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December 14, 2010 / Megan Taros

The importance of La Virgen de Guadalupe in Latino culture

The Virgen de Guadalupe is a significant cultural staple set in place by the Spanish about accounts of sightings and other miracles.

While some Latino holidays such as Day of the Dead are based in long-lasting traditions of the indigenous people of Latin America, the Spanish succeeded in implementing their ideals into Latino culture. Dec. 12 marks the birthday of the Virgen de Guadalupe.

Guadalupe began appearing in Mexico during 1519-1521, which was the Spanish Conquest. In order to gain Aztec cooperation, the Spanish merely transformed Aztec gods, in this instance, the “mother god,” into one of their own (La Virgen de Guadalupe). The story that began inspiring devotion to her, however, is the story of Juan Diego. The story tells of a poor native man who goes to the top of the hill and sees the apparition of the Virgen, who then instructs him to bring flowers, created when she brings a dead rose bush to life, to his local church. When he arrives at the church, he is met with hostility, and as he is forced out, he drops the roses. What he reveals, however, is the image of la Virgen on his clothes. Since then, La Virgen has been a powerful symbol for other events in Latino history, such as “El Grito de Dolores,” initiated by Miguel Hidalgo, which started the Mexican Revolution. The cry being: “Death to the Spaniards and long live the Virgen de Guadalupe.”

The story of this miracle even garnered it a church in Mexico City, called la Basilica, which is a huge space with several churches and a statue called “La Ofrenda” (The Offering), featuring a few native people presenting offerings to the Virgen who is gazing upon them. Each year, thousands of Latinos from across the world crowd the area of la Basilica in order to worship her, some praying, some crawling on their knees, and famous performers dancing and singing traditional songs. The influx of devout worshipers is awe-inspiring to say the least, with hundreds of people on a sometimes painful pilgrimage through the streets and cobblestone of Mexico City, scraping their knees in offering of her.

The way I always remembered la Virgen was as a picture in my mother’s room. Before flights, long drives and during holidays, my mother would pick me up and tell me to touch her hands in the picture and silently ask her for peace and safety. For most, she is regarded as the guardian of women and children, so even as I grew up, she is still something I attach to culturally. I have countless images of her, ranging from statues, to photos to bottle openers to earrings and even a keychain I carry that reads “Cuidame, madre mia” (Take care of me, my mother). Even for men, because she is a mother figure, she often used to curb violence and ignite a sense of respect in them. Often times in Mexico, especially near problem areas for crime, she is painted on buildings, with sayings such as: “Would you hurt me, your mother?” or “Please do not graffiti, for I am protecting you.”

People often believe she is used to oppress the people, guilting them through adamant emphasis of religion. While I understand where this idea could come from, the feeling brought about by la Virgen is nothing short of love and admiration. She brings tears to the eyes of many Latinos and statues and photos of her keep loving, watchful eyes on one’s house or business. For me, having something of a patron saint specifically for my gender feels empowering. No longer is religion about the power of a man, and la Virgen honors the idea that “the mother of God is God, for without her He would not be.” Even now, as a college student not much interested in religion or quite the follower of the church, my culture draws me to her. Although the Bible is something of  a sexist book, preaching ideas of motherhood that “must” be fulfilled as a woman’s duty and a “man’s right,” today la Virgen has been a symbol for independent women. She is someone a Latina can admire and love, without being coerced into biblical practices. The fact is, la Virgen is so prominent in Latin America, that she is as much as staple of Latin life and culture as she is religion.

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December 14, 2010 / Megan Taros

Precita Eyes in the Mission District shows love of murals

Murals, the traditional Latino art form executed by artists like Diego Rivera, have been significant to the Latino culture for years. Precita Eyes is a place in the Mission District, a neighborhood in San Francisco rich with murals that does tours, sells supplies, offers expertise and classes to the community. It is also a non-profit organization for the continuation and preservation of murals. In the video, tour guide and muralist Patrica Rose talks about her experience as an artist in the community. Watch the video here.

November 30, 2010 / Megan Taros

Tea Party, beware! It’s time for some tequila and lime with those politics!

Tequila and lime lined up

The proposed Latino breakaway political party, the "Tequila Party," leaves us all wondering just that--are we ready?

