Tag Archives: history

The Virgin of Guadalupe Revisted: Who is she?

December 12 is the Feast Day for Mexico’s beloved Virgin of Guadalupe. The devoted make pilgrimage to her shrine in the Mexico City basilica named in her honor. Many arrive crawling on their knees in supplication. She is honored and revered. Her image appears on every form of religious and commercial iconography you can imagine, from altars and pendants, to tote bags and dish towels. Here in Mexico, I might say she is more popular than God and Frida Kahlo.

She is officially known as Our Lady of Guadalupe. In the common vernacular she is also called The Patron Saint of Mexico.

What motivates me to write about the Virgin of Guadalupe today? It is Sunday in North Carolina, where I now sit after completing two intense medical procedures upon my arrival (completely cleared of any issues, BTW).  I am not Catholic, nor am I a woman of extreme faith. I have my beliefs and was raised in the tradition of question asking and skepticism. I am not an expert in social, cultural or religious history of Mexico by any stretch of the imagination. However, I am a keen observer and appreciate analysis. At university, I majored in history and political science.  I have always been curious about revisionism, myth and how storytelling can be interpreted as fact. I also like to hear others’ points of view. This is how we learn and respect differences. 

So, who is the Virgin of Guadalupe? She is Our Lady of Guadalupe. In the common vernacular she is also called the Queen of Mexico and the Patron Saint of Mexico. That’s where I got in trouble: I called her a saint in my blog post about the opening of the Virgin of Guadalupe textile exhibition at the Museo Estatal del Arte Popular in San Bartolo Coyotepec.  

First, my friend Rebecca wrote to set me straight: Catholics would put her [the Virgin of Guadalupe] above the saints and wouldn’t refer to her as a saint. They might call her Our Lady, The Blessed Virgin, etc.

I replied that Wikipedia and Huffington Post call her the Patron Saint of Mexico, after I went back to verify my facts.  

Rebecca came back with: I think the Huff Post is inaccurate. They just didn’t have a word and “patron saint” sounds reasonable. No one would say Jesus is the patron saint of anything. No one ever refers to her as Saint Mary. Jesus, Mary, The Holy Ghost (Spirit), and God the Father are in their own category. I don’t know how things translate in Spanish. I know Our Lady of Guadalupe is beloved. But again Our Lady is not saint.

On Monday, December 10, 2018, I posted on Facebook asking the question: Is the Virgin of Guadalupe a saint?  

Hector replied, yes, she is a saint and included in the Catholic Church’s Martirologium Romanum: a list of the people considered to actually be in the presence of God. She is actually considered to be ascended to heaven in her physical human form: Guadalupe is an “advocacy” a kind of suit or custom in which Mary is considered to be willing to present herself to some culture.

Helen reminded us that the Virgin is Tonantzin, the Aztec Mother Goddess.

I reminded myself that syncretism — the blending of indigenous and Spanish conquest religious, social and cultural practices is how acceptance of the new religion — Catholicism became embedded in the New World. 

A Federico Gama portrait at the Basilica

Hector wrote back saying: Guadalupe (cave of wolves in Latin) was an advocacy of Mary meant to be used in the Christianization of Moorish people in Spain (that is the origin of her dark skin)… and it was also used in Mexico where it blended with the local Mother Earth Tonantzin.

Cristina noted: There is a saying in Mexico: “No todos somos católicos, pero todos somos Guadalupanos.” (We are not all Catholics, but we all believe in Our Lady of Guadalupe.)

Then, my long-ago friend Evangeline added this link from Skeptoid: The Virgin of Guadalupe.  This was a history version well-worth reading, since the article postulates that it was Cortes the Conqueror who brought Guadalupe to Mexico from Extramadura, his home region in Spain, to use in the evangelization of the Indios. Seems there was a Guadalupe Shrine there, too. Perhaps the image was repurposed and adapted to a new location, and the accompanying Juan Diego (he is a saint) Virgin Mary sighting told to make conversion more appealing. 

You can read the Skeptoid article if you want to know more. 

