Saturday, December 13, 2008

Reclaiming The Virgin of Guadalupe


"Portrait of the Artist as Guadalupe" by Yolanda Lopez

Truly respectful learning and sharing with Indigenous people begins when THEY invite those of us outside their culture to join in THEIR traditional celebrations or acts of resistance. The key is that they INVITE us. We do not go barging in, or perverting their culture for our own selfish ends as Tamarack does. Below is an example of cultural respect in action sent to us by a contributor in Colorado. The first mail list circular is an invitation to join a traditional celebration, and the second further explains the meaning of the Indigenous goddess at the center of the ceremony.

We were especially delighted by the story of the Virgin of Guadalupe, and the work Chicana women have done to reclaim her as their own from the Catholic church. As feminists, they have taken great care to see that recovering the true meaning of this Indigenous female role model also includes a demand for justice for women. As they emphasize:

"... the Virgin of Guadalupe can only be truly transformative if the demand for social equality is made. Female divine figures do not insure social justice for women, as the example of Hinduism with its pantheon of gods and goddesses demonstrates. In addition, there must be a "social expectation of equality." (Wessinger 6) One way in which Chicanas are doing this is through a re-interpretation of the Virgin of Guadalupe. By asserting the power within the Virgin, Chicanas are acknowledging the power within themselves. By creating publicly consumed art and literature utilizing the powerful Virgin, Chicanas are demanding social equality for women."

Euro-Americans should follow by Indigenous example; we have many ancient ceremonies, symbols, and role models of our own "hidden in the church so as not to be lost" that need reclaiming from Christian patriarchy, which co-opted and perverted them for its own selfish, and male domineering, ends. We have never been the same since. Time to get to work!

Date: Sat, 6 Dec 2008 22:34:10 -0700
From: davidbyoung@ gmail.com
Subject: Re: Hermanas de Color Unidas Para Educacion

Mis parientes,

Next Friday, December 12th, is the day that our community celebrates and honors our beloved mother Tonantzin Tlalli Coatlicue, aka the Virgen de Guadalupe. The Kalmeka Aztlan will hosting a ceremony beginning with a meal at 5pm and the velación at 6pm at Sisters of Color United for Education Aztlan Cultural Healing Center located at 2895 West 8th Avenue in Denver. You are invited to attend and to bring your friends and family.

We are asking people to bring a potluck dish, a bouquet of flowers and/or a donation to pay the woman that will be cleaning up afterwards. But if money is an issue for you just show up. This is a community ceremony. You are also welcome to bring a vela (candle in a jar) if you like.

Some people may outright reject this very old traditional ceremony on the notion that it is a Christian ceremony. It is not. It is an indigenous ceremony that has been hidden in the church so as not to be lost. When the Christians/Spaniards arrived they had a calendar that was off by ten days. The Aztec people were celebrating the month of panquetzaliztli (raising of the banners) and the day of celebration fell on the winter solstice (December 21 or 22). Huitzilopochtli and our mother earth Tonantzin Tlalli were being honored at the same time that the Church was celebrating the day of the immaculate conception (December 12). The Christians later adjusted their calendar and the day moved back 10 days. The Aztec people just followed the Christian calendar rather then continue to hold their ceremonies on the solstice and today the old ceremony of renewal and honoring of this change of season falls on the 12th of December.

The ceremony that we invite you to attend is rooted in a very old practice of using flowers to create a prayer, wiping the people down and cleansing them and then celebrating with a dance of prayer. This is what we will be doing in the ceremony on the evening of the 12th. We are hoping that you will join us to learn a little bit more about your culture, your people, your heritage, your music and your roots. We don't usually open up our ceremonies but this is a rare opportunity for you to experience, rather than read about, a tradition that has survived 500 years of colonization. You may want to dress in white or whatever traditional clothes you have. We will not be running on "Chicano time" we will begin the meal at 5pm and the ceremony at 6pm and we will go til about midnight.

If you bring kids, you may want to bring a sleeping bag for them to sleep
on if they get sleepy.

Call if you have any questions. No drugs or alcohol please this is a family and ceremonial event.

Looking forward to seeing you at the ceremony. A flyer is attached that you are welcome to print, copy, distribute.

Kalmeka Aztlan, The Apache Tribe of Colorado and Sisters of Color United
for Education

*********************************

From: Olga Gonzalez
Date: Fri, Dec 12, 2008 at 12:24 AM
Subject: Best explanation of Tonantzin

As we celebrate "El Dia de La Virgen de Guadalupe" (Tonantzin) on December 12th, I wanted to share a more modern, feminist take on the meaning of our beloved mother and protector of Indigenous Mexican people.


I love these images and explanations about Chicana Feminist/Artist, Yolanda Lopez's interpretations of Tonantzin. I have used them in presentation in the past! My favorite is the first!


Portrait of the Artist as Guadalupe (Yolanda Lopez, 1978)

(The active and empowered Chicana! She is confident and athletic (Check out the running shoes). She is not bound by the virginal, passive images we have been led to believe represent women and their role. She has the snake by the head and steps over the "angel" (man) who got in her way! Yolanda stated that it is not a "baby angel," but rather a middle aged man by the receding hairline! -Olga)

This painting by Chicana political artist Yolanda Lopez caused a scandal when it came out.