Yes, it’s true! In light of the skyrocketing notoriety of the Tea Party, there’s a new group looking to steal the spotlight. The story starts in Nevada,  and was broken by the Las Vegas Sun. This new group, the Tequila Party, is being proposed by Latinos (at this point, primarily in Nevada) who are disgruntled with the Democratic Party’s inaction toward immigration reform. At the same time, Latinos are angry at Latino Republican counterparts for marginalizing the community, but calling for their vote yet “turning away” on what they believe to be important Latino issues. The Sun’s article sites the case of Gov.-elect Brian Sandoval, who reached out to Latino voters while simultaneously supporting Arizona’s immigration bill. As of yet, it is unclear if this movement will be entirely a grassroots campaign or if this “Tequila Party” will work with the Democratic Party as Tea Partiers, whose victories were generally hit-and-miss before aligning with the GOP, do with the Republican Party.

Now the next question being asked is: Will this be successful? Considering the power of the Latino vote, which helped tip the scales toward Obama in many states, if enough Latinos get on board, this could be a significant stepping stone, not only for progress, but for the much-needed unification of all Latinos. At this stage, with a staggering drop in Latino votes (only about 18 percent in previous elections in California, not including the presidential of 2008) and even encouragement over Latino inaction (see my previous post), unity may be just what we need. After all, cutesy, sentimental quotes from Jerry Brown about liking Mexicans and Mexican food and harsh, ignorant jibes by those like Meg Whitman, it’s no wonder apathy is looking sweet. Joining together may be a jarring force the Latino community needs to stand up for itself and become more informed about how this country’s policies affect (or even hurt) them.

The downside, however, is with the increased prejudice toward Latinos since Arizona’s immigration law came into play, or even the perceived increase in prejudice, it could lead to an even greater backlash against Latinos by those against immigration reform. It could create this idea that Latinos are fighting against the country, instead of trying to stand alongside it. After all, the third comment on the Sun’s article about this new party reads as follows:

Good idea here! If the Latinos have their own party, perhaps the communist-er Democrat-party can be stamped out and buried in history! Those Latino immigrants who don’t want to assimilate into American culture and become true Americans should have their own political party. — “Richard Hopkins”

Already we see the idea of the anti-American Latino trying to run amok. Trying to take such a risk is definitely liable to garner these consequences, which could lead to the failure of the party as well as giving those against Latino reform issues a “reason” to keep fighting against them. Not to mention, the name itself, the “Tequila Party,” isn’t exactly serious and quite frankly, a little racist, even coming from a Latino. If we can’t get people to see we mean business from the get-go, we’re dead in the water. After all, the unification of Latinos for the sake of our rights and issues should be respectful. I don’t know about anyone else, but the last time tequila was in my life, I didn’t see anything respectful going on. As a commentor by the name of “mred” noted as well, “Tequila is a Mexican beverage, not a Latino beverage.” The group must also beware to not slant its attitude more favorably to any one subset of Latino, and be about all Latinos–not just the ones people are “comfortable” with.

That said, I believe the only point left to be made is to Mr. Hopkins, who commented about Latino “assimilation.” American culture is all about the public finding a means for political and cultural expression. If this isn’t positive assimilation, I don’t know what is.

November 29, 2010 / Megan Taros

Day of the Dead mends race relations for one woman

Mom and daughter with painted faces at Day of the Dead festival

A mother and her daughter show off their Day of the Dead face paint at the Mission Cultural Center during its Day of the Dead celebration on Nov. 2.

This year, I went on a new Day of the Dead adventure–exploring the Mission District with some friends and friends of theirs. A woman named Emily Steffensen–pale, blue-eyed blonde–who attended with us began talking to me about her favorite day of the year: Dia De Los Muertos. Steffensen has lived in Mexico, specifically Playa Del Carmen, a few months at a time for study abroad and has found a deep connection with the Latino culture. The celebration we attended was put on by the Marigold Project and is hosted by the Mission Cultural Center. While she and I found a few shortcomings in San Francisco’s version of the event, both of us being bigger fans of Olvera Street’s annual display, in this soundslide, she discusses her relationship with the Mexican culture and why she, despite not being the “usual suspect” for good race relations with Latinos, finds comfort and joy in it.

November 16, 2010 / Megan Taros

Column: Illegal immigration and the need to act “legal”

My mother standing next to a fallen tree

My mother standing next to a fallen tree at the botanical gardens during our trip to Cuernavaca, Morelos, not far from her place of birth. Once an illegal immigrant, she has learned to gracefully handle life in the United States.