Nevertheless, what is most important, I think, is that the Virgin of Guadalupe has taken on ecumenical proportions as a powerful female figure around the world. Not only is she the most revered in Mesoamerica, she represents woman as Mother Earth, Goddess, strength and perseverance, and yes, of freedom. But, she has evolved. 

This paper: The Virgin of Guadalupe: Symbol of Conquest or Liberation, offers an important explanation of the politics of conquest and conversion, race and classism, and how the Virgin of Guadalupe was used to turn a recalcitrant indigenous population from paganism to the new religion. This gives us context and understanding for her popularity. Eventually, later paintings of her included the angel being draped by the Mexican flag, giving legitimacy to nationhood.  

Needless to say, the Virgin of Guadalupe is embedded into the popular culture of Mexico. Perhaps it doesn’t matter who she is or what she is called: Virgin Mary, Tonantzin, an amalgam of both. Perhaps she is no longer a unique religious symbol, but an icon of the divine feminine in each of us.  

Is Cinco de Mayo Mexican Independence Day? NO!

Why is Cinco de Mayo celebrated and where is it celebrated most? More than a great time for a Margarita or a swig of Corona, Cinco de Mayo was the response by Mexican-Americans — mostly Californians — to the French invasion of Mexico, The Battle of Puebla, and fear that the North would lose the Civil War, enslaving those with Mexican heritage along with Blacks throughout the southwest.

Mexican Californians gave hugs amounts of financial support to preserve the Union and defeat the Confederacy. They had a lot at stake.

I wrote about the roots of Cinco de Mayo in 2012 that offers history and a UCLA professor’s research about the topic.

I’m in southern California this weekend for a family reunion and to attend a Cinco de Mayo Fiesta Viva la Vida honoring a dear friend, Michael Stone and his wife Charlotte.  I’m reminded again being in my California homeland about how strong Mexican culture here is and has been for centuries. Afterall, this was once part of New Spain!

Mexican Flag, La Bandera de Mexico, Zocalo, Mexico City

So, raise one today for the courage of Mexican-Americans who helped defeat France in the Battle of Puebla, and thereby averting French support for the Confederate Army. We owe them a lot.

Viva la Vida.  Viva Mexico!

Meanwhile, I’ll be back in Oaxaca on June 28. Publishing intermittently until then!  Saludos.

Another Promised Land: Anita Brenner’s Mexico at the Skirball Center, Los Angeles

Once the dust of Mexico settles on your heart,

you will have no rest in any other land.

On September 13, I joined Patrice Wynne and Gloria Orenstein at the Skirball Cultural Center in West Los Angeles for a curator-led preview tour of this landmark exhibition, Another Promised Land: Anita Brenner’s Mexico.

The exhibition runs through February 25, 2018.

The term promised land is rooted in a vision of freedom and liberation.  Emotionally, it has meaning for peoples seeking release from oppression who want a secure life where one can become fully realized without restraint. Jewish identity is intertwined with Israel as the promised land. African-American slaves looked to the north as a promised land. Oppressed peoples throughout the world continue to seek asylum in America, their hope of the promised land where opportunity and justice prevail. (We must be vigilant.)

Tina Modotti captures Anita Brenner in black and white

Anita Brenner (1905-1974), a Mexican-born Jewish writer who lived and worked during the Mexican Renaissance, saw the country adopted by her Latvian parents as a promised land for intellectual and artistic expression. Her own experience with prejudice and discrimination helped give her voice to bridge understanding.

Mexico was a haven for immigrants escaping Europe throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Even today, Mexico has a welcoming immigration policy. Her people are a blend of indigenous, Spanish, African, Filipino, Chinese, German, and French — representing waves of conquest and immigration. Jews sought haven in Mexico when the gates were closed to the United States of America. (Thank you, Mexico!)

Diego Rivera, Dance in Tehuantepec, watercolor

Brenner was an integral part of the circle of Mexican modernists in the 1920s and played an important role in promoting and translating Mexican art, culture, and history for audiences in the U.S.

