The story goes that on the morning of Dec. 9, 1531, on a deserted hill near Mexico City, a man named Juan Diego saw a vision of the Virgin Mary. The mother of Jesus asked that he have a church built on that spot in her honor. Juan Diego wasted no time and hurried to tell the Spanish archbishop his tale, but the cleric did not believe him. Crushed, Juan Diego prayed to the Virgin Mary to send a sign that would prove his story was true. He returned to the spot on the hill where he had originally seen her and was awed to find beautiful roses thriving there. He gathered the roses and brought them to the archbishop, and in the fabric of his cloak where he had carried the roses was burned the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe. The archbishop was convinced and the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe was later built upon the sacred spot on Tepeyac Hill. It has become the most visited Catholic shrine in the world.
Our Lady of Guadalupe is the patron saint of Mexico and every year in early December there are celebrations in her honor. Ettore "Ted" DeGrazia joined in the festivities about 35 years ago when he held a Fiesta de Guadalupe at his art gallery, DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun. DeGrazia died in 1982 but the celebration has continued every year. This year's festival, on Sunday, Dec. 15, will include performances by mariachi bands, a Yaqui deer dancing ceremony and even a Spanish-guitar band, one of whose members is DeGrazia's son.
The Virgin of Guadalupe and his festival honoring her were things that DeGrazia held close to his heart. "The chapel that he built on the gallery grounds is essentially dedicated to the Lady of Guadalupe," says DeGrazia's son, Domingo. "It was something that had a lot of personal meaning to him."
Domingo DeGrazia has been playing with his band at the event for the past five years and says that it's important for him to continue contributing to the festival. "People even today will come up and tell me stories about experiences that they had with my dad," Domingo says. "He had a big impact on people. It's important for me to carry that on and keep the name alive."
Domingo DeGrazia says he and members of his group wrote most of the music they will play at the festival. They have a new album that was just released called Nuance, and they'll be playing at locations in Tucson and Phoenix over the next few weeks. They will play at noon at La Fiesta de Guadalupe.
His father also had close ties with members of the Yaqui tribe living in Tucson. Yaquis, who hold the Virgin of Guadalupe in high regard, have also become a big part of the fiesta. The deer dancing ceremony involves a member of the tribe in full traditional dress, including a set of deer antlers, who will perform a dance incorporating deerlike movements. Members of the Yaqui tribe will also provide traditional Native American food such as fry bread to accompany Mexican dishes that will be offered at the fiesta.
There will also be a Las Posadas procession by students from Carrillo Intermediate Magnet School. The procession is a re-enactment of Joseph and Mary's search for lodging in Bethlehem on the night Mary gives birth to Jesus.
"The entertainment is wonderful; the food is great; the whole thing is a really enjoyable day. And what's amazing about it is that it's free," says Lance Laber, executive director of the DeGrazia Foundation. "It's just one of the things we do for the community. There are a lot of people who come from out of town who really aren't aware of the culture of this part of the country and we want to share it with these people."