Yesterday, I made a trip to the Alemany Farmers’ Market in the Bernal Heights area of San Francisco. After searching row upon row of tables filled with antiques, old jewelry, junk, toys and clothes in the unusually warm weather, I found a table filled with treasures from Mexico. There, I found a special edition coin from the XIX Olympics in Mexico City. For those who are not familiar with Mexico and its currency, it certainly is a country that really likes to add a new aspect of celebration to special occasions by means of limited edition currency. Anyway, I decided to buy it because my mother was about 7 years old at the time and has barely any recollection of it, aside from the memories of my abuelita hollering at the television at my bistia’s house during the Games.

“¿Cuanto, señor?” I asked.

“Five bucks each,” he says. No luck at achieving a cultural bond. He continued speaking Spanish to a friend who was trying to stifle his bloody nose as he fumbled with tissue paper. I figured to myself that $5 was a steal considering what currency that old and special could be worth in Mexico, so I bought it. “Thank you,” he said.

“Gracias a usted,” I answered. He paused, shocked. He probably gets so many English-speakers in a day that he grows accustomed to answering everyone in English, but as I expected, a Spanish-speaker was a well-deserved break for him. So we got into talking about Oaxaca, where he was from, and how I visited it over the summer. This went on for a good 20 minutes before we started concluding the conversation. What he was about to say would sadden me: “Somos legales aqui. Hemos vivido en California por mucho tiempo” which translates to, “We’re legal here. We’ve lived in California for a long time.” To me, it showed an ingrained idea in the heads of Latinos that one must prove their legality in order to be treated with respect, or, if respect has already be shown, to maintain respect.

This fun, heart-warming moment wasn’t the only thing that happened at the market, however. A friend of mine, who is white, but speaks Spanish, overheard this conversation while she was looking at a table belonging to two Latinas:

“No entiendo ¿Donde esta la buena gente? Mira, otra guera.” Translation: “Don’t understand. Where are all the good people? Look at that, another white woman.” (Note: In Spanish, guera/o can be a term of endearment or a polite way to say someone is white. Depending on the voice implications and/or context of the word, however, it can be a spiteful term for whites) This contrast showed a whole other negative sentiment about United States, with its predominantly white communities.

At that point, I did what any Latina (that I know of, anyway) would do. I called my mother.

After she fell all over the fact that I found an Olympic coin for her for such a low price, we began talking about her experiences as an illegal and legal immigrant. My mother immigrated from Mexico when she was about 22 on a student visa with the intention of going back after she had finished studying English. After meeting my father, a white born-and-raised U.S. citizen, however, that changed. Her visa expired and in order to keep her here, my parents got married. They made one crucial mistake: They married in Mexico first. On their way back to the U.S. after the wedding, my mother was stopped at the airport, where it was discovered that her visa was expired. She was out of there on the next flight back to Mexico City. She later snuck back across the border on a plane. She landed in Tijuana and prepared to walk over the border, with her plane ticket being her saving grace, at which point she was almost returned again because of how suspicious she looked trying to cross without a suitcase.

“You have to be a certain type of person to be here, stay here and survive here,” she told me. “It feels like you have to prove who you are when you talk to people. I know sometimes people treat me like nothing because they can tell I’m not from here and they wonder if I’m illegal.”

This is a statement I want to disprove, but it gets difficult when I can easily name three instances where my mother was told to “Go back to Mexico.” I am not quite as hardened and strong when it comes to these petty insults, which I am reminded of when my lips quiver in public when these things happen and my mom snaps at me in Spanish: “Calmate. No hay que llorar sobre esos estupideces. Si lloras, ellos ganan.” In English, that’s: “Calm down. There’s no need to cry over those stupidities. If you cry, they win.”

In a way, my mother’s view is the combination of the two I encountered at the market. It is part pride, with a need and want for respect, along with bitterness and a cold outlook on one’s surrounding environment. This is a distressingly grim conclusion–to think members of a certain race feel the need to live up to an invisible, unwritten set of “standards” simply because they seemingly get a naturally cold reception from the people they WANT to be coexisting with. Then, as I’ve seen, if these standards are not met, one becomes sour and unforgiving of others, which would only perpetuate the stereotype that Latinos are “invaders” who do not care about this country, rather, they are only here to cause problems and do things for their own gain. I dream of a world without rigid beliefs, where a good heart is good enough if you can make it here legally. I was once told by a friend of the family who was at one point an illegal immigrant herself: “Si no trabajas aqui, vas a quedar peor que en Mexico” – “If you don’t work here, you’ll be worse of than you were in Mexico.”

