Archive for the ‘religion’ Category
From my post on The Huffington Post
Every year on December 12, Catholic Latinos throughout the world celebrate El Dia de la Virgen de Guadalupe, the glorious day that our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to Juan Diego. In Los Angeles, this celebration is one of the largest in the nation.
For many, celebrating this day is not just a religious obligation, but a gift that far surpasses the space and time of church walls.
As I began my journey in understanding the complexity of her image, her deafening silent absence from the Bible and the wild popularity that surrounds her, I began to see that the Virgen was more than just a religious symbol; she was, and continues to be, a transformative figure for women, representing far more than the established laws within Catholicism.
My earliest memories are of a Virgin Mary on store sides, brightly spraypainted or tiled over otherwise beige or tagged walls in my community of East Los Angeles.
I romanticize her imagine because when I first met her, she was the Virgin mother – sacred and special. She was the mother of Jesus Christ, the guy on the cross at the altar who died for our sins. The obvious implications of Catholic guilt were well-established.
While in college, I rediscovered the ancient truths of my ancestors in a Chicano Studies course and I realized that the Virgin Mary was not just a Catholic apparition, but that she was the in fact, the Brown Aztec Goddess, Tonatzin. For the first time, I saw the Virgin as a woman, and as a woman of color.
Sandra Cisneros, who wrote more than just A House on Mango Street, put it best: “She is Guadalupe the sex goddess, a goddess who makes me feel good about my sexual power, my sexual energy.”
I gasped when I read how Cisneros wrote about women and women’s sexuality. She had sexualized La Virgen like no other and when I looked at her statue in my church, I gasped again when I saw for the first time that she had no breasts.
How could I have missed such an obvious fact?
This wild and confused time of my early twenties was rather exhausting as I re-learned and questioned my faith, my religion, and my loyalty to the church. I was coming into my own as a young woman and rejected much of the church’s traditional beliefs towards women and women behavior.
Cisneros had lit a fire.
Instead of becoming a born-again Christian, I became a born-again Aztec princess, ready and willing to fight for Aztlan and change my name to something much more exotic than Wendy, something more along the lines of Xotchil or Citlatli. The names of my ancestors and the women of my past.
I wanted to be a walking weapon of knowledge ready and willing to detract my foes, a Chicana feminist, a super heroine, armed with fancy words like hegemony, misogyny, patriarchy, and riddled with anecdotes of the colonization and oppression of my people.
I was one pissed-off chick.
However, I found an unsettling sense of peace through Cisneros. I was uplifted and aroused by her prose. In “Guadalupe Sex Goddess,” Cisneros shockingly and explicitly compared her panocha to the Virgen’s.
“I want to lift up her dress as I did my dolls, and look to see if she comes with chones, and does her panocha look like mine, and does she have dark nipples too?”
What was I suppose to make of that? Was this something I could share with my mother?
Being the rebel rouser that I was, I did.
“No me gusta, es muy vulgar”, my mother said to me. (“I don’t like it, it’s too vulgar.”)
My grandmother, a woman who is three times divorced, chimed in, “Come se atreve! Santo Dios! Ay no! ay no!” (“How dare she! Good lord! Oh no! oh no!”)
My mother, an immigrant from El Salvador and a current college student, is an elementary school teacher. She considers herself “an independent thinker, but culturally modest.”
Mostly, she makes up her own rules.
My abuelita comes from a generation where Latin prayers were the norm and when priests still faced the altar, not the people. She attends church most holidays and out “of respect.”
For many years, on the wall over my mother’s kitchen table was a painting on cloth of “The Last Supper” that she bought in 1984.
There is a figure that looks like a woman next to Jesus. Mary Magdalene perhaps?
My mother thinks it’s one of the apostles, regardless of the fact that she clearly has breasts, and what looks to be an Adam’s apple.
I had never really put much thought or attention to this painting, but I often wonder about it now.
To me she is ambiguous, transgendered, and desexed. She, like the Virgin, is not given a real space to fully be a woman.
When I first read Cisneros, I was mortified and insulted. My Latina consciousness befuddled with Catholic guilt could not compute.
Who was Cisneros to write about La Virgencita like that?! Patron of liquor store walls?
Bewildered by my own awakening, I sought to understand the concept of “women” through writing, especially woman of color.
I discovered Gloria Anzaldua, who guided me through my mestiza awakening.
“Because I am in all cultures at the same time, I am confused by the voices that speak to me.”
As a mestiza woman, I could identity with my indigenous past, a past before colonization and Catholic guilt. I began to understand why I was enamored with the idea of the Virgen as a woman and not simply a symbol of religious faith.
As Anzaldua wrote, “the new mestiza learns to be Indian in Mexican culture, to be Mexican from an Anglo point of view.”
I was breaking down the subject-object duality that was keeping me a prisoner in my own consciousness.
