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Lessons from La Morenita del Tepeyac

  • Ana M. Novoa


This article is the first essay of a series on the interplay between dominant thought and Latino issues. It focuses on critical social justice through an exploration of the phenomenon of the sixteenth century apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe to an Amerindian, Juan Diego. It is dedicated to la Virgencita, and its goals are to elucidate some personal challenges for all professionals, especially those who are “other,” through a critical analysis of the story of the dark skinned Madonna; to draw an understanding of how dominance affects society; and to suggest conclusions concerning the role of a law school wishing to be friendly to Latinas/os, and/or one dedicated to Mary.

There are three popular schools of thought about the origins of the phenomena of the Virgen de Guadalupe. One is that the autochthonous people invented her in order to facilitate the continuation of their devotion to the goddess Tonantzín. Another is that the Spaniards invented her in order to reach the autochthonous population who had largely resisted conversion before the apparition.



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1. I refer to Our Lady of Guadalupe as la morenita: morena means dark skinned, and the “ita” suffix is a form of endearment. In English she is occasionally called the “brown Madonna.” In addition to showing herself as a dark skinned woman, her clothing incorporated several visual Aztec symbols, her speech included many verbal Aztec symbols, and she spoke to Juan Diego in Nahuatl, his native language. She appeared on Tepeyac Hill, a place that had been considered the holy ground of the goddess Tonantzin. Her dress, manner, and language also contained many aspects and symbols familiar and meaningful to the Catholic community. For a description of the symbolism of the image of Guadalupe, see Testoni, Our Lady of Guadalupe, infra n. 12, at 43-46.

2. I rely on the non-essentialist and inclusive nature of LatCrit. See Padilla, Laura M., Inter-Group Solidarity: Mapping the Internal/External Dynamics of Oppression: Social and Legal Repercussions of Latinos' Colonized Mentality, 53 U. Miami L. Rev. 769, 779780 (1999); Iglesias, Elizabeth M. & Valdes, Francisco, Expanding Directions, Exploding Parameters: Culture and Nation In Latcrit Coalitional Imagination, 5 Mich. J. Race & L. 787 (2000); from the LatCrit IV Symposium, Hernandez-Truyol, Berta Esperanza, Latindia II—Latinas/os, Natives, and Mestizajes—A Latcrit Navigation of Nuevos Mundos, Nuevas Fronteras, and Nuevas Teorias, 33 U. Cal. Davis L. Rev. 851 (2000); and on my own personal and communicative relationship with the Holy Spirit, Mary and the Communion of Saints, Eph 3:14-21; 4:1-6. (All Biblical cites are from King James Version.).

3. St. Mary's is a Hispanic Serving Institution, which as an institution receiving a grant from the U.S. Department of Education under the “Developing Hispanic-Serving Institutions Program,” must verify that “(1) Its enrollment of undergraduate full-time equivalent students is at least 25 percent Hispanic students; and (2) Not less than 50 percent of its Hispanic students are low-income individuals.” 34 C.F.R. § 606.5 (2004).

4. In wonderful articles, Professor Laura Padilla and Professor Rey Valencia describe the devotion to la Virgen by the Latino community, whether actively Catholic or not. Padilla, Laura M., Latinas and Religion: Subordination or State of Grace?, 33 U. Cal. Davis L. Rev. 973 (2000); Valencia, Reynaldo Anaya, On Being An ‘Out’ Catholic, 19 Chicano-Latino L. Rev. 449 (1998):

[T]he role and importance of religion both historically and in contemporary Chicano/a identity is an issue that I consider to be of the utmost importance …. [F]or many working class Chicano/as living in the Southwestern United States, the religious personal is often transformed, perhaps even unconsciously, into the secular political.

Id. at 450.

5. It is unclear to me why they would contrive to continue worship of Tonantzín while ignoring all the remainder of the pantheon. Nor does that theory seem consistent with their own belief in the cataclysmic event. Testoni, supra n. 1, at 64; Broyles-Gonzales, Yolanda, Indianizing Catholicism, in Cicana Traditions Continuity and Change 117 (Cantu, Norma E. & Najera-Ramirez, Olga eds., U. Ill. Press 2002); Elizondo, Virgil, Guadalupe: Mother of the New Creation 84 (Orbis Books 1997) [hereinafter Elizondo].

6. The story is full and rich in the language and symbols of the native peoples. It confirms their core religious beliefs while translating those core beliefs into compliance with the Catholic/Christian salvation story. Orlando O. Espin writes about the event, that it is

precisely because Juan Diego claimed to have seen Mary the way he did, we can say today that this is a sign that the Christian gospel was in fact announced and accepted in early colonial Mexico, and this in spite of all of the betrayals of the gospel that can also be documented.

Espin, Orlando O., Tradition and Popular Religion: An Understanding of the Sensus Fidelium, in Frontiers of Hispanic Theology in the United States 62, 73 (Deck, Allan Figueroa ed., Orbis Books 1992).