Jean Charlot, The Massacre in the Main Temple, fresco, Collegio San Ildefonso

Born during the turmoil of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920), Brenner was close to the leading intellectuals and artists active in Mexico at the time. These are names we know well: painters José Clemente Orozco, Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Jean Charlot, and photographer Tina Modotti. There were others whose name we do not widely know in the USA, including Rivera’s second wife, Guadalupe Marin, Frances Toor, Nahui Olin, Luz Jimenez and Concha Michel.   

Abraham Angel, La India

Art historian Karen Cordero says they would meet at Sanborn’s Casa de los Azulejos to talk about politics, social injustices, women’s rights, feminism, and other issues.

The exhibition introduces us to Brenner as an important figure who has been heretofore obscured by the more illustrious in her circle.  An influential and prolific writer on Mexican culture, Brenner is best known for her book Idols Behind Altars: Modern Mexican Art and Its Cultural Roots (1929). 

Cover of Mexico this month, February 1956

Her work is rooted in the shaping of post-Revolution Mexico, when a new identity for a new nation needed to be reassessed to reflect the persistent indigenous culture behind the Spanish conquest. The Revolution brought with it the need to create political, social and cultural change and artists turned to folk art as inspiration to re-imagine past with future.

Mathias Goeritz, Satellite Tower. He was close to Luis Barragan, architect.

She was also instrumental in creating cultural tourism for Mexico — promoting cultural exploration as a vacation activity by publishing the cultural travel magazine, Mexico this month. We can consider her a pioneer in learning about the people who live where you visit.

The Skirball’s exhibition includes a narrative of Brenner’s life. It features pre-Columbian art, paintings, prints, photographs and drawings by Miguel Covarrubias, Jean Charlot, Edward Weston, Leonora Cunningham, Maximo Pacheco, Lola Cueto, Abraham Angel, plus those we are more familiar with: Kahlo, Rivera, Orozco.

Lithograph by Orozco

Charlot was a disciple of Rivera who contributed to the murals at the Secretariat de Publica Education (SEP). He was in love with Brenner; they could never reconcile religious differences and did not marry, though they remained lifelong friends.

Cultural map of Oaxaca, Mexico/this month

Another Promised Land: Anita Brenner’s Mexico is part of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, a far-reaching and ambitious exploration of Latin American and Latino art in dialogue with Los Angeles, taking place from September 2017 through January 2018 at more than sixty cultural institutions across Southern California. Pacific Standard Time is an initiative of the Getty.

Gloria Orenstein, Norma Schafer and Patrice Wynne at the exhibition

Footnote: Los Angeles County has the second largest Jewish population and the largest Latino population in the United States.

Thank you to the Skirball Cultural Center for background information and photographs.

From Mexico City: Under the Cathedral, An Aztec Empire

Far below Mexico City’s Metropolitan Cathedral, the largest in the Americas, lies the archeological treasure trove that was once Tenochtitlan, the City of the Aztecs. It is known as Templo Mayor.

Archeological discovery continues in Mexico City under the Cathedral

First discovered and excavated in 1978, archeologists believe there are seven pyramid levels beneath what is now visible at the site next to the great Catholic church.

Only a fraction has been excavated under the Cathedral

It was the Spanish practice throughout New Spain, in Mesoamerica and South America, to destroy indigenous religious/cultural edifices and use the building materials to construct churches and administrative centers on top of the toppled.

Braziers used for sacrifice in Templo Mayor Museum

Each layer, filled in with silt by a succession of Moctezuma‘s, who built taller and grander edifices to mark their ascendency to lead the Aztec empire, now sinks into the swamp that underlies the great North American city.

Stucco and painted friezes in the Eagle Temple, Templo de las Aguilas, Tenochtitlan

Most of the buildings in the historic center of Mexico City are sinking, leaning and are at risk of toppling. The entire Zocalo area is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for this reason.

Entry to Carmelite Ex-convent Santa Teresa, circa 1616, Mexico City

Next to the Templo Mayor is a contemporary art exhibition space that was once home to Carmelite Ex-Convento de Santa Teresa, built in 1616. You will pass by as you exit the archeological site onto Moneda Street that borders the Palacio Nacional.  Click here for a printable Map.

