The Sonic Trace team is currently embedded with La Burbuja — our portable sound booth — at Santa Cecilia Church in South L.A. Every Sunday we gather dozens of interviews asking people why they left their country of origin, why they stayed in L.A., and about the importance of going back. We also document many of the church’s activities. At Santa Cecilia Church, the clergy allows communities to celebrate mass as they would in their country and village of origin.
January 15 is a huge day for the city of Esquipulas, Guatemala (222km from Guatemala City). It is the day of the Feast of the Black Christ or Cristo Negro. Esquipulas is a city on the border between Honduras and El Salvador, and receives one million pilgrims from Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Mexico every year. It turns out that there are thousands of Black Christ devotees from Guatemala in the heart of Los Angeles, and their abode of worship is Santa Cecilia Church.
Because most Angelenos work during the week, Sunday was the day of the Feast at Santa Cecilia. We arrived at the crack of dawn to find 60 men from the same town in Guatemala crafting and creating the famous ‘alfombras’ of Central America. During religious holidays, entire ‘rugs’ of dyed saw dust are created with stencils and small colanders. These rugs are meant to be stepped on by the people carrying Black Christ from the church into the processions. Months of work destroyed in minutes. The creators consider this a blessing.
Check out our beautiful slideshow:
Photos by Eric Pearse Chávez
The procession started at 2pm. About forty people dressed in black carry the Black Christ out of the church, destroying the ‘alfombra’ or saw dust rug. The music is solemn, as if everyone is mourning. Two blocks ahead of the procession are forty more people dressed in white. They receive El Cristo Negro and walk another two blocks, where forty more people are waiting. This lasts for five hours, and about two miles. The procession is led by the clergy – mayan and mestizo, and the chosen ‘reinas’ or queens that represent a country with their dress and a flag. If the Black Christ conceded you a miracle, the promise is that you have to carry him at least two blocks as part of the procession for seven years.
El Cristo Negro was erected in the Mayan town of Esquipulas in 1595. Legend has it that the artist carved the representation in the image of the Mayans – with dark skin. Others say that the Christ got a dark hue from the incense and millions of candles burned for him every year.
Santa Cecilia Church in Los Angeles is home to the only consecrated replica of the Black Christ brought directly from Esquipulas for Angeleno residents of Guatemalan origin. This is the birth of El Cristo Mojado or the ‘Wetback Christ’. Making, consecrating and bringing the replica was a journey of years for his Angeleno devotees. El Cristo Mojado literally enters the US as an undocumented immigrant.
Hermanito Felix is the first Mayan Deacon ordained in the United States
We interviewed Edgar Mota, the Vice President of the church’s Esquipulas community group. Edgar crossed the Black Christ from Mexico into the United States on his back. He tells us that the replica was made to order from Esquipulas, Guatemala for Santa Cecilia Church in Los Angeles. While at the border of Guatemala and Mexico, they were informed that a representation that size needed ‘papers’ to travel. El Cristo Negro crossed numerous checkpoints in Mexico with ‘mordida‘ – a small fee given to officials to look the other way.
When it reached Tijuana there was a whole group of Angelenos waiting for the Black Christ on the US side. This is when Edgar Mota was asked to cross the replica on his back. Edgar is a US citizen, so at least he could vouch for the undocumented replica. So on his back, Edgar crossed the line from Tijuana into the US, and he says that all the US officials at the border that day, looked the other way.
Edgar didn’t think much of it, until he saw the reaction of the group that was waiting for him in San Diego. Everyone was crying and hugging Edgar. To them, it was a miracle. Just like El Cristo Negro represented the Mayan people of Esquipulas by the color of his skin, El Cristo Mojado represents Guatemalans in Los Angeles by the content of this story.
Sonic Trace is a co-production of Anayansi Diaz-Cortes, KCRW and AIR, created as part of AIR's national Localore production, which has primary support from CPB. Additional Localore funding comes from the Wyncote Foundation, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. The project was co-produced by Zeega, a non-profit inventing new forms of interactive storytelling. Learn more at localore.net.