Stella Pope Duarte

Alley turns into symbol of love

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The alley, el callejón, next to my mother’s house played an important role in the Sonorita Barrio in South Phoenix. It was more than just an alley for garbage cans, broken wine bottles and discarded furniture and appliances. It was a mini highway, a path through our barrio, leading to other callejones, which formed an intricate maze of dusty, foot-worn paths that led to places important to barrio residents. Places like Wong’s Market, Fay’s, Chico’s Bar, Gray’s Service Station, the brickyard, the bus stop, St. Anthony’s Church, Memorial Hospital and Harmon Park. You could walk down los callejones all day long and wave to neighbors tending flowers in their backyards or sitting outside under patios. Men tinkered with their cars, women hung out their wash, kids played on makeshift seesaws, and once in a while you would retrieve a baseball for a would-be Little Leaguer who had just scored a homerun.

Walking down los callejones was like taking the scenic path through a world owned and operated by residents who shared three things in common: a hard life, the will to survive and faith to get them through each day. You had to have all three to live in a place that mainstream America counted as worthless, and where property values were nil.

The Sonorita Barrio was described as one of the worst slum areas in Phoenix, according to a news story that ran in the 1960s. After watching a film clip of the barrio on television and even picking out various homes she knew, “la casa de la changa,” and others, my mother asked me “What is a slum?”

I told her, “Ma, that’s where poor people live.”

Pobrecitos,” she sighed.” “Let’s go help them.”

“Ma, it’s us!” I replied, and watched a look of shock come over her face. In her mind, we had all we needed as a family; my dad worked at the lumberyard and we were NOT on welfare. So what was the problem? Lesson No. 1 from a mom who only went through third grade: DO NOT ever let anyone tell you who you are! You tell them who you are by the way you live, by your love, and by your actions. Poverty, like beauty and love, is in the eye of the beholder.

El callejón played another mysterious and miraculous role in my personal life, as it became the place where my mother, Rosanna Pope, had a vision. One dark night, as she walked out into el callejón to throw out trash, she saw a most wondrous thing. On the telephone pole, right before her eyes, hung Christ on the cross, outlined in a bright, unearthly light. Unwilling to take her eyes off the vision, my mother walked backwards all the way to the kitchen door of our house. My mother repeated the story numerous times to family members, and each time with the same passion.

Some may ask, did she truly see Christ on the cross in that dark alley?  And the answer will remain unknown. However, the memory of the vision and the amazing light remained with my mother until her death. Many years later, as she lay dying, she again related seeing a light – a bright light that did not hurt her eyes. Then, in a spark of revelation, she identified it as the same light she had seen in el callejón so many years ago, and described the light as pure love, and as possessing “love for each and every person.”

With this memory, shared by my mother, el callejón became for me more than just a place for trash, discards, and a site for local winos to gather under the tamarisk trees. It was a symbol, poor and unsung, dark and lonely, that defied the world of power and money with a simple tale of love.

Stella Pope Duarte was born and raised in South Phoenix. She began her writing career  in 1995 after she had a dream in which her deceased father told her that her destiny was to become a writer. Her work has won awards and honors nationwide.

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