7. There are divergent Catholic views of the Guadalupe apparition: A large number of Catholics believe that the Aztec culture and religion was demonic and that Our Lady came to liberate the indigenous people from the demon through conversion to Catholicism. For an explanation of the view of the Native religion as demonic, see Carroll, Warren, Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Conquest of Darkness (Christendom Press 1983); Testoni, supra n. 1, at 21, 23. My understanding is that this position is based at least in part on the violent nature of the Aztec religion. However, my perspective, as expressed in this paper, is that the Spaniards who brought Christianity to the New World were as violent as the Aztecs; I believe that the Aztecs were as horrified by the senseless violence of the Spaniards as the Spaniards were horrified by the human sacrifices of the Aztecs. Seeing the violence in each culture, I do not believe that Mary or her Son condoned either, and I believe that the apparition held a strong message of conversion for both cultures. Octavio Paz contrasts the Aztec view of life and death to the Christian/European understanding in Labyrinth of Solitude. Paz, Octavio, Labyrinth of Solitude 5457 (Kemp, Lysander trans., Grove Press 1961).

In regard to the religious practices of the Aztecs, see notations regarding human sacrifices and cannibalism documented by del Castillo, Bernal Díaz, The Discovery and Conquest of New Spain, 1517-1521 (Cohen, J.M. trans., Penguin Books 1963). Díaz, a soldier with Cortez, offers a first-hand account in which he frequently describes in graphic detail the daily human sacrifices they encounter honoring Huitzilopochtli, the war god and god of the sun, and Tlaloc, the god of rain. References to daily sacrifices, blood drenched buildings, and the use of bones and skulls, are found throughout the text; for a description of cannibalism see id. at 122 & 225; for a detailed description of the sacrifices see id. at 229-230; for a description of the use of bones and skulls see id. at 138; for a description of the Cue drenched in blood and constructed of human bones, gold, silver, and jewels see id. at 236-240.

Díaz describes the Spanish perspective during the battle for Tenochtitlan:

When the dismal drum of Huichilobos [(Huitzilopochtli)] sounded again … and when we looked at the tall Cue from which it came we saw our comrades who had been captured in Cortes' defeat being dragged up the steps to be sacrificed … [W]e saw them put plumes on the heads of many of them … they made them dance … after they … laid them down on their backs on some narrow stones of sacrifice and, cutting open their chests, drew out their palpitating hearts which they offered to the idols … cut off their arms and legs … they ate their flesh … offering their hearts and blood to their idols

Id. at 386-387. Also see Vaillant, G.C., Aztecs of Mexico 205210 (Penguin Books 1966); Elizondo, supra n. 5, at xv-xvi.

8. Some Latina feminists consider la virgin solely from the perspective of a Mexican cultural symbol, thus interpreting her presence, influence, and persona as a social/cultural construct reflecting the Mexican view of the characteristics of Mexican women. Limon, Jose, La Llorona, The Third Legend of Greater Mexico: Cultural Symbols, Women, and the Political Unconscious, in Between Borders: Essays on Mexicana/Chicana History 399 (del Castillo, Adelaida R. ed., Floricanto Press 1990). I agree with this perspective for La Llorona, and even for La Malenche but argue that an active, self-defining being who is in relationship with others is not, cannot be, a social construct. Jose Limon, who argues the cultural symbol perspective, does nonetheless comment on the complexity, depth, and universal appeal of Guadalupe, attributes which he agrees are absent in the popular view of La Malinche and La Llorona.

For examples of Guadalupe as a social/cultural symbol see descriptions of Guadalupe art in Nunn, Tey Marianna, Goldie Garcia, La Reyna de South Broadway Rasquache, in Chicana Traditions Continuity and Change 242250 (Cantu, Norma E. & Najera-Ramirez, Olga eds., U. Ill. Press 2002); Helen R. Lucero, Art of the Santera, in Chicana Traditions: Continuity and Change, id. at 46; Ana Castillo discusses Catholicism (and Guadalupe) as a motivating cultural doctrine in the life of Xicanistas, in Castillo, Ana, Massacre of the Dreamers, Essays on Xicanisma 85100 (Plume 1995).

9. A priest whom I admire a great deal once asked why we (women) stay in the Church. I was born a Catholic, not uncommon for a Mexicana, but somehow I managed to grow up with a strong sense of the gospel's call to justice, and of God's call to love. As a result, I left the Catholic Church when I was in my twenties, but I didn't stay away for long. In spite of the patriarchy, and the hierarchy, and the racism, and the sexism, there exists in Catholicism an incredible font of spirituality. The Church, in spite of itself, nurtures the mystic in me, liberates the reluctant prophet, and encourages me to transcend an inclination to substitute vengeance for justice and denigration for analysis. In this article I am regularly very critical of the Church, which I do not in any way see as inconsistent with my continued devotion to Catholicism. There is a very firm distinction in my existence between the faith tradition of Catholicism and the reality of the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church is an institution that has always been flawed, and has frequently acted in a manner that is unjust and reprehensible. Catholic faith tradition, on the other hand, includes the core beliefs or stories that make up the Catholic understanding of God's infinite love for us, God's universal acceptance, God's universal self disclosure, God's universal acts of salvation, and the many stories of love being lived out in holy people throughout the centuries. See Nostra Aelate, Dei Verbum, Gaudium et Spes, Dominus Iesus; Hillman, Eugene, Many Paths: A Catholic Approach to Religious Pluralism 4649 (Orbis Books 1989). It is the wealth of spirituality, the sacraments, the grace, the Word, and the acts of God that God makes available to me through Catholicism that keep me from fleeing from the institution of the Church. My son captured it very well once when he said I am very Catholic, but not very Church.

