One of the fascinating things to me about Southern Arizona has always been the small shrines. You see them in the most unexpected places, often natural rock grottos; but they can be right in the middle of town. Most are mixes of folk art, religious symbols, plastic flowers, candles, superstition, mythology, and faith. Sometimes families put them up and other times whoever did is shrouded in the mists of time or a desire to be anonymous.
One that I went looking for a few years ago was El Tiradito in the barrio south of downtown Tucson. I was writing an historic tale of a woman who would have lived in Tucson in the 1880s. In looking for what might have been there, I came across the story of this shrine and where it was to be found.
The stories behind El Tiradito are many, but the general ingredients are an illicit love affair, an angry husband, a knife, and a murdered lover who was buried at El Tiradito-- which means the Castaway or Fallen One-- since he had died in sin and could not be buried in consecreated ground. In all stories, the woman grieved for her lost love and went to the place he had been buried, lighting candles and weeping. Some nights, there are those who claim you can still hear her weeping.
Some years back, the shrine had to be moved to its current site, and nobody is quite sure if the body buried beneath it was moved also. Here it now stands, officially on the National Register of Historic sites and the only one dedicated to a sinner. Through the years, it has become a place for supplicants to come, light candles and pray-- most especially those with lost loves perhaps. The myth is that if you light your candle at dusk and it burns until dawn, your wish will come true.
I have never lit a candle nor prayed at any of these shrines because despite the fact I find them fascinating, I also am never quite sure what spiritual power might be operating there-- maybe I have read too much Edgar Allen Poe.
When I saw this small figure of the old woman, I read the words pinned to the front of her dress. "I am a mother with layers of memories I wish to share. Lift this layer and touch my life." Touch my life, huh? I left the touching for someone else.
Currently those, who are concerned over the many who have died in the desert crossing into the United States and want to see humanitarian aid remain free, are using this site for a booth explaining their cause and concerns.
The first time I went looking for El Tiradito, I found another shrine and didn't realize it was not the one with the stories. I still don't know what the one I found was there for, nor if it has a name as all you see is it in the middle of a gravel lot, a bench in front of it to sit and pray, and of course, the candles that are always part of these shrines. It's about a block or so from El Tiradito and this trip to Tucson, I visited them both.