Christmas is coming! But, before that, so is Día de la Virgen Guadalupe, December 12, 2020. She is the patron saint, in the Catholic faith, of Mexico. Midnight songs and celebrations inaugurate Christmas season. There will be tequila toasting and fireworks.
The Sacred and Profane often seem mingled in Mexico—and, in odd ways, in the U.S. La Virgen Guadalupe may be an intriguing link. The Virgin of Guadalupe is renown in Mexico, in the U.S., and around the world—she is venerated by the faithful as an apparition of the Virgin Mary, so central to the Christmas story. She first appeared, according to legend, to an Indigenous young boy, Juan Diego, on December 9, 1531. The boy relayed her command—to build her a shrine on that spot, the hill of Tepeyac.
The Bishop would not believe, until the second apparition, December 12. Juan Diego gathered flowers as instructed – where they had not grown before! He placed them in his cloak. When he opened it, so the story goes, there, revealed, was the image of the Virgin. Allegedly, that very same cloak is hanging above the altar, in its place of honor, today in the Basilica of Mexico City. (The spectacular Basilica, itself, is built on specifications from the desert tabernacle of the wandering children of Israel.)
That image helped the Spanish nominally Christianize (and subdue) Aztecs and other Indigenous peoples. Later, it helped rally forces against the French, as they attempted to dominate Mexico. In the battle of “Cinco de Mayo,” 1862, Mexico defeated French troops (who were flying a banner of a rival Virgin). That event also helped the Union of the US in their war against traitors, denying the racist, separatist South an ally, dissuading French Emperor Napoleon III from helping the Confederacy.
Today, la Virgen Morena, the “Mestiza Virgin,” is still useful politically. MORENA is the acronym for President López Obrador’s political party—Movimiento Regeneración Nacional—the National Regeneration Movement. It dominates the federal Congress and legislatures in 23 of the 31 states. It also was useful symbolically, given that AMLO, the president’s initials, for Andrés Manuel López Obrador, is ethnically mestizo, a mixture of Spanish and Indigenous,–that is, bronze, or moreno – as are 53 percent of the population (21.5 percent more of them Indigenous).
Most former presidents and top political officials were—and still are – Spanish or White. “Race” isn’t as obviously divisive as it is in the U.S.—class divisions (economic and occupational) are more salient. My White, privileged students at La Universidad de las Américas, at least the progressive ones, related more to those mestizo masses and dispossessed. Those are the realities that engender the anger over policies of welfare and infrastructure that roil politics most often in Mexico.
Any reader (south Texas Valley or elsewhere) with upper class Mexican friends here or in Mexico may be aware of the tensions, based on the inequalities of which I speak. Yet, all, or most of all Mexican peoples find themselves united in at least a childhood trust in La Virgen de Guadalupe. So many wear around their neck a cross and/or an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Scholars and more secular thinkers may scoff, but most admit (quite grudgingly) the tremendous hold the Virgin (and religion in general) have on the vast majority of Mexicans.
The U.S. might have had such unity in the past. But, no more. In the U.S., religion of late has been besmirched by Old Testament-quoting, angry, Trump-worshipping “Christians.” Unfortunately, that term now seems to mean just “Evangelical” Protestants (plus a few angry Catholics who hate Pope Francis). Few traditional Christians can stomach the attacks coming from the likes of Paula White, Trump’s faith advisor, who commands “angels from South America” to “strike!” (Democrats?), to overturn the election.
Mainly, it is the more traditional Christians (plus many Jews, Muslims and seculars) who embrace the Sacred—civil rights and democracy for all. And the Profane? They wallow in resentment and denial. In the US, religion now divides; it does not unite anymore. The opposite is true for Mexico, which looks at us in wonder, perhaps wishing they could share their joy and unity. They rally around la Virgen de Guadalupe! They send us Christmas greetings: Viva la Navidad!
Editor’s Note: The Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City is the Catholic world’s most visited site. The shrine is one of the world’s 20 most-visited places.
Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by writer and educator Dr. Gary Joe Mounce. The column appears in The Rio Grande Guardian with the permission of the author. Mounce can be reached via email at: [email protected]
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