10. I use the word “justice” to indicate an action that is in conformity with God, who is infinitely merciful and infinitely loving. Such a definition has nothing in common with the idea of vengeance, nor does it demand restitution. Instead it springs from the conviction that each person is entitled to respect, to freedom, and to a living wage, and most importantly that each of us are responsible for assuring those rights for others.

11. Any reference to the story includes the written, oral and art history as well as the historical memory/tradition of the people, all of which is continuing and current. See e.g. the art of Alma Lopez. Her piece Our Lady which depicts La Virgen in a two-piece bathing suit of flowers, and with a modern, confident, Latina posture caused quite a commotion at an exhibit in 2001. Image available at <> (accessed Sept. 10, 2004).

12. Antonio Valeriano was an Aztec scribe trained by the Franciscans. According to some accounts, Valeriano heard the story directly from Juan Diego. Deck, Allan Figueroa, The Second Wave: Hispanic Ministry and the Evangelization of Cultures 37 (Paulist Press 1989); Testoni, Manuela, Our Lady of Guadalupe: History and Meaning of the Apparitions 2728 (Aumann, Jordan trans., Alba House 2001); Elizondo, supra n. 5, at 3. All quotes and references herein to the Nican Mopohua are to the translation found in Elizondo, id. at 5-22. Elizondo's book, Guadalupe, Mother of the New Creation, is an elaboration of selected text of the Nican Mopohua.

13. Testoni, supra n. 12, at 27-28; Elizondo, supra n. 5, at 4.

14. Deck, supra n. 12, at 37.

15. Elizondo, supra n. 5, at 3-4.

16. Romero, C. Gilbert, Tradition and Symbol as Biblical Keys for a U.S. Hispanic Theology, in Frontiers of Hispanic Theology in the United States 41, 56 (Deck, Allan Figueroa ed., Orbis Books 1992).

17. Valencia, supra n. 4, at 454-455.

18. Garcia, Sixto J., U.S. Hispanic and Mainstream Trinitarian Theologies, in Frontiers of Hispanic Theology in the United States 88, 97 (Deck, Allan Figueroa ed., Orbis Books 1992).

19. Valencia, supra n. 4, at 454-455. He is of course not my biological brother.

20. Juan Diego was the first Amerindian canonized by the Church, almost 500 years after the apparition. Hayward, Susana & Schiller, Dane, Pope's Visit to the Americas, S.A. Express News 1A (08 1, 2002).

21. There were many reports of the widespread celebration of the Pope's visit for the canonization, including those from the San Antonio Express-News detailing the arrival of many poor people who had walked for days to see the Pope and were part of the expected turnout of “more than 12 million people including one million national and international tourists” reported as anticipated. Hayward, Susana, Faithful Camp in Street Hoping for a Glimpse, S.A. Express News 1A (07 31, 2002). On Thursday, August 1, 2002, the San Antonio Express-News reported “millions [of people] watch[ing] [the Pope] from big-screen TVs on the streets of Mexico City,” with many side stories of individuals elated to be present and to see the Pope, if only to get a glimpse. Hayward, Susana & Schiller, Dane, San Juan Diego: Pope's Ritual Will Linger in a Nation's Memory, S.A. Express News 1A (08 1, 2002). The San Antonio Express-News of Sunday, July 14, 2002, details the significance of Juan Diego to many Catholics; the July 28, 2002 issue, at 5J, describes the power of the imagery of La Virgen and her cultural and political significance for the people of Mexico. Banners of all sizes bearing the image of La Virgen, and of Juan Diego were visible throughout the city of San Miguel de Allende during the week surrounding the canonization. Interview with Tomas Berry (a student who was in Mexico) (Aug. 8, 2002).

22. Here I am speaking from my U.S. self rather than my Mexican self. This is one of many places where the differences in cultural practices tug in different directions. Truthfulness and honesty have different dimensions in each culture, a concept that has been difficult for me to adequately communicate to students. The Spanish speaking client in Clark Cunningham's The Silenced Client probably could not understand why pleading Not Guilty was not dishonest, just as those from the U.S. cannot understand why a Mexican will always respond to a request for directions whether or not he knows the way. See Clark Cunningham, The Silenced Client, in Cunningham, Clark D., Legal Storytelling: A Tale of Two Clients, 87 Mich. L. Rev. 2459, 24632465 (1989).

23. Elizondo, supra n. 5, at 92. Spanish is similar in that we use repetition in ways that are not used in English.

24. I once heard a critique of inconsistency based on the variation that at the time of the first apparition, Juan Diego was on his way to Mass in one story and on his way to instruction in another story; but even before my research, I did not see an inconsistency here. However, even if going to Mass could be different from going to instruction, it would not matter. In either case, Juan Diego was submitting himself to the will and religion of the conqueror. Both show the extent of his submission and the loss of his cultural and historic identity. One of the essential messages of the apparition is that Mary was reestablishing the dignity of the native people. Testoni, supra n. 12, at 61. See Elizondo, supra n. 5, at 126.

