Six months ago, Alex Khatchadourian traded the seaside suburbs of her Redondo Beach hometown for the bright lights and the big city of downtown Los Angeles.
She was a newcomer in a city just 20 miles away from her own; for weeks she wandered its unfamiliar streets, thrilled by the newness of it all.
Almost immediately she became acutely aware of the omnipresence of La Virgen de Guadalupe, an image painted on storefronts, garage doors, sidewalks, and tree trunks.
One February day, with a view of a Guadalupe mural and a mouthful of deep-fried shrimp taco, the 24-year-old freelance journalist made a plan. She would publish a book as homage to the Guadalupe – an iconic image for myriad races and cultures, one that resonated with her personally as her maternal roots are Catholic and Mexican.
“She’s always been present in my life,” Khatchadourian said of the Guadalupe. “I have a personal connection to her, and she’s such a huge part of Mexican culture in L.A.
“And she’s not just a religious symbol. She’s been an icon for social movements; women used her for feminist movements… Men see her as a motherly figure. There are so many different layers of her. No matter how people interpret her or use her, so many people are connected by a mutual respect for her.”
She set out to cover L.A. on foot, snapping hundreds of photographs of the Guadalupe in her element.
“My mom’s like, ‘What are you doing with your life these days?’ I’m like, ‘I walk around and take pictures,’” Khatchadourian said, laughing.
“L.A. is changing and becoming gentrified, but there’s such a clash between the new and what’s always been there. You go down Sunset [Boulevard] and it’s all cafes and hipsters and Urban Outfitters, but you go down the same street another way and you hit Cesar Chavez and that’s all crowded bus stops and Spanish words on buildings and you see [the Guadalupe] everywhere.”
Her newfound mission led her into art studios and conversations with a former gangster and an elderly man, both of whom are mural artists and painted some of the images she photographed.
“It was cool to connect with people older than me; she’s such a connecting agent,” Khatchadourian said of the Guadalupe.
“We connected through the fact that we were Latin, so already we had that mutual understanding that this is our image, this is from our heritage, this is from our culture. It’s like a secret handshake.”
With help from her friend Jorge Valle-Artiga, a design major at California State Northridge, she designed and published her own 96-page book, entitled Sunset & Cesar Chavez and available online for purchase as of this week.
Khatchadourian grew up in Redondo Beach and studied at University of California Santa Barbara, where she majored in Global Studies, minored in professional writing, and interned at a community newspaper.
She moved home after college and picked up three jobs, but left earlier this year for L.A., where she worked at a publication with an environmental focus before diving into the world of freelance journalism.
Next week she leaves for Boston, where she’ll be studying for a Master’s in publishing and writing, with a long-range goal to one day own a magazine. But first, on Friday night, she’s celebrating Sunset & Cesar Chavez with a launch party at Saint Rocke.
To purchase her book, visit http://www.etsy.com/shop/sunsetandcesarchavez.