msgr. O’Callaghan (RIP), and all occurred during the average Sunday Mass. The photo above is from a Christmas concert with the Spanish language adult and children’s choir around 1988.

weirdness in church
04.19.05 // 9:58 p.m.

Growing up, I never missed Sunday Mass. Even if we were out of town or on vacation, my parents would find a Catholic church in the area and make us go. I saw a lot of interesting and weird things happen during Mass.

Once an altar boy named Eric whom I knew from catechism and high school got sick during the consecration of the host. This is one of those times during the Mass when the assembly (or congregation) is supposed to kneel. The altar servers kneel at uncomfortable kneelers on the wooden steps of the altar. Anyway, Eric stood up to go to the bathroom in the sacristy. He didn’t make it. All I saw was Eric’s breakfast fly out of his mouth in a stream that went remarkably far. Yeah, that was weird and kind of gross.

In another instance, Monsignor O’Callaghan snapped me out of my reverie when he mentioned my favorite band at the time, the Smashing Pumpkins. He railed against the lyrics “Emptiness is loneliness, and loneliness is cleanliness / And cleanliness is godliness, and God is empty just like me.” That was weird too.

The third weird occurrence involved Msgr. O once again. This was a few months after the child molestation scandal broke out in Boston. I guess there had been some debate about allowing gay men to be priests. I was really surprised that Msgr. O wasn’t at all opposed to the notion of a gay man serving God in this role because he was rather conservative. He didn’t mention anything at all either about the incorrect notion of gay men being more likely to molest children. In the middle of the homily a woman five rows from the lectern stood up and started loudly proclaiming that homosexuality was a sin. What made me even sadder and more disgusted was that her young son and daughter (about 8-12 years old) stood up and joined in her opposition to gays. I felt like I was in the twilight zone though, because Msgr. O didn’t back down from his position. Instead, he argued with her a little and then the woman left the church.

This was a Sunday Mass. There were plenty of families there. People clapped when she got up and left. Msgr. O asked people to quiet down. He asked the assembly to pray for this woman, and ask God to open her heart. I was with my mom, and later when we got in the car she broke her silence on the outburst, “You know, it’s really sad that people still think like that. You would think that these days they’d be more open minded.”

Needless to say, I was dumbfounded.

Going to Mass almost every Sunday for 24.5 years straight will give you some strange stories to tell. I’ll be back with the weirdest. It has to do with colonization, imperialism and the Church.

Surviving the flames

Happy 40th birthday to St. John Vianney Parish

Before I went to sleep last night, Adrian sent me a message.

“I have bad news, Chunk. St. John [Vianney] is on fire. Danny called right now, said it’s really bad, that they may not be able to save it.”

That was at 12:38 am.

I was shocked, but it didn’t hit me until the next message a minute later.

“[Danny] was crying saying, ‘Oh my God, oh my God,’ talking to Dad.”

I went to bed hoping I’d wake up to find out it wasn’t that bad, the LA County firefighters on the scene were able to save it.

St. John Vianney fire (LA Times photo)

I was wrong. The fire tore through the high roof of St. John Vianney. The church was destroyed, but the rectory was saved. The two priests and seminarian who live in the rectory beside the church awoke when they heard a blast (windows popping) and were not harmed.

Thanks to SJV friends on Facebook, I quickly found some news footage of the fire online. It was surreal to see flames lap at red banners and palm trees up for Palm Sunday services. I wanted to cry as I saw the external damage. My family’s home was destroyed.

My family has been active members of SJV for over 25 years. We were there every Sunday, bright and early for Spanish-language services. We made at least a few more trips during the week for CCD (religious education) classes, choir practices, weekday Masses we were assigned to serve as altar servers, event planning meetings, Bible study and more. For all us Mosqueda kids it was also where we made our First Holy Communion and were confirmed. I hoped to fulfill another sacrament there too, get married next year.

We celebrated festive occasions and sad ones there too. Lori and I both held our quinceañera Masses and receptions at SJV. It was host to the 50th wedding anniversary Masses for both Papá Chepe and Mamá Toni (1993) and Grandma and Grandpa (1994). It’s also where we held the wakes and funeral Masses for Grandma and Grandpa. And there are all the weddings. The last was Heather and Jorge’s in August.

The last Mass I attended at SJV was for the fiesta de la Virgen de Guadalupe in December. The church was packed, there was a lovely shrine set up for La Virgen. Lots of parishioners were dressed in Mexican garb. Aztec danzantes began the celebration with some dances. Afterward there was a big party in the O’Callaghan Center (SJV’s large multi-purpose room). I helped my mom sell drinks before getting some tacos.

