I have a confession to make, it is perhaps a controversial one—especially for a Mexican daughter. I’m not a devout Catholic. In fact, I’m not sure religion was something I ever valued as much as others. Let me explain, I have always seen religion delivered in the form of an institution—one notoriously ran by men. When I was little I remember looking up at ladies in church and watching their lips move impressively quick while giving breath to memorized prayers. It didn’t seem genuine, it seemed robotic and honestly like I was witnessing a form of self-flagellation. Still, I’d feel guilty for not partaking and not knowing every single word while praying the rosary or any other prayer. Eventually it hit me, I didn’t need to be skillful at prayer, I needed faith.
As a daughter who was raised going to mass every weekend and growing up with a serious case of Catholic guilt, I've learned that though life has been very hard at times the imagery of our faith has saved me many times. It has saved me from being sinister and saved me from being hopeless. Now I understand the ladies at church and their devotion to memorized prayers. It was always a way to connect with faith. The hope that their life would be better and that while praying the rosary, the Virgen de Guadalupe would intercede on their behalf through their prayers and bring their pleas closer to reality.
The first time I felt the Virgen’s presence was when I was seven. I remember the day we left Mexico to be reunited with our dad. I remember the tearful goodbyes as we jumped into the truck and la bendicion my grandparents gave us as they gestured the sign of the cross in the air. Most of all I remember my uncle handing my mom a figure of la Virgen de Guadalupe. When I held her, I felt my faith begin to grow. She kept us company throughout the journey to our new home in el norte, she was there when we were re-united with our dad, and she’s been there ever since.
*image of the figure my uncle gave my mom for protection
Our Lady of Guadalupe has always been a fascinating image to me and one that continues to give me a sense of hope. With that said, I do not dismiss the problematic use of her image and the story of her appearance to Juan Diego to convert millions of Mexican natives to a religion that justified the horrors and atrocities of conquest.
However, her image has changed into one that breaks through a machista religion and reclaims her as a figure of power and strength. For Latinas like myself, she has helped me create a personal relationship with the faith I grew up with while challenging the patriarchal notions of the religion.
In the Virgen de Guadalupe, I see my mother, my sister and all the strong women in my life. I don't see her as an aspirational figure but rather a warrior with an overcoming and fighting spirit.