Los Angeles is fascinating because it is a microcosm of the world—L.A. is home to people from more than 140 countries, and many groups, especially Asian and Latin American, have huge, in fact often the second largest, populations in Los Angeles outside of their home countries. This is true for Guatemala. Los Angeles has the largest population of Guatemalans outside of Guatemala.
Once a year from a small botanica shop in the middle of Los Angeles, there is a festival in honor of a Guatemalan Catholic-Mayan folk saint named Maximon or San Simon. Botanicas are small shops where a mixture of Catholicism, spiritualism, occultism and folk healing meet and merge. There are hundreds of them in Southern California, particularly in Latino neighborhoods. Botanicas have an array of spiritual and religious merchandise, candles. incense, various potions and powders, icons and statues. You may buy lotions to ward off evil spirits and powders to keep a spouse from straying.
San Simon is revered as a champion of the poor and dispossessed, and he is represented by a statue of a man dressed in black often wearing a fedora hat, with a cigar in his mouth, sitting in a chair. Worshippers make offerings of liquor and cigarettes to San Simon in exchange for the granting of various favors.
The Los Angeles festival consists of a parade with music and dancing, while San Simon is carried through the streets, followed by a party with tamales and a mariachi band. Transvestites sometimes join the parade. A Queen or Reina is crowned. There is incense and laughter. Participants often wear beautifully embroidered traditional Guatemalan huipil shirts. Very little English is spoken.
I have photographed the festival for many years, starting in 2005. Now I’m one of the regulars. I have made friends, and I march, dance, and eat tamales as I photograph a continuing tradition from one land to the next. And, on that day, in Los Angeles, I am in Guatemala.