MOTHER OF ALL MEXICO
by Judy King
Strolling through street markets, browsing
the tourist stalls, visitors to all parts of Mexico see
mountains of goods featuring the image of the Virgin of
Guadalupe. As tourists observe the impossibly colorful
image repeated endlessly on caps, T-shirts, key chains,
sequined appliqués, mud flaps, decals, bibs, murals,
bumper stickers, tiles, candles, religious art, mirrors
and tattoos they judge the situation to be clever marketing
providing a popular talisman for the poor and uneducated.
While most understand the vulgarizing of
a popular local icon to promote sales, they quickly dismiss
La Virgen as an amusing bit of folklore. They view the
image of the Virgin decorated with bunting and artificial
flowers, hanging in homes, stores, churches and even modern
factories at the end of each production line as a quaint
bit of foreign custom or superstition.
By brushing aside the Virgin and all she
represents as tacky commercialism, guests to Mexico are
ignoring an important opportunity to begin to understand
what is in the hearts, minds and souls of the Mexican
IS A COMMON DENOMINATOR
When anthropologists search for a common bond, for the
thing that gives Mexicans their national identity, they
have to reject the usual concepts. Language did not unite
Mexico, as 117 dialects were deciphered by 1575. Ethnic
background didn’t provide a bond, not in a country
of people who have evolved from raping Spanish fathers,
enslaved Indian mothers, with a goodly number of Austrians,
French, Germans, Irish, Black, and Chinese added during
the ensuing centuries. The geography of this land ranges
from tropical seacoasts to grand mountains, huge deserts
and mountain mesas. Certainly neither class structure
and education, nor occupations nor politics serve to bring
the people together as a whole. Even the vast majority
of the country served by the Catholic Church find that
alone does not make them brothers.
grocery store candle.
Truly, the Virgin of Guadalupe is the rubber
band that binds this disparate nation into a whole. She
is the common denominator of this land, it is she giving
Mexicans a sense of Nationalism, and Patriotism. Their
brotherhood comes from the strength of intense faith rooted
in indigenous attributes, images, symbols, magic and myth.
The focus of this intense faith revolves around Our Lady,
La Virgen Maria de Guadalupe, the mother of God who appeared
in Mexico in 1531.
SHE IS THE
CRADLE OF MEXICANISM
Beginning to understand the intense relationship between
Mexicans and La Virgen is to begin to understand the people
of this great and confusing nation of contrasts
In ten years of oppression by the Spaniards,
the Indians had been worn down, their spirit was broken,
but relatively few had been baptized as Christians. Even
those who had been converted to Catholicism missed the
closeness of worshipping their own gods. They were separated
from the Gods that belonged to them, that looked like
them. They felt orphaned by their gods, and then adopted
into a religion where they didn’t feel they belonged.
When the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe appeared, brown skinned,
and speaking a local language, they again had an object
of worship that was their very own. She was a shield of
the weak, help of the oppressed, the mother of orphans.
The appearance of Guadalupe on Tepeyac,
the site of the destroyed Aztec temple of Tonantzin, the
Mother Earth Goddess restored the dignity and the spirit
of the people. Her arrival is said to mark the birth of
a new land and a new people, neither European nor prehispanic,
but both, the first product of the New World. Even her
physical appearance announced the newness of this world,
for her face looked neither like the Spanish nor the Indian.
Her lovely features are the pleasant mixture of both -
she is a Mestizo, the first Mexican.
Chicana writer Gloria Anzaldua writes, "She
is like my race - a synthesis of the old world and the
new, of the religion and culture of the two races in our
psyche, the conquerors and the conquered."
IS NOT JUST ABOUT THE CHURCH - SHE IS MEXICO
Curiously, the power of belief in the Virgin of Guadalupe
has little to do with membership or attendance in the
church. In fact, it is said that while 89 of 100 Mexicans
are Catholic, it is certain that 100 of 100 Mexicans are
Guadalupanas, devotees to the Virgin.
Octavio Paz, Mexican thinker, writer and
Nobel prize recipient said, "When Mexicans no longer
believe in anything, they will still hold fast to their
belief in two things: the National Lottery and the Virgin
of Guadalupe. In this I think they will do well. For both
have been known to work, even for those of us who believe
The Virgin IS Mexico - fiesta and fervor,
food and devoted song, dance and penance. She is the image,
the icon that gave birth to a nation and that is the cornerstone
of national pride and strength, a symbol of the homeland.
IS A SYMBOL OF THE HOMELAND, PATRIOTISM, NATIONALISM
It has been said that from the moment of her appearance,
Guadalupe was a time bomb moving steadily through three
centuries to explode into a call for freedom from the
oppression of Spain. It was the image of Guadalupe in
1810 that graced the banners of Padre Miguel Hidalgo y
Costilla, father of Mexican Independence, as he led the
country through 10 years of war for liberty.
The first president of the Republic, Felix
Fernandez changed his name to the very symbolic Guadalupe
In 1859 when the government of the first
Indian president, Benito Juarez divided church and state,
the only remaining religious holiday in the country was
December 12, the Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe. The fierce
Battle of 5th of May against the French was waged and
won at the Hill of Guadalupe, site of the Virgin’s
Is it any wonder, then, that while in other
countries, the First Lady of the land is the wife of the
President or Ruler, the Virgin of Guadalupe is the First
Lady of Mexico, Mother of all Mexicans and Queen of the
QUEEN OF THE AMERICAS
Guadalupe followed the Mexicans north as they settled
the northern reaches of their country, areas that later
became the United States. She remained at their side after
the Mexican American War, when they were strangers in
a strange land.
