La virgen de Guadalupe, Tonantzin, Mother Earth, La Reina de Mexico is one of the most iconic figures seen in Mexico and the Southwest of the US. She appears in murals, altars, tattoos, necklaces, artworkand even in the local Mexican restaurant’s yearly calendar. Every December 12th, devoted Catholics and admirers of la Virgen Morenita gather to pay their respects to this feminine spirit.
Allegedly Tonantzin, meaning“Our Honorable Mother” in Nahuatl, appeared to Juan Diego on the Hill of Tepeyac in Mexico where the Spanish colonists constructed the Catholic church known as the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. She then became a national symbol of compassion and motherly nurturance. Although the Virgen de Guadalupe still depicts the ideal women as a santa and virgin, she provides a feminist space in Catholicism, a male dominated religion where women are still not allowed to deliver the homily.
Having a brown woman as a godly figure might not seem like an uncommon practice to indigenous cultures in the americas but in a Catholic context she embodies the unseen and unrepresented. During the early colonization period, the Spanish forced indigenous people to convert to catholicism. Indigenous people strategically resistance by hiding their cosmology and spiritual practices in catholic saints and worship. They changed the names but they continued to serve the cosmos’ beings. La virgen is therefore a paradox, a blurry mix of assimilation and resistance.
La virgen de Guadalupe is an indigenous woman at the center of the conversation, she is a sacred matriarchal symbol in the church, we see her in statues, pray and honor her presence. The very fact that she is present as a woman of color–whose bodies have been demonized and mistreated throughout history– provides a sacred space for women of color to honor themselves and see themselves as goddesses. Although Lupita as a holy figure in Catholicism is filled with contradictions and complexities, we honor her for existing and giving our mothers the ability to pray to someone other than a white man.