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Why Is La Virgen de Guadalupe A Symbol For Many?

December 12th around the world is a day to celebrate the feast of La Virgen de Guadalupe (Our Lady of Guadalupe), a symbol that for most Mexicans and Latinos is a representation of indigenous people and the manifestation of struggle wrapped in love. Since before Christmas lights go up, altars dedicated to Guadalupe that are adorned by flowers, candles and offerings. These altar constructions culminate in celebrations at midnight between December 11th and 12th known as Las Mañanitas, when visitors and worshippers sing to the matriarch of Latino Catholicism. Just look at these examples from my own hometown, which serve as a backdrop for the holiday season every year.

Guadalupe is the appearance of the Catholic Holy Virgen with an indigenous appearance. Also known in the native Nahuatl language of the Aztecs as Tonantzin or Coatlaxopeuh, meaning Mother Earth or Holy Mother. Her story began in December of 1531 when an indigenous man, Juan Diego, witnessed her apparition asking for a church to be erected in her honor. A religious symbol, yes, but Guadalupe has become a cultural emblem now centuries later that is the honored daily by individuals who may or may not lead pious lifestyles--LGBTQ community included.


Her image has been reproduced countless times and has become part of the celebration of life, where she aides in the healing of the suffering and is merciful to those who seek solace or acceptance. In many cases, this comes from being marginalized or persecuted. She is the mother that many look to for support, guidance, love. And while different walks of life may lead to or from the Catholic religion, the devotion to La Virgen de Guadalupe is a security in someone who understands—when no one else may.

Guadalupe is an example of religious teachings that have crossed over into a counter-culture of bright and vibrant colors. In many cases, people wear her on their bodies, paint her in their own way, bring her into their lives so that she essentially re-manifests herself each time to walk us through this thing called life.

Growing up Catholic is a long memoir in itself that I have yet to write, but what I have learned from an organized religion is that culture is the core of the human condition and the stories and legends that have been passed down from generations are the fabric of acceptance that sometimes need. I know as a queer man of color I have searched long and hard for clarity during difficult times—and I am fortunate for the teachings passed down from my elders. And while I no longer go to church, I hold Guadalupe in my own way because for me, like for many others, she represents the difficult journey of life and the search for peace and love among all that is dark.

Guadalupe by the People is a Tumblr account that depicts the Virgen de Guadalupe in many forms. Some traditional, some controversial, but each image is re-created to demonstrate that Guadalupe is dynamic, an entity that is ever-present in lives of those who seek her most—regardless of who you are.

The page states:

This website represents a bridge between institutional religious doctrine and the personalization of religious figures. “The centrality of religion for Catholic Latinas/os appears in both orthodox doctrine and popular religiosity. The former takes the form of many Latinas/os’ belief in heaven, hell, the virginal birth of Jesus, and Jesus’ resurrection, as well as Latinas/os’ participation rates in sacraments such as baptisms and church weddings. The ladder is illustrated in many ways, including through devotion to the Virgin Mary, a strong belief in the intercession of saints, and the habit, particularly among women, of lighting candles or establishing home altars,” (Padilla 503). This project aims to focus on the ladder as mentioned by Laura Padilla, as these images reflect the different ways Latinx honor La Virgen de Guadalupe, be it through tattoos or celebrating her through their artwork, while taking into account what it means for Latinx to consume these images through Tumblr, where they are also open to consumption and interpretation from non-Latinx. 

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Thank you for this article! Living in the Southwest, I’m fascinated by this contemporary expression of the same spirit that created the beautiful folk art santos’ in New Mexican churches. Coming from an Irish and Italian Catholic family, usually I’m a bit unnerved by a Guadalupe tattoo (you want Holy Mother to watch us?). But this helps me understand more how my partners meld their sexual identity and personalize their faith and heritage.

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As an agnostic I have no interest in religious figures. And even in my agnosticism I find those drag queen-ish representations of virgins with beards distasteful. They never look good or appealing in any way. It is a waste of time trying to provoke believers by coming up with those distasteful virgin in drag; it is much better to confront believers with discussion and arguments.

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