Yet, I was still engulfed with a national identity that surpassed Mexican borders.
Besides having to identify myself within the women’s world of white women and women of color, how could I identify with a “Mexican” identity when I was not Mexican?
I am a Salvadoran born Latina from East Los Angeles. I am Chicana by default, Mexican by acculturation, Salvadoran by birth, and an American citizen (by naturalization) for voting purposes.
I am the daughter of an educated Latina, who once cleaned homes for a living in the US, and the granddaughter of a former nurse who helped wounded soldiers in a civil war back home.
These identities shape my thinking as a woman, and I wonder, did La Virgen ever think the way I think?
Did she ponder the notion she was saintly mother, whose son would die at the cross for mankind? Did she in her apparitions to Juan Diego imagine herself as indigenous and godly? Did she in the words of Aretha Franklin, feel like a woman?
Patricia Collins, a feminist author, wrote about a concept called “the outsider within,” which helped illustrate the notion of experiencing and living through various layers, all of which intersect with one another: “whether the differences in power stemmed from hierarchies of race or class, or gender or… the interaction of all three, the social location on being on the edge matter(s).”
So here I found myself attempting to understand the complexity of La Virgen.
On one point, I wanted to be like my Chicana counterparts who believed the Virgen was a sexual creature. She desired and was desired. She didn’t remain a virgin, she married, had children and had to have been, by all accounts, a sexual being.
Yet, on another point, her complexity as a saint, and the mother of our Lord haunted me.
I showed my mother the image of La Virgen as depicted by artist Alma Lopez.
She scowled immediately and said, “is nothing sacred anymore?”
At first glance, the semi-nude woman, adorned by roses throughout her private areas is shocking. A green cloak with Aztec symbols graces her shoulders, her hands rest her hips in defiance, her brown hair long and loose, she stands on top of black crescent moon held by a topless female with butterfly wings.
Lopez’ interpretation of La Virgen was inspired by Cisneros’ writing.
This is not the image the Catholic Church has of the Virgen Mother nor the imagine that is widely distributed amongst the devout.
But it is, nonetheless, an image that exists amongst circles of Chicanas who like Cisneros have found themselves as women through a new interpretation of La Virgen.
In 2009, I wandered the plaza of Our Lady of Angels Cathedral in Downtown Los Angeles on El Dia de la Virgen. I looked around and saw Latino men, women and children celebrating her — some dressed in the traditional robes of Indigenous people, Aztec dancers, wearing elaborate feather headdresses, burning sage and incense, others as indigenous representations of people from Oaxaca.
They traveled from East Los Angeles to the marbled floors of the new church, where one of the reprinted versions of Juan Diego’s tilma was displayed at the altar.
This church, a world away from East Los Angeles was isolated and cold.
A few blocks down the road, La Placita Olvera, the oldest church in Los Angeles, was alive and festive.
On a church side wall, a rendition of the Virgen with Juan Diego at her feet is painted on tile. The wall was adorned with hundred of roses brought my visitors.
It is here they pay homage.
I realized it’s not the sanctity of her image that is prayed over.
She is respected and loved in various ways.
To some, she represents the divinity of our mothers, and the virtue of our gender.
To others, she represents womanhood, and power over oppression.
To me, she represents an idea. A faith based icon of womanhood that binds, contradicts, and explores intersectionality at its core.
To look upon her image is to look inside every woman before me and from my past.
She is the mother goddess, Tonatzin, wearing a different mask, still imploring me to think that duality exists within us and that regardless of religious affiliations, she is within grasp.
Celebrating her is the celebration of mankind, the celebration of womanhood and the celebration of the divine that exists within.
In the roses, she comes to life.
* Original post incorrectly mentioned Dec. 12 as Our Lady of Guadalupe’s birthday. Correction has been made by author. *
A little while ago, I was interviewed for a segment on Young Latinos and the Presidential Election for Current TV, the channel started by Al Gore.
(I know, how cool right?!)
Carlos Aguilar, the producer of the segment, asked me why I thought Latinos gravitated toward the Republican Party, and my response was that maybe it had to do with a desire to assimilate and feel accepted; in essence, be everything that is anti-Latino, to be American – an issue which is another blog altogether. Take a look:
As I thought about it further, I realized that even if I wanted to join the Republican Party, they are so far to the right in their rhetoric that I’m literally disgusted.
Where is the Republican Party that once fought for civil justice and equality? Some of our nation’s most civil justice minded leaders were Republican: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Frederick Douglas, and Ronald Regan to name a few.
In fact, Ronal Regan once said, “Hispanics are Republican, they just don’t know it yet” and he went on to pass amazing bi-partisan immigration reform laws that allowed so many Latinos to become fully engaged citizens.
