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In the Heart of Tucson 

La Pilita is a window to the past.

One block south of the Tucson Community Center at Main and Simpson in Barrio Viejo sits the tiny museum La Pilita. It's as if the power of the prayers whispered at El Tiradito wishing shrine spill over from next door.

Sandwiched between the shrine and a park built in one day in 1980 thanks to neighborhood activist Bertha Santacruz, La Pilita has served as a home, restaurant and neighborhood center. One of its missions is to encourage students to research, capture and share local history. "If you set your mind to it, you can learn a lot about the people who came before," says Steve, a fifth-grade docent-in-training.

Neighboring Carrillo School provides students like master docent Terra, who helped plant marigolds for the upcoming Dia de Los Muertos celebration. She created an interpretive kit to explain the fountain covered in tiles created by students 22 years ago. That may seem like ancient history to most fifth graders, but master docent Ismael can tell about generations of people attracted to the area because of El Ojito, the "little eye," a spring that once bubbled to the surface supplying water to Hohokam, Spanish soldiers, settlers and later the lakes of Carrillo Gardens and bathhouses of Elysian Grove.

La Pilita's gallery currently presents historic and children's photos of the barrio. A shop opens Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:45 a.m. until noon, and Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 2:45 to 3:30 p.m.

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