I don't think La Virgen minded.


Lopez also portrayed her grandmother and her mother as forms of Guadalupe. I couldn't find good color prints of those portraits. Here are black and white versions.

Demanding Social Equality:
A Feminist Re-Interpretation of
the Virgin of Guadalupe

by Rhonda L. Barnes


As part of my project for Chicana Cultural Expressions, I explored a few issues surrounding la virgen de Guadalupe and especially her social role. One can see that the religion and culture of Mexico are both patriarchal. How unique, then, that the image of a woman brings the people together, and according to some, gives them their strength. The image of the Virgin of Guadalupe not only unifies and identifies Mexican culture, it is also powerful as a liberator for her people, and since the 1970's, the Chicana artist has taken up the virgin's image in her work. In this way, the traditional image is used to change the community's assumptions about women's roles and to challenge them to action.

Though a far-reaching female figure may seem to give Mexican-American women an inspiring role model, her image cannot be used for positive change unless there is also a demand for social equality. Chicana artists are doing just this. They are raising people's consciousness with a new perspective on a traditional image. And now with technology booming on the Internet, which you must know if you are reading this now, la virgen morena has a new place for potential expression.

Images of the Virgin of Guadalupe

Soon after her appearance, la virgen de Guadalupe began to eclipse all the other male and female religious figures in Mexico, and eventually in the southwestern United Sates as well. (Anzaldúa 29) Now people on both sides of the border between the United States and Mexico consider her to be their own and her image gives a follower her/his identity. (Randall 115) "Through Her intercession, a Mexican remains Mexican in California, an Indian remains Indian in Mexico." (Martínez 101) Thus her image has many meanings for her varied believers and it is tied to the indigenous past of a conquered people.

It is the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe that has the power to bring people together. Boys and girls in Texas wear her image on their t-shirts; truck and bus drivers keep her image with them as they drive; pictures and altars are created in the homes and workplaces of her followers. (Olivera) (DePalma) She is the most omnipresent symbol of the Mexican-American people and serves to identity her followers as an unique community.

The character of the Virgin of Guadalupe is multi-faceted and has been used for various purposes by all strata of Mexican and Mexican-American people. When the Virgin first appeared over four hundred and fifty years ago, she was morena, brown-skinned like the mestizo race and has thus been considered to announce "the foundation of a new race." (Gonzalez 11) Traditionally, the Virgin of Guadalupe has been seen as a mother, a nurturer, and a mediator. She mediates between the indigenous and the Spanish, between Chicanas/os and Anglo society, as well as between the divine and humanity. (Anzaldúa 30) In addition, the traditional Virgin protects the family and brings people together. (Martínez 107-108)

Re-capturing the Image

The image of la virgen de Guadalupe has become a symbol of hope and liberation for her community. She is no longer a passive mother figure. Her image gives the oppressed people dignity and energy to resist assimilation. (Rodriguez 1996, 48) She shapes who the Chicana/o community is and empowers those who turn to her for guidance. (Cisneros 50; Rodriguez 1994, 146) She is "a role model of strength, enduring presence and new possibilities." (Rodriguez 1994, 160) Her image has a liberating effect on women. (Rodriguez 1994, 161) "She's the woman that puts the Mexican macho in his place." (Martínez 107) For the women who have searched for an escape from bondage, turning to la virgencita and re-thinking her image, has given them a tool for social change. (Randall 123; Rodriguez 1994, 164)

La virgen hearkens back to an indigenous goddess, and many feminists, such as Sandra Cisneros and Gloria Anzaldúa, have re-claimed the indigenous attributes for the Virgin. Cisneros sees Guadalupe as containing enduring sexual power and as being both creative and destructive, because within her is a pantheon of mother goddesses which combine together to create Cisneros' own identity. (Cisneros 49-50) Anzaldúa write eloquently about la virgen de Guadalupe as Coatlalopeuh, who is descended from "earlier Mesoamerican fertility and Earth goddesses." (Anzaldúa 27) It is with these strong Serpent Goddesses that Anzaldúa identifies and draws strength. Although her image had been manipulated for the purposes of vanquishing the polytheistic beliefs of the mexicas, pre-Hispanic elements remain in the Virgin and her image has been re-claimed and re-vitalized by the Chicana/o community. (Favrot Peterson)

However, the Virgin of Guadalupe can only be truly transformative if the demand for social equality is made. Female divine figures do not insure social justice for women, as the example of Hinduism with its pantheon of gods and goddesses demonstrates. In addition, there must be a "social expectation of equality." (Wessinger 6) One way in which Chicanas are doing this is through a re-interpretation of the Virgin of Guadalupe. By asserting the power within the Virgin, Chicanas are acknowledging the power within themselves. By creating publicly consumed art and literature utilizing the powerful Virgin, Chicanas are demanding social equality for women.