But those days are long and gone. The Republican Party today is falling apart and they really only have themselves to blame. In recent rallies, Alaska Governor and Vice Presidential hopeful has called Senator Obama a Communist, a Muslim liberal elitist who pals around with terrorists and the crowds cheer and yell out things like “kill him!” and “traitor!” all the while not acknowledging a single remark. Senator McCain was celebrated for co-authoring a comprehensive immigration reform bill with Senator Ted Kennedy in response to the obviously racist HR4437, which brought out millions of people to the streets in protest, but now, he has literally refuse to support his own bill because he is afraid his base wont like it and it would cost him the Presidency.
So what is this base? Extreme right wing ideologies, whose supporters trump the bible at their convenience, hate gays, want to repeal Roe vs. Wade and have no regard for the constitution or basic human and civil rights? How did the GOP go from a leader in reform to such a hate and fear mongering group?
Pop Culture Moment: I was watching the show “Family Ties” online a few weeks ago. I was so moved with the show, the family conversations, the need and urgency for dialogue and cultural awareness, but I was most taken aback by Michael J. Fox’s character, Alex P. Keaton, who was the staunch Republican of the otherwise liberal family. Alex believed the Republican Party stood for morals, values and economic principles. I wonder if Alex would be happy with the way the GOP is acting lately. I wonder if his heroes, Ronald Regan or Milton Friedman would be happy.
I understand that both candidates have done little to address immigration reform, and I have said many times over that immigration reform is not the biggest issue on the table for Hispanic voters or the American people. It’s only one of the many platforms. But what worries me is that there are obvious signs of intentional racism that exist within “the base” of the party, and I don’t understand how the Republican Party has allowed for this group to become so powerful.
I worry that Republicans have become the party of the CANT’s. You can’t get married if you’re gay. You can’t have a right to privacy. You can’t have the right to choose. You can’t have legal rights as an undocumented person. You can’t obtain sex education. You can’t be against the war and for the troops. You can’t get financial aid if you’re an undocumented student. You can’t get any help if you’re in a mortgage crisis. You can’t, you can’t, you can’t. It’s you’re fault if you fail to be successful; circumstance, environment, culture, economic and social disparities are YOUR fault or your parents fault. If you’re not with us, you’re against us. Either your pro-American or against it. Either you love God and Christian values or you’re a terrorist.
Even if I wanted to, I don’t understand why the Republican Party can’t be more like this guy or why the GOP has gravitated so far from what they once were.
I mean, really? Why would anyone want to associate with the Republican party after their party leader makes this guy the spokesperson of his campaign? What a shame.
What do I know about it? Not much to be honest. I know there is conflict. I know that according to the media, it’s a dangerous place right now. I know that it’s a Muslim state.
I know there are almost 2 billion Muslims in the world. I know this is important because it makes Islam the 2nd largest religion in the world after Christianity.
I know Tupac and Malcolm X were both Muslim. Common is Muslim.
Yet, I don’t know much about Muslims, or the religion known as “Islam”.
I once confused “Bitch Please” by Snoop Dog to say:
All I wanna be is a Jihad!
But he really says:
All I wanna be is G, ha!
For a minute I thought Snoop Dog went political on me.
But I was wrong. So very very wrong.
Jihad is off course, the word use to describe the state or cause of allowed warfare in Islam. Off course. Everyone knows this. Right?
In short, this sort of explains the whole concept of religious wars.
In Islam doctrine, it seems, Jihad may be declared against unIslamic leaders and nonMuslim states who refuse to convert.
If there was a word used to describe how the Catholic church went bonkers in killing all the Indigenous people of the Americas who didn’t want to convert, it would be similar to Jihad. Thoughts of the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition come to mind…
The guy, off course, blew himself up and killed more than 20 people and injured that many more. Just two months ago, there was another assassination attempt with a suicide bomber at the airport, and that killed 130 people.
Bhutto belonged to the PPP, the Pakistan Peoples Party, a center-leftist, socialist party. Power to the people and all that jazz.
Second, what can the people of a country believe in when those that try to make progressive changes are killed right before their eyes? Should a people live in fear that change will never happen? What if we would have been too scared to continue the work of Martin Luther King Jr.?
Thirdly, how do world leaders react when someone like them, is taken down in public like that? President Bush said the whole thing was a “cowardly act by murderous extremists” and that the “criminals” responsible “must be brought to justice”.
Off course he would say that.
Im continuelsy amazed how words get tossed around. I know that the assasination was a terrible thing to happen. That’s obvious.
However, the growing tensions in our international community is more than just presidential soundbites. Who will we bring to justice?
Muslims in general? Or the crazies that have gone totally berzerked with their own dillisional thoughts of alleged faith?
This Christmas, was a very special Christmas.