25. A critic who uses time inconsistencies to attempt to discredit the story is thus missing the point.

26. It is cosmic because it is a timeless event, outside of our understanding of time, an event that reverberates through eternity. The worldview of the indigenous peoples conceived of humans as a collective, fundamentally linked with others and with all other creatures, the earth, the sky and the beyond. Elizondo, supra n. 57, at xv. The Aztecs believed in a cosmic life that was cyclical: birth, growth, maturity, advancement, and eventually a cataclysmic event that would destroy the world leading to a new creation. After the cataclysm, while it was still dark, before the new dawn, the gods would plan the new creation. For the native Mexicans the conquest was just such a cataclysm, it was a complete destruction of their life and dignity. Their religion was crushed, trampled, and buried by foreign symbols; it was their time of darkness. The Aztecs had expected the cataclysm, they knew that they were at the end of a cycle, and so they knew that a new dawn was coming. It was Dona Marina's knowledge of this belief that helped Cortez to defeat them. Nonetheless, in the reality, the event was devastating for those who survived. Id. at 29-33.

27. A time of transition because the apparition event uses the physical event of the conquest to symbolize the spiritual conversion from believing in a harsh deity, who required frequent human sacrifice, to a new understanding of God as a loving, kind, healing, protecting Being.

28. The Aztecs perceived the Spanish as a violent and vicious people. The priests taught that God was like the Spanish, but also taught that God was loving and kind, an irreconcilable inconsistency for the Aztecs. La Virgen, on the other hand, showed them a loving and accepting God who was like the Amerindians themselves, and who called them to an expected transformation.

29. Importance is communicated through the repetition of words and through the pairing of words. Testoni, supra n. 12, at 40-41.

30. Nican Mopohua, verse 22 in Elizondo, supra n. 5, at 7-8.

31. Elizondo, supra n. 57, at 8 n. 7, 6 n. 2.

32. Id. at 3-4.

33. At this time December 9th was the feast of the Immaculate Conception, which was later moved to December 8th. The Immaculate Conception is a title descriptive of Mary's own birth, not related to the birth of Jesus from which the title of Virgin Mary or Virgin mother originates. Mary's birth is deemed immaculate because she, Mary, was born pure without original sin. Mary's mother Anne was never thought to have conceived miraculously.

34. Juan Diego was said to have come from the town of Cuauhtitlan which represents the “place of eagles which was symbolic of the sun; it indicates he was from the land of the people of the sun. By saying he was from there, the text [of the Nican Mopohua was] pointing out that he would be explaining the things of God.” Elizondo, supra n. 5, at 6 n. 3. Juan Diego stood at Mary's feet as a representative of all the autochthonous and of their descendants. He was additionally representative of all subordinated, conquered, enslaved peoples.

35. From his arrival in Mexico, Zumárraga was an outspoken and insistent defender of the rights of the native people. He fought against the exploitation of the native people by the conquistadores; but he also fought what he believed to be false, ignorant, pagan beliefs. Zumárraga founded hospitals, schools, universities, and of course many churches, all in an effort to convert the natives to Christianity and to Spanish worldview. Neither Zumárraga nor any of the other defenders of the people believed that any part of the native religion or culture was worth defending or preserving. Id. at 55, 85, 94; Espin, supra n. 6, at 62, 72.

36. Nican Mopohua, verse 22 in Elizondo, supra n. 5, at 8.

37. Id. verse 23, at 8.

38. Id. verse 32, at 9.

39. I believe that the understanding that it is we who need the poor and not the poor who need us is a fairly new realization. Why has it taken thousands of years for us to begin to understand this?

40. Espinoza, Leslie, A Vision Towards Liberation, 19 Chicano-Latino L. Rev. 193, 195 (1998). She writes about the use of narrative as an effective tool to reconstruct and transform ourselves and concludes with: “Every time we tell a tale that is subversive, we suddenly find out that we are both liberated and entrapped.” Id. at 196.

41. It is unfortunately not uncommon to hear or read from many Latinos a disassociation from their family and roots. An example is Rodriguez, Richard, Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez (Bantam Books 1983).

42. Nican Mopohua, verse 37 in Elizondo, supra n. 5, at 9.

43. Id. verses 39-41, at 10.

44. Id. verses 42-43.

45. In fact, he had asked Mary to send him Castilian roses as a sign that his prayers for peace had been heard. Johnston, Francis, The Wonder of Guadalupe: The Origin and Cult of the Miraculous Image of the Blessed Virgin in Mexico 22 (Tan Books 1981). The Bishop believed that because of the vicious treatment to which they were subjected, the Indians were at the point of a revolution. Id.

46. In all of the history of public Marian apparitions, she consistently appeared to the poor, to children, to the powerless.

47. The Nican Mopohua, supra at 9-11; Espin, supra n. 6, at 72-73; Testoni, supra n. 1, at 43-45. The Nican Mopohua illustrates how she worked both outside and through the hierarchy throughout.. My friend and colleague, Emily Hartigan, relates an interesting story from the nuns who introduced her to La Virgen, in Hartigan, Emily Fowler, Disturbing the Peace, 19 Chicano-Latino L. Rev. 479 at 482.

48. See Kastely, Amy H., Out of the Whiteness: On Raced Codes and White Race Consciousness in Some Tort, Criminal, and Contract Law, 63 U. Cin. L. Rev. 269 (1994). In this article, Professor Kastely explores the persistent effects of race coding and dominant narrative on current judicial reasoning and on inherited legal doctrine.

49. The posture of the leaders of the Church should be as Jesus directed, as servant leaders. Matt 20:25-28; John 13:5-6, 13-17.