That morning, I saw a lot of people I hadn’t seen in a while. People I grew up around and saw weekly hugged me as if it hadn’t been months since the last time I was there. For some it was years, but it didn’t feel that way. I still felt the same sense of community and love I grew up with.

SJV is more than just a beautiful church. It’s the community.

I know we’re hurting, but we’re strong. We have faith. And we’ll be okay.

Video after the jump.
Continue reading “Surviving the flames”

This used to be my playground

Jorge, my neighbor in Hacienda Heights, posted the news on Facebook last June. He didn’t have any news about the school board vote. Adrian confirmed the news a few days later on our way to pick up some burgers.

“I saw Mr. S and he told me.”

Mr. S, Adrian’s sixth grade teacher, confirmed what I’d initially taken for a rumor.

Continue reading “This used to be my playground”

La Mariposa

Through high school, my family’s Sunday morning was rather routine:

6:00-7:45: scramble to get six people ready (with one shower!), out the door and into the car. If my dad or Danny had to be early for choir or altar boy responsibilities they would leave earlier.

8:00-9:15: Spanish Mass at St. John Vianney, our home parish. Dad played bass with the choir. Mom was a Eucharistic minister, which means she handed out the host (consecrated bread) during Communion. Danny, Lori and I were all altar servers. Adrian just sat in the pew and pretended to be ill. He was always fine as soon as Mass ended.

9:15-9:30: help dad pack up his bass and music books, greet fellow parishioners, say hi to Grandma, Grandpa and tío Rick before they left (they always sat toward the back of the church while my mom preferred the first pew).

9:30: drive out to West Covina and wait in the Mariposa Inn (sometimes we’d go to another restaurant) parking lot or on the front patio until the doors opened at 10.

10:00-11:30: brunch at Mariposa Inn. Greet the owner, Raudel. Exchange pleasantries with our server — usually Nacho or my mom’s friend Mary. Then stuff ourselves silly on fresh fruit, Mexican breakfast dishes, giant burritos, fruit-filled pastries, chocolate-dipped strawberries. Wash it all down with Shirley Temples (kids) or coffee (adults).

11:30: say ‘bye to the grandparents, go home and take care of the ‘itis with a nice nap.

Sunday brunch hardly happened once Grandma got sick with complications from diabetes. After her recovery, we resumed the usual Sunday morning routine, but this time with the wheelchair in tow. The trips ceased after Grandpa was diagnosed with cancer and passed away a few months later in 1996. The restaurant held too many “tristes recuerdos.” Plus, Sunday brunch for a family of six was too pricey and we were going through some tough times.

Nowadays, our trips to Mariposa occur on special occasions. It’s the go-to restaurant for birthdays, anniversaries or other special occasions. The last time I went was for Lori’s birthday in January. The guys turned into gluttons and feasted on giant burritos. My mom had machaca, dad had huevos rancheros, Papá Chepe and Mamá Toni shared a dish. I had chilaquiles.

Once again, Nacho was our waiter. Nacho was the kind of guy who could make you feel better with his infectious cheerfulness. During Sunday brunch, he usually tried to cheer up Lori who was grumpy for some reason or another. This time, he didn’t have to cheer up Lori because she was in a good mood for her birthday. Instead, he plopped a sombrero on her head, placed a piece of flan in front of her and called the rest of the waiters to sing “happy birthday, Panchita.”

Before we left, we made sure to greet the owner, Raudel, always gracious and friendly. My parents met Raudel way back in the ’80s when they first started visiting the restaurant. Our neighbor, Mary (Summer’s mom) was a waitress and bartender there. Raudel had worked his way up the chain and at the time was the assistant manager. By the early ’90s he was the owner. I suppose he and my parents had a connection. They were all Mexican immigrants, and moreover he was a Zacatecano who loved tamborazo like my mom.

Even though the staff got older, just like we did, they never stopped making us feel welcomed even if we stopped visiting for months or years at a time. Some things just don’t change.

Except, they do.


Last night, my dad informed me that Raudel Guerrero, 57, passed away early in the morning on Thursday June 26th. He gave a busboy a ride home and fell asleep at the wheel. His van slammed into the rear of an 18-wheel tractor-trailer in Chino (link).

Services were held Tuesday night and Wednesday morning in Rowland Heights. Unfortunately, my parents learned of Raudel’s passing after the services and did not attend.

Raudel Guerrero is survived by his wife Julieta and their four children.