The Feminist Chicana Artist Re-Claims la virgen

In the 1970's, the Chicano movement experienced a surge in women artists, partly as a result of the privatization of Chicano art. (Goldman and Ybarra-Frausto 90) Not only that but women no longer felt obliged to take passive or secretarial roles in el movimiento. Chicana feminists became ever more visible through their art work and their activism. (CARA 322) "From the beginning, positive images of active women appeared." (Goldman and Ybarra-Frausto 90) Chicana artists focused on their cultural identity and made art that is self-affirming and empowering. (Mesa Bains 131)

One such artist is Yolanda Lopez, whose re-making of the Virgin's image defies tradition and orthodoxy. (Ehrenberg 176) Lopez's work uses feminine images in a way that emancipates women. (Mesa Bains 137) Portrait of the Artist as the Virgin of Guadalupe shows the Virgin in running shoes. The image is one of an active woman in control of her surroundings. Snakes have a strong traditional meaning in indigenous cultures, as Cisneros' and Anzaldúa's writings attest, and this portrayal of the Virgin plays on the notion of Guadalupe as the incarnation of Caotlalopeuh, "She Who Has Dominion Over Serpents." (Anzaldúa 27) By holding the snake in her hand, Lopez demonstrates that Guadalupe is still Coatlalopeuh and thus ties Mexican-Americans to their indigenous roots. By making la virgen active, Lopez demonstrates the power that all women have, that they no longer need to be passive. Her painting calls women to action and reminds them of the power in their indigenous past.

Yolanda Lopez also has a series of paintings of the Virgin of Guadalupe as an older woman, perhaps a grandmother. Margaret F. Stewart: Our Lady of Guadalupe depicts an older mestiza, sitting on a bench which is draped in the Virgin's blue cloak, as she holds the skin of a snake in her hand. Again, the image hearkens back to the Serpent Goddess of pre-Contact Mesoamerica that Chicana feminist writers describe. Not only does this abuela-as-Virgin have dominion over serpents, but she has actively killed and skinned the creature. Viewers see her as an active woman, a woman with whom they can identify better than with a virginal, celestial mother of god.

In Victoria F. Franco: Our Lady of Guadalupe a middle-aged mestiza is mending her blue cloak at a sewing machine. The little angel is sitting at her feet, looking bored as a child might while waiting for his mother to fix his clothes. One of the most recognizable symbols of la virgen morena, a bunch of roses, is lying on the floor beside the angel. The impression a viewer may get from this painting is that of a back stage preparation. The woman is mending things as if she were getting ready for an important event - maybe la fiesta on December 12th. The Victoria F. Franco portrayal of the Virgin is much more realistic to women's every day lives, and thus makes a better role model for women in a practical society.

Through her re-interpretation of the image of la virgen de Guadalupe, Yolanda Lopez is constructing a new ideology and is re-defining "the feminine in a feminist context." (Mesa Bains 137) She is re-claiming an image to which all Mexican-Americans identify and using it to challenge their assumptions about women's roles in society and calling women to be active.

The Virgin on the Internet

A new forum for interpreting the Virgin's image is the fast-growing Internet. The World Wide Web provides nearly infinite space which Chicana feminists can utilize in their social critiques and evaluations. However, most of the web pages devoted to Our Lady of Guadalupe are religious and support the traditional view of the Virgin. They are mostly faith-based and anti-choice and do not represent the Chicana feminists interpretation of the Patron Saint. Chicanas have not taken advantage of this new medium of expression and placed their thoughts on the information superhighway. Clearly as technology becomes increasingly more important in every day lives, the re-claiming of the Virgin must extend onto the web. The next generation must be aware of what was illustrated and asserted before them, so that they can build on the foundation of Chicana feminist interpretation and continue to demand a social expectation of equality.

Conclusion

Despite Christianity' s patriarchal nature, the image of a woman has gained considerable strength and power among Chicanas/os and Mexicans. The Virgin of Guadalupe, Patron Saint of Mexico, and the incarnation of the goddesses of indigenous culture, unifies and identifies her people. Her followers see her as wielding power and as a part of who they are. But rather than maintaining her traditional image as the virginal, nurturing mother, Chicana feminists have re-claimed her image. Without their demand for social justice, la virgen would not command and inspire change -- both for the Mexican-American community and for the women themselves. By re-interpreting her image, artists like Gloria Anzaldúa and Yolanda Lopez are challenging society's assumptions about women's roles and are demanding justice for women. The next step, then is to integrate technology and the Internet into their work and to bring the new images into a new medium of communication.

Que Viva la Mujer!
-Olga


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10 Comments:

Blogger Cristina Acosta said...

I've painted quite a few versions of Madonnas -- Guadalupe, Conquistadora and others of my own. Many of these have American Indian symbols as part of their design structure. Raised Chicana and Catholic in Los Angeles, CA, I live in Bend, Oregon. The Madonnas I paint are on wood panels in the form of a retablo (altar). They are rooted in the traditional Hispanic form of the retablo -- I've diverged to create images that are centered on the Feminine Divine.
http://cristinaacosta.com/Exhibits/Hispanic_Culture_Exhibit/

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