50. Did the Bishop see/feel/understand that shift? If so, its impact was certainly lost in the subsequent years.

51. I do not doubt that there have been thousands of “private” apparitions, where Mary appears to and comforts individuals. In those instances, she brings comfort, confirmation and strength to the individual, and many times confirms their mission. It is only a few times in the last two millennia that she has appeared in a public manner where, in addition to the private messages, she communicates a command for the Church, and a message to the public. In those she has preferred to appear to a messenger who is powerless, either poor or a child or both.

52. Garcia, supra n. 18, at 97; Espin, supra n. 6, at 76; Elizondo, supra n. 5, at 84.

53. The Church has been doing the same thing with Women for millennia. The well known theologian, Thomas Groóme, recently asserted in a presentation that if the Church truly accepted Mary's title as “Mother of God” they would never deny the appropriateness of women as ordained priests. Groome, Thomas, Address at the Marianist University Meeting (06 7-10, 2004).

54. Hasn't it done the same with the gospel story?

55. See the reference to the New Dawn, the cosmic time in nn. 25-26 supra and accompanying text. We are always at the cusp of beginning and Mary always offers to show us the way.

56. La Virgen introduced herself as the mother of the one true God whom she identified using Christian and Nahautl titles, Elizondo, supra n. 5, at 7 n. 7, 125-126.

57. Id. at 35-37; Job 34:28.

58. The Spaniards built many churches, many of them on the very sites of destroyed native temples. Vaillant describes the hundreds of churches built at the sites of temples in Cholula, Vaillant, supra n. 7, at 276. He describes specific churches. Id. at 265 & 274. Diaz describes Cortez' continuing desire to erect Christian symbols at the various Aztec temples, Diaz at 122-124, 178, 201, 235, 237, 238, 241 & 276-277; Johnston supra n. 45, at 20. The shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe was built at the site of the temple of Tonantzin.

59. For example, Mary's “Clothing appeared like the sun, and it gave forth rays.” Mary covered but did not extinguish the sun (god), all around where she stood “appeared like feathers of the quetzal.” Nican Mopohua verse 16-18, in Elizondo, supra n. 5, at 7.

60. The subject of the Universality of God's self disclosure has been taken up by feminist theologians, in particular Sandra Snieder and Mary Catherine Hilkert. Hilkert notes that instead of being bound by revelation “defined by an official (all male) magisterium,” “[feminist theologians] can find a much richer point of dialogue with a theology of revelation that is relational, dialogical and experiential.” Hilkert, Mary Catherine, Experience and Tradition—Can the Center Hold?, in Freeing Theology 59, 64 (LaCugna, Catherine Mowry ed., Harper Press 1993). Feminist theologians are willing to go further than the positions held in canonical documents and “rely on multiple sources of revelation drawn from the religious experience of traditions beyond Christianity and from human experience.” Id at 65. Also see Schneiders, Sandra M., The Revelatory Text: Interpreting the New Testament as Sacred Scripture 4446 (Harper Press 1991).

61. Espin, supra n. 6, at 73.

62. Mary dressed in the particular type of tunic, including the mantle, generally attributed by the native people as that of Tonantzín; she appeared to be pregnant. Tonantzín was portrayed either as pregnant or holding an infant; Mary also had the native symbol of the reconciliation of opposites on her womb, just like Tonantzín; she self identified as our mother. Tonantzín was the mother-god; and the apparition occurred at Tepeyac Hill, a place sacred to Tonantzín. Id. at 72-73.

63. It is my personal belief that the following of Tonantzín was a prophetic, but imperfect, foresight of La Virgen, which she corrected in her apparition to Juan Diego. There are, however, many latina feminists who consider Mary and Tonantzín to be one and the same. I consider this merely a matter of semantics, a distinction without a difference, except to the extent that some consider Guadalupe/Tonantzín to be a female deity available to replace the male deity. I believe in one God, not a pantheon, and that the one God is neither male nor female. I further believe and assert that Mary is not God, but is God's beloved messenger. Further, it is the Church's own inconsistency and blindness that has turned so many feminists away. See e.g. Castillo, Ana, Massacre of the Dreamers 85104 (U. NM Press 1994). The Catholic Church teaches that God is neither male nor female, but seems stuck in behaving and talking as if God were male.

64. Espin, supra n. 6, at 73.

65. Id.

66. Elizondo points out:

[T]o balance the emphasis on the fatherhood of God, she emphasizes the motherhood of God-after all, only a Father-Mother God could adequately image the origins of all life. The one sided emphasis of the missioners is thus corrected and enhanced …. The male Father God of militaristic and patriarchal Christianity is united to the female Mother God (Tonantzín), which allows the original heart and face of Christianity to shine forth.

Elizondo, supra n. 5, at 126.

67. Johnston, supra n. 45, at 30.

68. Id.

69. Nican Mopohua, verses 49-63, in Elizondo, supra n. 5, at 11-13.

70. Attempting to avoid a divine call doesn't seems to work: see the story of Jonah, in Jonah 1-2, 4.

71. Nican Mopohua, verses 64-84, in Elizondo, supra n. 5, at 13-17.

72. Juan Diego's tilma was made from two rectangular pieces of ayate cloth sewn together down the length. Ayate is a crude fiber with a lifetime of approximately 20-40 years. Testoni, supra n. 12, at 43; Johnston, supra n. 45, at 117.