Justice for Gloria?

Lately, almost all the Hacienda Heights Google News alerts popping up in my inbox have been stories about the recently renovated McDonald’s near the intersection of Hacienda Boulevard and Gale Avenue. The interior designers adopted feng shui elements to relate to a “mostly Asian*” community which also is home to a large Buddhist temple. I find it annoying that so many news sources have reported on a stupid McDonald’s.

Yesterday’s singular alert was far from frivolous:

POMONA, Calif. — Three men pleaded not guilty Thursday to the October 2002 slaying of a 17-year-old Baldwin Park girl whose body was found on a Hacienda Heights street.

Abraham Ruben Acuña, 33, Matthew Andrew Garcia, 26, and Victor Manuel Monge, 31, are each charged with murder for the October 12, 2002, killing of Gloria Gaxiola.

Authorities have not disclosed how the girl was killed. Her body was found on Hacienda Boulevard, north of Colima Road.

The three defendants were named in a felony complaint for arrest warrant filed less than two months ago.

They remain jailed pending an April 1 hearing in Pomona Superior Court to determine if there is enough evidence to require them to stand trial. (Source: KNBC)

A little over a year ago, I wrote about the sunny Saturday morning Lori and I came upon the crime scene where Gloria Gaxiola’s body was found after being dragged four miles by a car (link). The gruesome murder shook us up. In 2006, Gloria’s murder was described as a cold case.

I hope there will be justice for Gloria and her family.

*Hacienda Heights has about an even number of Asians and Latinos.

Suburban legends

October, 2002

Saturday morning, 7:30 am. I should have been asleep. But instead I was assigned the honor of driving my 18-year old sister to work.

“Should we take Colima or Hacienda?” I asked Lori. Both routes would get us to the Whittier dealership where she was a receptionist and cashier.

She shrugged.

Her indecision didn’t matter, because a few seconds later we came upon a crime scene on Hacienda Boulevard, the main north-south thoroughfare through Hacienda Heights. Ahead of us, other drivers turned their cars around rather than crash into police tape, LA County sheriffs, their vehicles and a conspicuous coroner’s truck.

It was the first time I had seen one, but I knew whatever had occurred on Hacienda Boulevard that night or early morning was not good.

“I wonder what happened,” I told Lori. She seemed as lost as I was.

Lori and I made our way around Hacienda Heights and five minutes later arrived at the intersection of Hacienda and Colima. Once again, we didn’t need to decide which road to take. Colima Road was also closed off to traffic.

I got Lori to work that day. We took Hacienda Boulevard south to Whittier and pretty much forgot about what we had just seen.

Later that week, Lori called me.

“I heard on the news about what happened last Saturday. Remember when you took me to work?”

She filled in what she knew. A woman had been dragged by a car east through Colima Road and then north on Hacienda Boulevard.

The woman was young, about Lori’s age. The thought of such a gruesome murder in my hometown freaked me out, but I forgot about it.

Continue reading “Suburban legends”

Putting the ‘strip’ in strip mall

When I got to UCLA, I realized that half the people I met who grew up in the LA area had no clue where Hacienda Heights was located. I had to mention the general region of my small, unincorporated corner of Los Angeles County in order to erase their blank expressions. Once I explained, “it’s about 20 miles east of downtown,” or “it’s in the San Gabriel Valley, northeast of Whittier” a little light bulb of recognition lit up behind their eyes.

The people who actually knew about HH had one basic response, “oh… you’re from the suburbs. You must be rich.” I’d then have to clear up their misconception, at least about my family being rich. HH is a suburb and plenty of middle and upper-middle class families call it home, but my family isn’t one of those. My mom always used to say, “we don’t live in the heights of Hacienda Heights.” Translation? We’re not rich or comfortably middle class.

Sometime around my senior year at UCLA, I got a different and unexpected reaction.

“Oh, Hacienda Heights… hmmm,” my friend said. “I have to drive my uncles there all the time. They like going to the strip clubs.”


The strip clubs.

The exotically named strip clubs popped up about ten years ago. Ironically, I first heard about them in church. Of course, as Catholics we didn’t like the idea of strip clubs in our community. I think someone organized picketing or a petition, but I can’t remember and it doesn’t matter since the protests were unsuccessful. A few months later, the garish neon signs appeared.