It’s a shame that those who immigrate here have to feel so depreciated, to the point where their legal status is come to be the definition of their character and where “good people” are only ones who come from the same beaten path. If the U.S. isn’t careful, the dreaded “angry, uncaring Latino” will become a vicious reality, because no one wants to act “legal” to survive, considering how obscure the term is already.

So next time, upon greeting an immigrant, don’t ask yourself “are they legal?” Ask yourself: “Who is this person, really?” You might be surprised.

November 1, 2010 / Megan Taros

Latinos for Reform says–don’t vote?

The upcoming election (it’s tomorrow, so get informed quickly) has caused plenty of controversy over racial issues, especially for those in the Latino and Asian community. Many are angered about immigration reform, which spawned from Arizona’s current immigration law, and how it will affect both “illegals” and current citizens. Of course, in all this tumult, there is still a matter of who is on the side of the Latino community. In California, most of the community was befuddled by the lack of progress and commitment in the rather confusing Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman debate on the issue, leaving Latinos wondering what to do. Latinos for Reform has a solution…or not. The group is said to be anti-Harry Reid, who is running on the Democratic ticket for U.S. senator in Nevada, but this campaign for a “solution” has been aired in several other states.

Nevermind the fact that most Latinos have probably taken this advice long before this ad aired and that the Latino community is notorious for not voting, airing an ad, in Spanish, essentially telling Latinos that nothing will get better and that voting doesn’t work, is a tremendous step backward. It’s a step backward in change and a step backward in our community being represented and acknowledged as a strong proponent for the betterment of the United States. The ad plays on the already common idea that Latinos are anti-American for staying inactive and passing on “secret” messages in Spanish because of a refusal to “assimilate.” This ad tells us that we are silly to even try–or care, for that matter.  Latinos, while they do not have a strong support system, should still exercise their voice and do the right thing–even if the right thing won’t generate the instant gratification we sometimes want.

November 1, 2010 / Megan Taros

Halloween horror story: Too many Mexicans

A young man dressing as a stereotypical Mexican on Halloween.

A man dresses as a Mexican for Halloween, using clearly stereotypical props for added effect. (Photo Amanda Benham/Flickr)

OK, so maybe the title is a little over-the-top. Mexicans are not a horror story, but the fact that so many have used them as a funny prop for Halloween is. Over the years, there have been many blatantly racist costumes ranging from Native American to the “illegal alien” of last year, which was an alien in an orange prison suit touting a green card (a contradiction in itself seeing as how if said alien had a green card, he would not be “illegal”).  This year, however, was no different. While I spotted a wandering alien or two last year, this year I noticed many “Mexicans” walking the streets and found myself severely disappointed in many friends boasting the costume–that being, a huge sombrero and mustache along with a colorful sarape.  This negative focus on Mexicans is obviously derived from the recent SB1070 immigration bill that passed in Arizona. As can be argued, poking fun at prominent characters in the media is a common theme for Halloween party goers and the like–but this is not acceptable. Mexicans, who are facing pressing political issues with regard to tomorrow’s election, are not a silly prop used for political gain–well, maybe they are. With the Mexican people being frowned upon by the right and pitied by the left, it’s no wonder the country has not realized that the Mexican people deserve our respect. The way the media depicts Mexicans turns them into a group of faceless brown people, who are met with such extremist viewpoints that it’s almost difficult not to think it’s a joke. However, all the blame cannot be placed on political candidates or media–after all, in a country that boasts equality, there should be a certain standard of not mocking a whole race of people. The fact that current legislation and the topic of illegal immigration (and even erasing the term “illegal” altogether) is humorous to some is troubling. It proves that Mexicans are not recognized as acceptable members of society–or even human. Parading around in a vision of stereotypes and slurs demeans the people one is trying to impersonate and shows they are nothing but a pile of clothes and ridiculous items (in this case, a bottle of tequila or a burro). It’s time that the media and those in power take initiative to empower Latinos instead of pandering them. It’s time for the people to question further and think critically about those Halloween takes as a joke because this is no laughing matter. When hundreds live below minimum wage to feed a corporate machine, it is just not OK to take it with a grain of salt.