73. Nican Mopohua, verses 90-97, in Elizondo, supra n. 5, at 18-19.

74. Id. at 20.

75. See Scheppele, Kim Lane, Forward: Telling Stories, in Legal Storytelling, 87 Mich. L. Rev. 2073, 20842088 (1989).

76. Dominance is, of course, invisible to members of the dominant group. See Lopez, Antoinette Sedillo, On Privilege, 2 Am. U. J Gender & L. 217 (1994); Wildman, Stephanie M. & Davis, Adrienne D., Language And Silence: Making Systems Of Privilege Visible, 35 Santa Clara L. Rev. 881 (1995). There is nothing to notice when one's own life experiences are considered normal and natural. That is why a history, event or feeling that is outside of the dominant vision is perceived as non-credible.

77. Elizondo, supra n. 5, at 3-4.

78. I am not saying that the Aztec religion and pantheon held an exclusive truth, but rather that truth is inclusive, not exclusive. I am further saying that God loves and chooses all people and speaks to each in whatever way they are prepared to hear, and especially that God always communicates most directly at the edges, at the places where we, the powerful, dominate; where we discriminate. To the Christian conquerors, God spoke through a subordinated Aztec, a member of a people viewed by them as barbarians of questionable humanity. To all indigenous or conquered peoples God spoke through someone who looked and spoke like one of them yet, while He clearly communicated loving acceptance, God led the Aztecs to the Spaniards, whom the Aztecs considered incredibly violent.

79. Elizondo, Virgil P., Mestizaje as a Locus of Theological Reflection, in Frontiers of Hispanic Theology in the United States 104, 109 (Deck, Allan Figueroa ed., Orbis Books 1992).

80. As did the Church.

81. As the popular devotion to Guadalupe shows, the people, at least at some level, just ignored the ignorance of the Church.

82. It is my belief, and experience, that this is always the case.

83. In the years following Cortez's conquest of Mexico, the great question became whether the Aztec and other native peoples were humans that should be converted or animals that could be domesticated.

The lay conquistadores were interested in protecting their own power over the area and their economic interest in any development of the continent. At the same time, the Church had an interest in increasing its power through the conversion of the peoples. Conversion resulted in the offering of the sacraments, and the inevitable submission of the populace to the authority of the Church. Even after the humanity of the Amerindians was established, they were not entitled or allowed to be ordained—to receive the sacraments, yes, but to become priests, no. Elizondo, supra n. 5, at 29, 44, 46.

84. After the Bishop had a shrine built on Tepeyac Hill, Juan Diego was assigned as the custodian of the image and the shrine. For the rest of his life, he told the story of the apparitions in his native language to all of the Indian pilgrims who came to hear. Testoni, supra n. 12, at 52, 53.

85. After almost 500 years, the Guadalupe garment has not deteriorated at all even though the material of the tilma has a usual life of 20-40 years. Id. at 43; Johnston, supra n. 45, at 117. The garment remains intact in spite of several events that should have harmed or destroyed it. It was subjected to nitric acid in the nineteenth century and to a bomb explosion in the twentieth century. Testoni, supra n. 12, at 43; Johnston, supra n. 45, at 119.

86. Elizondo, supra n. 5, at 84.

87. Malinche was the name used for both Cortez and his native translator/guide/mistress; she was called Dona Marina by the Spaniards. “Malinche” is short for “Marina's Captain”. Diaz del Castillo, supra n. 7, at 218-219. Today the name is used to refer only to her, and it has negative connotations since she was a native woman who assisted in the conquest.

88. I include those who are partially subordinated, and those who are personally rather than institutionally hurt or harmed. Mary is speaking to anyone who honestly recognizes his or her own limitations.

89. Elizondo, supra n. 5, at 110. Part of our self identity is that of “traitor,” a trait common to Juan Diego and Dona Marina, La Malinche.

90. It is also heterosexual, Protestant, moneyed, sighted, healthy, work-centered, and materialistic. Hernandez-Truyol explores issues relating to Latina/os and the Non-Latina/o White in Hernandez-Truyol, Berta Esperanza, Borders (Engendered: Normativities, Latinas, And A Latcrit Paradigm, 72 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 882, 893897 (1997).

91. Johnson, Kevin, How Did You Get to Be Mexican? A White/Brown Man's Search for Identity, 8 The Diversity Factor 22 (Winter 1999); Johnson, Kevin, Melting Pot or Ring of Fire?: Assimilation and the Mexican-American Experience, 10 La Raza L. J. 173 (1998); Montoya, Margaret, Mascaras, Trenzas and Grednas: Un/Masking The Self While Un/Braiding Latiiui Stories and Legal Discourse, 15 Chicano-Latino L. Rev. 1 (1994).

92. There is comfort in numbers however, and I do not want to minimize the importance for a Latina to be in an environment where a large percentage of the population shares the same values, language and culture. In my own life, I chose to come back to South Texas and to remain here because I want to be in a place where my culture has seeped into the ordinary, where there are places and times donde puedo hablar español sin parecer extranjeda, donde hay mucha gente de habla hispana, tanto que se encuentran oficinas indicando que “se habla inglés.“

93. This also holds true for sub-groups. A subordinated sub-group will apply its own limited vision to the group members and to its community. Even a group like Lat-Crit, which espouses openness and acceptance tends in fact to be disparaging of those the majority sees at its borders.

94. In the Americas, this practice began as early as the Spanish conquest. The autochthonous “had to abandon their people in every way to become good and successful students.” Elizondo, supra n. 5, at 39; Padilla, Laura M., “But You're Not a Dirty Mexican”: Internalized Oppression, Latinos & Law, 7 Tex. Hispanic J. L. & Policy 59 (2001).

