By Libertad González
For the past several months, local youth built benches on the side wall of a popular restaurant and worked alongside street musicians to create a space where people could identify and hire them. This spot, that includes a shrine for Saint Cecilia, was inaugurated on Thursday on the feast day of the patroness of musicians.
On the Chicago Street wall of El Apetito restaurant, on the corner of César Chávez Avenue, conjunto and norteño musicians gathered to celebrate the inauguration of the shrine that they will use to identify their working spot.
“We’re putting Santa Cecilia here in time to celebrate her feast day,” said Serfafín Mendoza, a conjunto musician who often uses the spot to get work and who spearheaded a grassroots movement to build the shrine. “She is the patron saint of all musicians in the world… and we want to create new jobs opportunities to live better, because we depend on music to live.”
For over 30 years, musicians who perform the accordion based music of Northern Mexico, playing also a bass guitar and drum kit to form the lineup known as conjunto, have gathered on that corner of Chicago and César Chávez where they are picked up to play at weddings, quinceañeras and other parties.
“This is where you get work,” said Pánfilo Ibarra Parga, who took time off from selling musical instruments to help collect funds for the shrine. “This is where musicians come and where people come to hire musicians and take them to go play.”
Local musicians donated part of the money they earn to help raise funds. To get the project going, they partnered with the tenants’ rights organization Unión de Vecinos and Shared Spaces, a community-based landscape architecture and planning organization. These two organizations have formed Boyle Heights Builders, a group that involves local youth in building projects.
The construction of the altar took as long as ten months, starting in February, with volunteers working only on Saturday mornings. Their goal was to get it done in time to sing the traditional “Mañanitas” to Saint Cecilia at midnight on November 22.
From that point on and throughout Thursday, musicians gathered around the new shrine and brought flowers to their patroness. A community celebration was held in the late afternoon, with area residents enjoying hot plates of pozole and drinking warm atole with pan dulce.
Steve Rasmussen Cancian, a principal with Shared Spaces and member of Unión de Vecinos, joined in the festivities. ”The capilla being here makes this a better place for current residents,” he said.
Youth reporter Libertad González is a junior at Bravo Medical Magnet in Boyle Heights.