Leopo: Two Sides of a Mirror: Santa Ana and Michoacán


Mexico is a country that is abundant in sugar cane and I saw it used as an offering in a religious procession in Mexico honoring the town saint: Santiago Azajo. Sugar cane is very easy to grow taking only 10-12 months to harvest. In 2000, my grandfather planted a crop in his own Santa Ana backyard and cut generous portions with his prized machete. Although it was very tricky to suck the juice out with our mouths, my grandfather showed us his techniques he learned back in Mexico.

Julie Leopo

An enterprising and award-winning photojournalist in Orange County and beyond. Leopo, as Voice of OC’s Director of Photography, has captured a wide array of photographs visually documenting the news and soul of Orange County local government and community. Her work has also appeared in Vice, KCET, Ed Source, The California Endowment and OC Weekly.

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I am often confronted by two colliding worlds: Santa Ana, my hometown and Mexico, my parents’ motherland.  Born to Mexican parents from Michoacán and navigating life as a first-generation child, I live on both sides of the border.

Santa Ana and Michoacán are very much alike. And with every ensuing trip to my parent’s homeland over the years, I’ve realized something too often missing from our national debate on immigration.

Places like Santa Ana and Michoacán, might seem like two very different worlds but on a daily basis the two places are mirrors of each other and often even seem come together as one.


Religión | Religion

Santo Santiago Apostle Parish is located in Azajo, Michoacán. This pueblo is located in the mountains of Michoacán with a 98 percent indigenous population. Grandmothers are usually the religious foundation of the family and I find them to be very pious and God-fearing women, bringing their grandchildren to mass.


Calle Viendo | Street Vendor

In open air markets in Mexico you can easily find corn in a cup filled with an array of topping such as: mayonnaise, salt, chili powder, butter and grated cheese. In Santa Ana’s residential neighborhoods you can find these delicacies as well. Your taste buds can be easily awakened on a late afternoon by the vendors’ grito or ringing bell, prompting you out of your house with dollar bills in hand.


Paleta | Helado

Mexican ice-cream is notorious for its freshness— in flavor and process. A traditional Mexican paleta will always be made in-house. Two options are always readily available: a water or cream based ice-cream. Located in South Main in Santa Ana, you can find this gem, or if you’re so inclined you can purchase one in Patzcuaro, Michoacán, both businesses bearing the same name and but are completely unrelated.


Pintura | Painting

The corridors of the Latino Business district in southern Santa Ana echoes a small town in Patzcuaro. A young girl plays with her mother’s paintings she sells to visiting tourists. Mirroring her, a child marvels at her mother’s freshly painted mural in front of her business in Santa Ana.


Venta | Sale

The entrepreneurial spirit in Mexican culture plays out in the street corners of Santa Ana and a small highway in Comanja, Michoacán.


Mariscos | Seafood

Mariscos, a Spanish word for seafood, sell many raw and cooked dishes typically served with a side lemon and a house salsa. They can be found in the busy strip malls of Santa Ana, just like this cart found in the bustling town plaza in Michoacán. Many of these restaurants host live bandas that play boisterous music with tubas and snare drums.


Guía Espiritual | Spiritual Guide

In the Mexican community the Virgen de Guadalupe is considered a spiritual guide and a reminder of the sacrifices a mother makes more her children. La Patrona of all Mexico.  On the left hand side, you can see the women of Comanja have spray painted the aura of La Virgen onto a wall. In Santa Ana a resident decorates their home in lights with an altar honoring the presence of The Virgen of Guadalupe.


Familia | Family

A strong family bond is showcased on the walls of two Latino homes.


Vestido | Dress

In Azajo, Michoacán, a pueblo an hour away from Morelia, children dress in traditional clothing that honor the town Saint: Santiago Azajo. They engage in a dance taught by the town dance teacher.  In Santa Ana, a child is dancing at Bowers museum, carefully retracing the steps crafted by her dance instructor. The aesthetics of the ensemble are curated to celebrate each occasion.

Julie Leopo is a contributing photographer to Voice of OC.