95. See Hernandez-Truyol, supra n. 90, at 882-891.

96. See Johnson, Melting Pot or Ring of Fire?, supra n. 91, at 173; Padilla, “But You're Not a Dirty Mexican,” supra n. 94, at 69-70; Montoya, supra n. 91.

97. Montoya supra n. 91, at 8.

98. Retention is a problem nationally, perhaps in part because the issue of retention is viewed from the center of dominant thought to the margins, rather than from the margins. See § III, infra.

99. Hernandez-Truyol is Cubana, not Mexicana.

100. Hernandez-Truyol, , The LatIndia and Mestizajes: Of Cultures, Conquests, and LatCritical Feminism, 3 J. Gender Race & Just. 63 (1999); Hernandez-Truyol, supra n. 2.

101. Hernandez-Truyol, The LatIndia and Mestizajes, supra n. 100, at 76-77.

102. Hernandez-Truyol, Latlndia II—Latinas/os, Natives, and Mestizajes, supra n. 2, at 868.

103. Hernandez-Avila, Inez, Relocations upon Relocations: Home, Language, and Native American Women's Writings, 19 Am. Indian Q. 491, 493 (Fall 1995).

104. Rose, Wendy, The Great Pretenders: Further Reflections on Whiteshamanism, in The State of Native America: Genocide, Colonization, and Resistance 403 (Jaimes, M. Annette ed., S. End Press 1992); Espinoza, Leslie & Harris, Angela P., Afterword: Embracing the Tar-baby-LatCrit Theory and the Sticky Mess of Race, 10 La Raza L.J. 499, 512513 (1998), which discusses the phenomena of the white community incorporating African-American cultural practices, art, and music.

105. Rose, id. at 404.

106. Hernandez-Avila, supra n. 103; but see M. Annette Jaimes with Theresa Halsey, American Indian Women: At the Center of Indigenous Resistance in Contemporary North America, in The State of Native America, supra n. 104, at 331-333.

107. Iglesias & Valdes, supra n. 2, 790-791, discussing the non-essentialist perspective of LatCrit.

108. Like many others, when I was growing up my “Anglo” acquaintances would refer to me as Spanish, a practice I never allowed to go uncorrected, one that built in me a resentment toward all things Spanish, and frankly a disappointment in my own light-skin. Nonetheless, I reaped the benefits of being light-skinned; but because of my particular history, outlined here, I always self-identified as a Mexican mestiza.

109. Padilla, “But You're Not a Dirty Mexican,” supra n. 94, at 69-70 (describing the negative effects of blancamiento).

110. Was there perhaps a presumption of European lineage? In any event, they were not immigrants, from Spain or anywhere else.

111. My grandmother died when I was ten. In my eyes, she was a beautiful, elegant and dignified woman whom I admired and respected.

112. This is the first time in my life that I have admitted publicly—if somewhat indirectly—my grandmother's ethnicity. Funny that I still find ways to dance around it, but I have to say, SHE WAS NOT SPANISH.

113. Perhaps the pride of mestizaje is more easily claimed by those who had none of the negative consequences of being mestizo.

114. Octavio Paz characterizes the conquest as a rape of the land and the people, an image with which I have no disagreement. However, he goes on to identify us, mestizos, as living the negative consequences of children who are not only illegitimate but also children of passive women who allowed themselves to be raped (los chingados). Paz, supra n. 7, at 74-88. From Orozco, Rivera, and Siqueiros we can glean a more positive portrayal of mestizaje as, la raza cosmica. Adelaida del Castillo and other feminists also disagree with Paz' perspective. If our cultural persona were to accept the centrality and strength of its women, we would find that liberation, freedom, and completeness flow from our authentic historical and symbolic women, Guadalupe, Malinche and even La Llorona.

115. Espin, supra n. 6, at 76.

116. The Nican Mopohua, verse 76-77, in Elizondo, supra n. 5, at 16.

117. This is a great injustice for which I blame the Church, most other men, and all of the powerful who have struggled for centuries to hold on to power by misusing the Word. Elizondo lays other “shameful characteristics,” including family violence, at the foot of the conquerors. Elizondo, supra n. 5, at 66-67.

118. Padilla, Laura M., Re/Forming and Influencing Public Policy, Law, and Religion: Missing from the Table, 78 Denv. U. L. Rev. 1211, 12151216 (2001); Hernandez-Truyol, Berta Esperanza, Latinas, Culture & Human Rights: A Model for Making Change, Saving Soul, 23 Women's Rts. L. Rep. 21, 2829 (Summer/Fall 2001). Octavio Paz contrasts Guadalupe with Malinche. According to Paz, Guadalupe is the unattainable ideal of a pure, loving, virgin, mother, and wife, and Malinche, the whore, raped and treacherous, but both are passive women whose fate is determined by the men who dominate them. Paz, supra n. 7, at 84-88; compare Ana Castillo's discussion on Guadalupe and Malinche. Castillo, supra n. 63, at 85-104. Castillo paints a negative picture of the conquistadors and particularly of the Church, but she identifies Guadalupe with Tonantzin—a positive, strong, nurturing, feminine principal. Castillo, supra n. 63, at 87-88. See Suchocki, Marjorie Hewitt, In Search of Justice: Religious Pluralism from a Feminist Perspective, in The Myth of Christian Uniqueness 149, 150151 (Hick, John & Knitter, Paul F. eds., Orbis Books 1987), discussing exclusivism in sexism, where men assign characteristics to women. My argument is that Paz, using a mid-twentieth century Mexican male perspective, has characterized the strong and influential women of Mexican life, religion, history and culture, as totally passive. Paz, supra at 84-88.

