Holidays/My Culture

Mi Morenita: What Guadalupe Taught me About Culture

Growing up in a Mexican household means loving Our Lady of Guadalupe is as necessary as knowing to tie your own shoes. She’s pretty much everywhere – painted on murals along the streets of Mexico, depicted in frames and/or statues in every room of any Mexican family’s home, and every Mexican girl gets at least three different pieces of jewelry with her image on it as gifts on her quinceañera (or was that just me?).

When Guadalupe appeared to a poor, indigenous man named Juan Diego and gently loved him as a mother does, she captivated an entire race of people previously skeptical of the Gospel. She also initiated a legacy of devotion that continues into the present day throughout Mexico, Latin America, and the world.

The Guadalupe Chronicles: Young Mexican Girl Edition

One of my earliest Guadalupe memories is from when I was in elementary school and having awful nightmares. I would run to my parents’ room in fear almost every night, worried about the monsters my weird imagination was creating while I slept. Somehow my grandpa got word of this and gave me a small silver image of Our Lady of Guadalupe on a magnetic backing that could stick onto my bunk right above my head at night. Before bed I would ask her to take care of those monsters and help me sleep peacefully, and she did.

With all the Guadalupe love embedded in Mexican culture and my childhood, you would think I was thrilled when my parish asked 8th grade me to play her in a procession we were participating in along with our whole diocese to celebrate her feast day. It was all planned out: they had a costume made for me, someone had already accepted the role of Juan Diego, and there were plans to decorate the bed of my dad’s truck to look like the hill of Tepeyac and serve as our community’s “float” in the procession. Though I agreed to do it, I did so mostly because I think my mom would’ve disowned me if I hadn’t – and I was not the bit least excited about it.

When the day finally arrived, all I could think was what a nuisance this was to me; I internally complained that I had to stand still in a single position for hours, that I was cold, that there was so much homework I could be doing, that random strangers were photographing me, that my “mantle” kept falling off my head, that it started to lightly rain… If there was anything good happening that day, I could not (read: “would not”) see it. Oh, I had so much to learn!

God’s Great Gift to Culture Everywhere

While I was busy being a self-absorbed brat, I completely failed to realize the absolute gift Guadalupe is to my people of Mexican heritage. In addition to the beautiful story of how she appeared to St. Juan Diego and the incredible facts about the tilma itself (which you can read more about here), her mere presence was a sign of love to the Mexican people. Saint John Paul II said it best: “the mestiza face of the Virgin of Guadalupe was from the start a symbol of the inculturation of the Gospel” (Ecclesia in America, 70).

Her image is a perfect manifestation of how the Lord desires to bring the Good News to all peoples, according to their language and culture. Where there was once a division between the Gospel and the native Mexican culture, we were given a bridge in the brown skin, black hair, and dark eyes of Guadalupe who gently spoke in Nahuatl to the humble Juan Diego: “Cuix amo nican nica nimonantzin?” “Am I not here, I who am your mother?”

This tender and loving Mother is stamped on any and every surface possible because it is tangible evidence that the infinite God longs so much to draw us – and every part of who we are as a people, race, and culture – to Himself. This was true for the native people of Mexico then, it’s true for Mexican people now, but more importantly, it’s true for every single human person in every time and place. This amazing message is the reason for the processions, celebrations, novenas – and even the t-shirts, keychains, tote bags, jewelry. She’s everywhere God longs to be: in every nook and cranny of our lives.

God is not against Culture – He enters into it!

When God took on flesh in a particular point in history and within a specific culture, He united Himself to “every man” (Gaudium et Spes, 22). The apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe is an extension of this reality; that along our earthly pilgrimage, searching for identity, meaning, and purpose, she is our beacon who guides us toward the only point of reference we will ever need: Christ. The child she bears in her womb took on our very nature so that we might know the love of the Father through His gift of salvation. It is this message, this Good News, that permeated the entire nation of Mexico in 1531 and transformed our people from within. This is what we rejoice in every twelfth of December.

These days, I am happy to report that my love for Guadalupe has only grown, and I lovingly refer to her as “the homegirl.” She is with me everywhere – in my office alone, I have two different Virgencitas keeping me company (and then there are the ones in my bedroom, the keychain hanging off my car keys, the picture on my dashboard… you get the idea). My favorite tradition is on the morning of her feast day when we rise before the sun to gather in church and sing to her las mañanitas and a whole multitude of devotional songs before Mass in her honor. In spite of the early hour and the cold, the church is always packed with people singing their hearts out for our Madre Morenita, our little dark-skinned mother, joining in on the Psalm from the day’s readings:

You are the great pride of our nation!
O daughter, you are blessed by the Most High God
above all women on earth;
and blessed be the Lord God,
who created the heavens and the earth,
Your hope will never depart from the hearts of men,
as they remember the power of God.
Judith 15:9, 13:18bcde-19

About the Author

Stephanie Espinoza

I unpredictably fluctuate on a sliding scale between April Ludgate and Kelly Kapoor. I am either holed up in my room reading a book too long for my own good or engrossed in hours of podcasts, or I am screaming my head off playing friendship-testing board games and having passionate conversations with my loud Hispanic family. Though I am constantly trying to figure out who I am and where I fit in this world, I have a God who knows exactly what I am about - and I am grateful to spend my life asking Him to show it to me.