Expressions of hope

Roadside shrines along Arizona state and U.S. highways

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Downtown Tucson's El Tiradito shrine commemorates a sinner, rather than petitioning a saint. There are several versions of the story of El Tiradito, which means "little outcast" or "little castaway." The most common one takes place in the late 1800s, when Juan Oliveros, a young shepherd, is said to have become infatuated with his mother-in-law. Their adulterous love affair was discovered by the woman's husband. Enraged, he murdered Oliveros. The youth's dalliance in one of the seven deadly sins prevented his inclusion in the local cemetery. Instead, he was buried where he was killed, and the shrine was erected at that site.

The present adobe shrine, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, was built a few blocks from the original after it was abandoned to a street-widening project in the 1940s. Over the years, the shrine has become a focal point for Tucson residents in times of need. It's not unusual to find several people at the shrine, praying or lighting candles.

Another version of the roadside shrine is found in home gardens, typically in Hispanic neighborhoods in Tucson and other southern Arizona communities. The majority are small, personal, and tucked into a corner of the yard, but a few are located in front of the house, facing outward toward the street. Between Tubac and Tumacácori, the community of Carmen has several outward-facing yard shrines, which are constructed of everything from red brick to concrete block and sliding glass doors. According to local custom, if the shrine faces the street, you're welcome to visit.

That philosophy is applicable to most visible shrines, whether they're in a yard or next to a highway. As Licano says about his shrine, "Everyone is welcome here. It's a place for anyone who believes."

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