After high school, I moved away to college and never really gave much thought to the fact that there was a strip club half a mile away from my house, and another one about 1.5 miles away. That all chaged early this summer as I made one of my frequent trips home to play with the puppy, have some home-cooked meals, and do laundry.

yuck As I slowed my car at the intersection of Gale and Stimson, I noticed the new sign. Suddenly, it was no longer Cathay Bank Plaza. The half circle at top featured “Showgirls” in pink against a black backgrond. Right below that, “Deja Vu Plaza” was written in pink above a pair of pink stilettos in fishnet stocking-clad legs. An electronic sign announced the opening of a new adult store adjacent to the strip club. Below the LCD screen several smaller rectangular signs showed the names of neighboring businesses.

The strip mall is just half a mile away from the home where I grew up and my parents and siblings currently live. My mom used to work at the intersection of Gale and Stimson as a cross guard for children walking to Glenelder Elementary School. I’ve eaten several times at the greasy spoon, opened an account at Cathay Bank, had my hair cut at a small beauty salon and visited my old dentist just a few doors down from the strip club in the corner.

I was never comfortable with a strip club at that location, but at least back then there was no huge sign and the neon lights only blinked on and off at night. It was never hidden or discrete, but at least I could ignore the strip club.

I suppose my mild outrage comes from a bit of feminism mixed in with Catholicism and a healthy dose of NIMBYism [not in my backyard]. I hate the sign and the fact that a small part of Hollywood Boulevard, Market Street or Times Square has been transplanted to my neighborhood. I don’t want to one day take a precocious child to visit his/her grandparents only to hear “mom, what’s a showgirl?” coming from the backseat.

Sure, my hate for hideous sign, new store and strip club come from the -isms listed above, but I know the greatest one is my general opposition to change. The conservative in me is coming out, and it’s not in the way HP would like. I simply want to conserve my hometown just as it was when I was a kid… when Hacienda Heights was known more for it’s suburban way of life and large Buddhist temple rather than strip clubs.

First day jitters

I really didn’t want to leave my office in Kerckhoff. Class at 5 pm simply felt like punishment for slacking off last quarter. As if the late start time for class wasn’t bad enough, Chicana/o Studies 178 – Latinas and Latinos and the Law, is held on the other side of campus in Public Policy. As an undergrad I wouldn’t have grumbled about walking from the center of campus to the north end, but when all my classes are located in one building, Moore Hall, having to leave the Moore-Kerckhoff-Ackerman-Student Activities Center (to see el Venado) vicinity doesn’t sit right with me.

Up until 4:45 pm I was on my first of four conference calls this week. Since the meeting ended too late, I had no chance to exploit my laziness and drive my car to Lot 3, much closer to Public Policy. So, I walked.

I arrived to the class room exactly at 6. Two students I know well, Marisela and Daniela, greeted me a bit surprised yet happy, “Cindy!” I would have sat next to them, but the seats around them were taken. I found one toward the back and took a seat.

The young, very handsome man with dark gray slacks and diagonally striped shirt wasn’t a TA. There was something obvious about the fact that Prof R was a new hire. He spoke too softly. His jokes fell flat and he tried hard to make connections with his first set of students. I observed him and his body language. He never stood up straight. He smiled a lot. I scribbled my obersvations, which became a list for reasons to not drop the class. I felt myself develop a mini-crush in record time.

Prof R went over his academic background: undergrad at UCLA; law school at Boalt Hall (Berkeley); and a PhD at UCLA. Then the students launched into their introductions. Almost all were Chicana/o Studies and some other social science and humanities major. Most also cited an interest in law as a profession as one of the reasons for taking the course. As far as I know, I was the only “academic” graduate student in the class, but there were also two 3L’s and two MSW students. As students introduced themselves, he followed up with questions or certain connections to his own research interests or biographic information. After a student from Boyle Heights introduced herself, he mentioned he was born at White Memorial. A half Chinese and Mexican 3L said taking the Latinos and the Law course would help her learn more about her other half. Prof R said, “My mom is Chinese and my dad is Mexican.” When a philosophy major from Compton introduced herself, he added that he and his new fiancee hoped to live in Compton. Damn, my crush vanished in record time. One of the last students to introduce herself said she was from West Covina. Prof R said he was raised in Hacienda Heights.

Dude! That’s my hometown. I was born in East LA too, well Monterey Park which is like 3 centimeters east of East Los. I’m not half Chinese, but I get confused for Asian all the time.

I may have not had a crush on Prof R anymore, but I had a new affinity… the Hacienda Heights connection. Seriously, when I meet people from HH outside of HH — especially Raza — it’s almost as if we become instant best friends. When I got to UCLA eight years ago only one of my new friends knew of HH, and that was because she lived in La Puente, a city just north of HH.