The importance of La Virgen de Guadalupe in Latino culture
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.