Untold Arizona: The History And Future Of The People Of Guadalupe

By Kathy Ritchie
Published: Friday, February 14, 2020 - 6:05am
Updated: Sunday, December 31, 2023 - 12:18pm

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Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church
Sky Schaudt/KJZZ
Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Guadalupe, Arizona.

The town of Guadalupe is wedged between Interstate 10 and the city of Tempe. If you’ve never visited, you’ve most likely zoomed past it. As we continue our Untold Arizona series, we visit the town of Guadalupe.

Guadalupe is tiny, less than 1 square mile. But it’s probably best known for Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church, a smallish white adobe building, not too far from the I-10.

But this story isn’t about that church. This story is about the community, their history and their future.

Valerie Molina is Guadalupe’s mayor. On this day, she’s at the Mercado de Guadalupe, which is like the town square, to celebrate Navided En Guadalupe.

She says Navidad En Guadalupe has been happening since she was a little girl, but this is only the third time the town has partnered with the Pascua Yaqui Tribe.

Molina says about half of the 6,700 residents or so are members of the tribe. The other half identify as Hispanic of Mexican-descent. However, Molina and many others identify as both.

"Myself I am half and half," said Molina. "My father is a member of the Pascua Yaqui tribe, so am I; and my mom is Mexicana. So, I have the best of both worlds."

Kathy Ritchie/KJZZ
Mayor Valerie Molina says Navidad En Guadalupe has been happening since she was a little girl. However, this is only the third time the town of Guadalupe has partnered with the Pascua Yaqui Tribe.

Worlds that, she says, are very similar in some ways, and very different in other ways, like how life events are celebrated, like a wedding or a funeral.

"And we all co-mingle together," she said. "You know, a lot of people think, 'Oh, Guadalupe is a reservation.' But we’re not. Guadalupe is just a regular municipality like everyone else, like Tempe, like Chandler, like Phoenix."

But that wasn’t always so. 

Antonia Campoy is a Pascua Yaqui Tribal Council member. She grew up in Guadalupe.

" Well, since I was a little girl, we used to go out to outhouse, the streets were dirt and our back yard was South Mountain," she said. "It was just desert. We used to go out there and play."

That was before the freeway came through in the 1960s, she says.

But Guadalupe’s history goes back more than 100 years.

"Oh, yes! Guadalupe was actually started by the Yaqui people. We were granted 40 acres by President Woodrow Wilson."

That was in 1914. But the original Salt River Valley Yaqui community was formed in 1904. Though the Yaquis had been in the area even before that, according to Leah Glaser, a history professor at Central Connecticut State University. She wrote her thesis about Guadalupe and the Yaqui people when she was a graduate student at Arizona State University.

Read Leah Glaser's Thesis

So back to those 40 acres. Despite having a presence in Arizona, the tribe did not have a permanent settlement.

"So, so this is all mixed up with you know, Phoenix getting Roosevelt dam and irrigation, "said Glaser. "And the Kent Decree came out, which was a way of establishing what lands were going to be part of the land that was going to be irrigated through Roosevelt Dam."

A mural at Mercado de Guadalupe
Sky Schaudt/KJZZ
A mural at Mercado de Guadalupe in Guadalupe, Arizona.

And the section of land that is now Guadalupe was not part of it.

"It was outside that reclamation area, because it was considered un-irrigable land," she said. "Therefore, un-irragable land in the early 19th and 20th century was considered useless land."

Which meant no farming. No way to acquire real wealth, says Glaser. And that has consequences that linger to this day..

So, let’s circle back to Mayor Molina. She and her Vice Mayor Ricky Vital were first elected four years ago in one of the biggest elections the town had seen.

"I think the community was looking for someone that was not going to be afraid to make the hard choices. And that’s what we’ve been faced with is," said Molina.

Mayor Valerie Molina
Kathy Ritchie/KJZZ
Mayor Valerie Molina and Vice Mayor Ricky Vital. Vital says you can look around and see people who are related to each other or grew up together. In fact, Molina and Vital are cousins.

"We had been in a standstill for so long that it was just like, we need a breath of fresh air to come into the town and make the changes that need to happen and not be afraid of the backlash from the community," said Vital.

Still, change can be scary, even if it’s necessary.

"We hear a lot of well, that’s just how it’s been done," said Molina. "But for us it’s like we understand that’s how it’s been done but is it really benefiting us to do it that way?"

Guadalupe is one of Phoenix’s poorer areas. In fact, this year, the town’s expenses are projected to exceed revenues, according to Guadalupe’s town manager. But Molina and Vital are trying to change that by spurring economic development and forming partnerships with organizations, like Local First Arizona to teach people how to be entrepreneurs. 

"I want the town to be here for 30, 50, 60  years," said Vital. "You know for my grandchildren to be able to say Guadalupe is still their home."

It’s a job that could take years, and its one reason why Vital, along with Vanessa Bustos, run Lutu’uria, a youth organization geared toward kids in middle and high school.

"I think leadership needs to come from within," said Bustos. "A lot of times, in native communities, there’s a trust issue with people on outside who want to impose what they think the community needs, when the community knows what the community needs."

Bustos says every year, Lutu’uria members develop a strategic plan with goals.

"And this year, they have three subcommittees: one is preserving the culture and language, the other one is environment, cleanups, beautification, and the third one is family support," said Bustos.

And the hope is these kids will one day step up and pick up where Molina, Vital and other community members leave off — to preserve what makes Guadalupe so special to the people who live here

Hear The Yaqui Language: 'God be with you all. How are you all?'

Guadalupe, Arizona sign
Sky Schaudt/KJZZ
Guadalupe, Arizona, is now home to about 6,700 residents.
Members of Lutu
Kathy Ritchie/KJZZ
Members of Lutu'uria youth group volunteer at Navidad En Guadalupe. The youth group aims to work with middle and high school students to help them become future leaders.
Vanessa Bustos
Kathy Ritchie/KJZZ
Vanessa Bustos runs Lutu'uria along with Gudalupe's Vice Mayor, Ricky Vital. Bustos says leadership needs to come from within and that's why she and Vital work with Lutu'uria, to help Guadalupe's youth learn valuable leadership skills.
Antonia Campoy
Kathy Ritchie/KJZZ
Antonia Campoy is a member of the Pascua Yaqui Tribal Council. She advocates to preserve the Yaqui language. She says the customs and traditions are woven into the language.
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