My camera is square; the floor isn’t. Extreme slant!

The Ex-Convento is leaning dramatically. Its front gates have always been closed. Over the New Years holiday weekend, when Jacob and I visited the Templo Mayor, lo and behold, the gates were open and I wanted to explore. As I stepped over the threshold, we entered a dizzying space — stepping onto a steeply tilting floor. My instincts were to grab the walls.

Sistine Chapel-esque, Ex Convento Santa Teresa ceiling

When I stay in Mexico City, I usually choose the Hotel Catedral, just two blocks from the Zocalo at Donceles 95. Nothing fancy. Good customer service, basic rooms, clean, and a delicious breakfast.

Torment of Cuauhtemoc, by David Alfaro Siquieros, at Museo Bellas Artes

There is so much to revisit, see and do, within eight square blocks. I never tire of repeating visits to the Rivera, Orozco and Siquieras murals. I never tire of eating at Azul Historico or Los Girasoles or El Mayor. I never tire of people watching.

I’ve watched this dig develop over the last two years

I always ask for a room at the back of the hotel facing the Cathedral. For the last several years, I have watched a vacant colonial house being transformed into an archeological dig from my hotel window.

On the walking street, Francisco I. Madero, Mexico City

All around the area there is transformation related to restoration and archeological discovery. Beneath Argentina Street you can see newly exposed Aztec carved stone covered by plexiglas pyramids. It gives perspective about where we walk and what came before us.

Black Christ, Metropolitan Cathedral, Mexico City

Mexico City is now one of the world’s most important travel destinations. It is safe and filled with amazing art, culture, food and shopping. I hope it’s on your bucket list.

 

 

India Journal: Textiles and My Family in Delhi

This is a tribute to family, dispersal and reconnection.

It was a remarkable afternoon at my cousin Sharon Lowen‘s apartment in New Delhi, India. The city has been her home for the last 43 years. My 99-1/2 year-old Aunt Ethel lives with her youngest daughter Sharon who is her primary caregiver. It was a remarkable feeling of reconnection, as if I was seeing my mother alive once more. In my cousin’s face I recognize my mother, sister, uncles.

Sharon Lowen shows incredible brocade sari with gold threads

Sharon went to India 43 years ago on a Fulbright scholarship to do post-graduate study. She fell in love with the culture and the people, settled in, became a renowned performer of Odissi classical dance, and teacher at the American Embassy School.

Cousin Sharon with her mom and my aunt Ethel, with photo of my mom Dorothy

I’ve only seen Sharon a few times over the years. She came to a Smithsonian Institution program while I was living in Washington, D.C., and later we visited in North Carolina when she participated in the American Dance Festival.

Our mom, Dorothy Schafitz Beerstein, 2/14/16-11/15/15

One key reason I spent a week in Delhi was to reconnect with them and I intended to make at least two visits during this time. But extreme jet lag and the onset of a head cold (perhaps a reaction to dust and pollution), altered the plan.

Family portrait on Sharon’s wall: our mothers, uncle and grandparents

I didn’t want to infect my aunt, who is becoming more frail as she approaches a century of life, so I cancelled our second visit.

My mom was the oldest of four children and my aunt was born fourteen months later. Their Eastern European immigrant parents worked hard to raise their family in a small Pennsylvania town not far from the Ohio border. My tailor grandfather sewed suits, dresses and fur coats. Our family has a love of cloth, fine stitches and those who create them.

Sharon shows fine Rabari Toran.

Spending the afternoon with family was emotionally satisfying on many levels. Our experiences are different, yet we share genetic code. Life is a mystery and disperses us, brings us together for a moment, sends us on our way again.

Sharon treated me to a preview of her Indian textile collection, many vintage pieces amassed over the last forty years: embroideries, double ikat, weaving, gold brocades and tribal mirror work. Most were gifts presented at dance performances she gave traveling throughout India and the world.