Today, 150 years later, she continues to
accompany Mexicans as they cross the border. She remains
the most powerful Chicana icon for Mexicans on the other
side. Generations after the immigration of a family to
the U.S., grandchildren, great-grandchildren treasure
the presence of the Virgin, and recognize her as Mother
of all Mexicans.
Even on the U.S. side, Guadalupe’s
values and strengths continue to inspire her children
toward change, fulfillment and honor. In the 1970’s
United Farm Workers' head Cesar Chavez carried the banner
of Guadalupe in his relentless struggle for economic justice
for migratory workers.
Chavez and the UFW co-founder Dolores Huerta
worked under the slogan "Si se puede" and the
patronage of the Virgin, "She is a symbol of faith,
hope and leadership," says Huerta.
"She has been incorporated into everything
we do," Huerta added. "If she’s not there,
you notice her absence right away." Today Mexican
American women in Mexico and the United states are seeing
Our Lady of Guadalupe in a new light, using her to demand
and expect more from themselves, their jobs, their homes
and their communities. Guadalupe is certainly up for this
new role, as one woman said, "The virgin transcends
all things. She is strength, and she is beauty, and she
is wisdom and compassion."
She is the symbol of ethnic identity, uniting
people of different races, religions and languages. She
manifests, symbolizes and activates the power of the people.
She is a cultural symbol of justice, unconditional love,
union, belonging, family, home.
MOTHER OF MEXICANS
Guadalupe is Mother to ALL Mexicans, not just the struggling,
or the poor or the immigrant. She is there for the wealthy
as well as the desperate. She is equally important to
the new President of the land as the campesino picking
chiles. The junior league and the aged widows in striped
rebozos come together on their knees. The gang members
and the attorneys find the Virgin their common ground.
Her devotees cross all lines of economics,
social standing, and education. Her image hangs around
necks on fine gold chains and on rawhide with the same
tenderness and depth of emotion and devotion. Her face
adorns the silver key chains of high performance vehicles
and upscale businesses and homes. With the same pride
it is tied on a piece of string to the lead rope of a
Victor Villasenor, grandson of Mexican immigrants
to the United States, wrote the story of his family, their
life in Mexico, their struggle leaving the country during
the revolution and their triumphs in California. In "Rain
of Gold" he helps outsiders start to understand the
one-on-one, member-of-the-family relationship Mexicans
have with the Virgin when he tells of his grandmother
taking a small glass of whiskey, and her cigarettes to
the outhouse each morning, "To have a little talk
with the Virgin."
in San Felipe chapel.
Huerta, who raised 11 children alone during
the very difficult UFW years speaks for millions
of Mexicans in many conditions when she says, "I
don’t think I could have survived without her."
Another Mexican said, "Everywhere I
go, she is my guide, infusing me with a power that says,
"Si se Puede" (Yes it can be done)"
The always alert and in-charge face of a
fiery Mexican woman who spent most of her working years
in Hollywood softens, tears fill her eyes, when she speaks
of the miracles that have occurred in her family thanks
to the Virgin.
Asking most Mexicans what Guadalupe means
to them draws incredulous stares and blank looks. They
cannot fathom anyone NOT knowing the joy, help and love
the Virgin brings to them.
It has never occurred to Guadalupanas that
others could see the image as flat and tacky, a two dimensional
piece of religious art. They cannot believe that others
are missing out on the unconditional love that makes the
Virgin multi-dimensional, alive, and a very real part
of the family. She is, after all, their mother;
she is always there, waiting to be consulted, waiting
to be consoling, waiting to listen, waiting to speak,
to enfold them in her arms, to pull them on to her lap.
In times of joy, Mexicans turn first to
light a candle of thanksgiving in front of her image,
in the church or in their home. In the darkest despair,
her candles light their way. Whether hoping to win a soccer
game, a huge contract or the hand of their intended, their
petitions and thoughts are always to the Virgin, who has
helped so many times before.
World famous singer/song writer Juan Gabriel
said, "I saw the Virgin of Guadalupe in Extramadura,
Spain, and our Mexican one is better looking. I think
I am in love with the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe."
Recently when a Mexican businessman was
asked about his feelings for Our Lady, he paused, took
a deep breath, and with a voice deep with emotion, stated,
"I love her." No actor in any love scene ever
stated those three words with more meaning.
On her special day, December 12, all of
Mexico, and all Mexican sons and daughters on the other
side gather for the celebration of the Virgin. An endless
parade of pilgrims from the country’s four points
appear at her Basilica with their flowers, songs, chants
and prayers. They stream in processions led by indigenous
dancers, to every church named for her. Wreaths of flowers
adorn the signs of streets, neighborhoods, and towns bearing
her name. Religious orders, churches and the millions
of men, women, boys and girls named for her are especially
joyous, as they share her special day.
The nation releases an immense sign of tenderness
and experiences a profound expression of Mexican roots
and essence and love for Our Lady, Virgen Maria de Guadalupe.
(Typical of the contrasts found in Mexico,
devotees can now email petitions to Our Lady of Guadalupe
at: email@example.com. The prayers of thanksgiving
and petitions for assistance are printed out by a devoted
researcher of the history of the Virgin and the miracles
of her image. He then takes the emails to lay at her feet,
free and confidentially. Once a month, also freely, a
mass will be celebrated asking for all who have sent her
their prayers, on the very spot when she appeared 530
If you enjoyed Judy's article, don't miss
her new monthly magazine Living at Lake Chapala...Mexico
Makes Sense, available now at http://www.mexico-insights.com/.