119. As is asserted by Octavio Paz; he also characterizes La Malinche as passive. Paz, supra n. 7, at 84-86. Recent feminist historians argue that La Malinche was a strong, intelligent woman who dealt appropriately with her challenges within her historical and personal context. del Castillo, Adelaida R., Malintzin Tenepal: a Preliminary Look into a New Perspective, in Chicana Feminist Thought, the Basic Historical Writings 122126 (Garcia, Alma M. ed., Routledge 1997).

120. See the story of the annunciation in Luke 1:26-38. As I read it, Mary considers her options and asks pertinent questions before giving an informed consent. I don't know that I could retain such poised composure if faced with an angel. See “Mary's Song” in Luke 1: 46-55.

121. She was at the foot of the cross, when most of the male disciples were in hiding.

122. She thus continues to be a model for modern Mexican women, particularly those who are both Catholic and feminist.

123. Humility of course is truth. Humility recognizes strength and giftedness, and further recognizes those and all other attributes as gifts. It is our responsibility in humility to accept, honor, affirm and use the ways in which we are gifted. It is a perfect act of humility to recognize and celebrate being a good teacher or a good singer. Negating authentic gifts would not be an act of humility.

124. Nican Mopohua, verse 23-25, in Elizondo, supra n. 5, at 8.

125. Just as her son, Jesus, did not offer the political transformation that many were expecting.

126. We do so not just through acts of service, but by becoming servant leaders who are willing to use their power for the benefit of those who are powerless.

127. See the story of the last judgment in Matt 25: 31-46; the story of Lazarus and the blind man in Luke 16: 19-31; and the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37.

128. Being centered in the dominant is the very negative process of assimilation. See Johnson, How Did You Get to be Mexican, supra n. 91, at 24; Johnson, Ring of Fire, supra n. 91.

129. Scheppele, supra n. 75, at 2082-2084; Hernandez Avila, supra n. 103, at 493.

130. Espin, supra n. 6, at 76; Elizondo, supra n. 5, at 70.

131. This section was the hardest to write because I do believe that this paper is prophetic; therefore, I believe that it should speak to each individual and that the conversation should continue. Will a conclusion on my part cut off any thoughts/inspirations you might have? And so I wrote a continuation more than a conclusion. More precisely, I wrote a partial continuation, one that is written specifically with my University in mind.

132. The 2000 census indicates that Hispanics comprise 54.3% of the population in the county, State and County Quick Facts, U.S. Census Bureau, available at <> (accessed Jan. 26, 2005); and that Hispanics are the largest or soon to become the largest minority in the United States. U.S. Census Bureau, Residential Segregation, Chapter 6, Residential Segregation of Hispanics or Latinos: 1980 to 2000, at 77, available at (accessed Jan. 26, 2005).

133. St. Mary's was founded and is owned by the Society of Mary, a Roman Catholic congregation of teaching brothers and priests. The Society of Mary was founded by Blessed William Chaminade, after the French revolution. 53.07% of the total students at the University self identify as Hispanic. Data provided by the Office of the Registrar, Sept. 2004. Copy on file with the author.

134. The other two are University of Dayton and Chaminade University. Characteristics, infra n. 136, at 7.

135. St. Mary's has the dual identity of dedication to Mary and serving the Latina/o community, which aligns it with the vision, mission and grace of the Guadalupe event. For a discussion of St. Mary's dedicatin to Mary, see Characteristics, infra n. 136; for a discussion on St. Mary's status as a Hispanic serving institution, see supra n. 5.

136. Chaminade University of Honolulu, St. Mary's University, and University of Dayton, Characteristics of Marianist Universities 9 (Chaminade U. of Honolulu, St. Mary's U. & U. of Dayton 1999) [hereinafter Characteristics].

137. Id. at 13.

138. Id.

139. The tyrants needed conversion most, and while we cannot say that they did not accept it, there is no evidence that they moved from their position of tyranny.

140. Characteristics, supra n. 136, at 15.

141. Nican Mopohua, verse 119, in Elizondo, supra n. 5, at 22.

142. Espin, supra n. 6, at 72.

143. Rengers, Christopher, Mary of the Americas: Our Lady of Guadalupe 15 (Alba House 1999). Tradition teaches that it was Mary who crushed the head of the serpent as foretold in Gen 3:15. Traditionally the image of Mary as the Immaculate Conception depicts her as crushing the serpent. Our Lady of Guadalupe first appeared to Juan Diego on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

144. Tonantzum is also the name of the goddess whose temple was associated with Tepeyac Hill.

Professor of Law, and Director of the Clinical Program, St Mary's University School of Law. I would like to thank Patricia Cuney, and Graham Smith for their assistance and support, Emily Kinney for her assistance, and la Virgen for her boundless love, generosity, assistance, inspiration, and support throughout my life and especially in those years when I was not ready to reciprocate.

Lessons from La Morenita del Tepeyac

  • Ana M. Novoa


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