I’m not Catholic. When I was growing up my mother took me to Catholic mass every Sunday like just about any Mexican mother, but I was never baptized, who knows why. When I was in high school I decided that I wanted to have myself baptized in the Episcopal Church. Now, I’ve heard Episcopalians described as “Catholic Lite” or, as my Godmother puts it, “Catholics without the guilt.” The mass is, for the most part, the same. We say most of the same prayers, believe most of the same things, but there are some differences. The most troublesome difference to me is that Episcopalians don’t pray to the Virgin Mary, at least we’re not really supposed to. This is problematic for me because, although I’m not Catholic, I was raised by a Catholic mother and more importanly, a Mexican mother.
You see, La Virgen de Guadalupe is so much more than a religious figure to people like me. By appearing to Juan Diego, an indian, as an indian herself, she became a cutural icon as well by blending the European religion and Juan Diego’s native culture. She became a symbol of what it means to be Mexican - a reconciliation of European and native identities and beliefs. It was for this reason that I was never able to let her go. But I have taken the Virgin into my heart in all of her forms, as La Virgen de Guadalupe, as the Virgin Mary, even just as Mary - Mary the woman, before she was a mother. Before she was divine.
In my home, you will find La Virgen everywhere - hanging on the walls, propped up on shelves, decorating votive candles. My cherished paper mache Virgin is currently on exhibit in the El Paso Museum of History, but I look forward to having her back. Some people are offended by this and ask me why I do this despite not being Catholic. I don’t see why anyone should be offended. I cherish her as a cultural icon, I honor her as a religious figure, and more than ever I identify with her because I am now, like her, a mother.
There’s a Mexican song called Los Peces that I love because in it one will find descriptions of La Virgen that are very practical and remind me that she was once just a woman, just a girl. I like to be reminded of that. The lyrics describe her brushing her hair, walking through the streets with her son, taking a rose given to her by Joseph before the boy was born and (my favorite) it describes her washing diapers, like a mother - like me. It must have been hard her to be chosen. She was a girl, a virgin, who suddenly became pregnant at time when pregnancy out of wedlock (as a result of immaculate conception, no less) was particualrly difficult to explain. It must have been terrifying. It’s because of this that I respect her. I admire and draw courage from her strength and from the fact that once she was like me, and in many ways, even after becomming a miracle among women, she remained like me. As a young mother, I need her to draw strength from in difficult moment. As a Chicana, I need her to remind me who I am and where I come from. I will never apologize for this.