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Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe tradition lives on in H.B. neighborhood despite death of mother who inspired it

A Mexican tradition based on faith and love for the Virgin of Guadalupe continues in Huntington Beach’s Oak View neighborhood despite the death of the woman who inspired her daughter to start it.

“I feel really happy knowing we’re continuing what my wife started,” Leonides Rodriguez said Saturday as he watched his daughters and daughter-in-law prepare spices and condiments to make mole poblano for the annual Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe celebration on Tuesday night and Wednesday in Oak View, a predominantly Latino neighborhood bounded by Warner and Talbert avenues and Gothard Street and Beach Boulevard.

Rodriguez’s wife, Gabriela Garcia, usually made the mole as a gift for volunteers who help make 1,000 tamales for the feast. But her five daughters are now tasked with the responsibility after Garcia died last year of liver problems.

“My mom inspired me to start this tradition here in 1998,” Norberta Rodriguez said in Spanish. “Ours is the main altar that started it all.”

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Neighborhood residents shut down their streets for the religious observance, which is celebrated Dec. 12 to commemorate the appearance of the Virgin of Guadalupe to the peasant Juan Diego in 1531.

People are invited to visit the area to see each resident’s altar for the Virgin of Guadalupe. The event also features mariachis, Aztec and Chinelo dancers and free food such as tamales and mole. Men are in charge of building the altars, while women prepare the food.

Many residents travel to the Basilica of Guadalupe, a church in Mexico City, to honor their Virgen Morena. But the trip isn’t always feasible for some.

The Rodriguez family devoted the day Saturday to cooking the labor-intensive mole paste while others drove to the Flower District in downtown Los Angeles to buy flowers to present as offerings to the virgin.

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The family fried chile de árbol, plantains, cinnamon, almonds, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, cumin and about 20 more ingredients before it was all ground into a paste.

Four of the sisters took turns churning the grinders as they reminisced about their mother and their traditions while Spanish gospel music played in the background. They joked how Norberta was smart enough to jot down their mother’s recipe.

“We’re all having a good time,” Norberta said. “The important thing is we’re not losing our tradition.”

Leonides and his wife moved into their apartment on Queens Lane in Huntington Beach in 1982 after arriving from Puebla, Mexico. The altar in front of their apartment is known in the community as the first created for the celebration.

On Tuesday, the Rodriguezes’ altar took up nearly the entire front yard. It showcased more than five religious statues and framed photos of the Virgin of Guadalupe while poinsettias and colorful perforated paper decorated the area.

Not all the religious artifacts belong to the family — neighbors often ask Leonides if they can display theirs on his altar.

Family members and neighbors rushed Tuesday to finish making the tamales in time for the evening’s festivities.

The Rodriguez living room was turned into a work station where neighbors helped shred pork, cut apart 20 whole chickens and prepare about 300 pounds of masa for the tamales. Others washed and soaked corn husks in water.

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Despite the rush, the dozen volunteers and family members were smiling and laughing.

Rosario Rojas, who lives a street over from the Rodriguezes, has known Leonides since they both lived in Mexico. She smiled as she saw the unity in her community.

“This is all just a reminder of our beloved Mexico,” she said.

Priscella.Vega@latimes.com

Twitter: @vegapriscella


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