A good friend of mine from college was able to join my very Latino Navidad, she’s African American and pretty much tripped out when I told her we do Xmas Dinner on Xmas eve. And then I was like, “Don’t you?” and she was like, “no!” She then told me her family, along with THE REST OF AMERIA, does Christmas dinner on Christmas Day.
I had NO IDEA!
I thought everyone did Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve!!!
So she became very curious as to what we do, our traditions, etc.
And this is what I told her, some of you may agree or disagree, but I would love to hear what you do!
Ever since I could remember, Christmas dinner has always been on Christmas eve, for one very special reason, and I believe this reason, is the reason that I finally realized why we do Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve. Most Latino families tend to be Catholic. In Catholic doctrine, we celebrate the birth of Baby Jesus. We do elaborate Nativity sets, with Mary, Joseph, the Three Kings, some lambs and cows around the manger, and right smack in the middle, is little Baby Jesus. Most of the times, the nativity sets on Christmas Eve are with real people, usually kids and a new born baby, I always wondered where the babies would come from, but I guess there was never a shortage!
In my family, we see Christmas as the birth of Christ, so naturally, we celebrate on the 24th. We also do a special mass, known to us as “Midnight Mass”, which literally, takes place at Midnight on the 24th which then becomes the 25th.
Santa Claus, or Papa Noel, or El Nino Dios, comes during the time we are at church, sometimes later, nonetheless, we open presents on Christmas morning, after He is born.
Not at midnight!
I know there are a lot of Latinos that open their presents at midnight, I don’t know why they do this, since they are “suppose” to be at church! But that’s a whole different blog!
I never understood midnight gifts, the only time we ever stood awake in my family till midnight was for New Years, in which we ate 12 grapes out of wine glasses, but more on that later!
Anyways, we didn’t go to midnight mass this year, which was kinda sad. I may not be the most devout Catholic, I have more than a few issues with some of the philosophy, but there are some traditions that are worth keeping, celebrating and being joyous over. Regardless of how certain people in power behave themselves. But the actions of priests (aka Priests Gone Wild), especially those that have made headlines recently, certainly is an indication why so many people have lost their faith…
Nonetheless, Midnight mass has always been one of my favorite traditions.
This year for Christmas we made Salvadorian pastelitos, which my friend called “really big Wantons”. Hahaha. Not quite, but similar. I was a bit worried, my mother made me in charge of marinating the godornizas, (corn hens), she did say on air last week while she was giving out listeners the recipe for Salvadorian Tamales that I didnt know how to cook!, but I think the godornizes came out delicious! We also had Jambalya rice and asparagus. Oh… and off course… Mexican tamales! My grandmother made those. Since I have been sick, battling the flue for what seems ages, my cousins convinced me to take a shot, or two of tequila! Which I did, and I did feel better, but what really made me feel all warm inside, was the ponche, which is like the Mexican version of hot Sangria, it has fruits and lots of tequila with a cinnamon stick.
So mostly, that’s what we do, prepare food all day, eat dinner on Christmas eve, celebrate with family, go to midnight mass, come home, sleep, and wake up to presents, do breakfast, more family time and left overs. I have 4 other sisters, not to mention countless cousins who drop by, so we are a big group! It’s a two day event!
When I was little, we never left Santa cookies, I think once I left him a concha, but we never left him food, we figured all the white kids in the rich neighborhoods were feeding him. Hahahaha! Those cookies were mine dammit!
But we never had cookies anyways, not the kind you see on tv, the chocolate chip kind, we had galletas, or these long pink things that has vanilla frosting in the middle or these ear looking things that we got at the panaderia.
Getting back to my story, on Christmas day, I took my friend to another friends Christmas Party, who is Armenian. There was Baklava, lots of cheese with grapes and strawberries, a spinach baked dish, a very thin burrito looking thing, some meats and lots of pastries. I really wanted some enchiladas! But alas… no enchiladas… What we really took out of this experience was the freshness of the food and also the realization that a lot of their foods are cold. They had a chicken walnut salad with fresh pomegranate seeds, so delicious!
Later that evening, my friend took me to her mom’s house for Christmas dinner, which had countless pots filled with pork with potatoes and carrots, turkey with stuffing and gravy, collard greens, mac n cheese, potato salad, biscuits, corn bread, jam, and off course… chitterlings! I poured Louisiana Hot Sauce on those! Not bad! Chitterlings are known to Latinos as tripitas. We cook them a little different, but it’s the same thing!
She told me that you have to TRUST the cook if you are going to eat Chitterlings. They need to be very clean. Makes sense! It’s the lower intestine!
Overall, it was a very interesting Christmas! Learned a lot about my own culture as well as others; who knew Latinos were the only ones who did Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve?! I am now very interested in learning about Hanukka…
Footnote: I was googling a picture of a nativity set and I came accross THIS! Lesbian Nativity in Italy! Mama Mia!
Also, I chose the rubber ducky Nativity because I like ducks. Quack Quack!