Our Lady of Guadalupe embraces Indigenous people
"I cannot describe to you the shock I felt the first time I saw Ladino boys and girls dressed in traje ... a holy act that said ‘no’ to the racism that divides this community and to the stereotype that Indigenous people are dirty, backward and uneducated.”
For two years I lived in San Lucas Tolimán, Guatemala. Ninety percent of the population is Mayan, and the other ten percent is Ladino, the Guatemalan term for someone of mixed race who shares Indigenous and Spanish elements in their biology and culture. While Ladinos, however, may acknowledge that they are not white or of pure European descent, they distance themselves sharply from the Indigenous and do not celebrate their Indigneous roots. There is a clear "us versus them" mentality where Ladinos struggle for racial privilege by negating the color of their past.
Giving thanks for children
On December 12, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe
, the divisions between Indigenous and Ladino are surprisingly erased. The tradition throughout Guatemala is to bring one's children for seven consecutive years to visit an image of Guadalupe on her feast day and to give thanks for the blessing of children, a tradition described repeatedly as an act of faith. What is significant about this act of faith is that the children are brought to Guadalupe in formal Indigenous dress by both Indigenous and Ladinos. In other words, on this day Ladinos dress their children as Indigenous girls and boys.
I cannot describe to you the shock I felt the first time I saw Ladino boys and girls dressed in traje. To process through the streets of San Lucas with Ladino and Mayan children together was a holy act that said “no” to the racism that divides this community and to the stereotype that Indigenous people are dirty, backward and uneducated.
When I asked several mothers why they were in San Lucas on this day, they said “to give thanks for our children,” to thank Guadalupe for the gift of life, especially given the high infant mortality rate in a community where the nearest hospital is an hour away. When I asked the Ladina mothers why they dressed their children in traditional dress, they said because this is how Guadalupe would want the children presented to her. This, to me, was a profound theological statement.
Practicing a preferential option for Indigenous people
Much has been written about the significance of the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe before an Indigenous man. The fact that Our Lady appeared before Juan Diego
, a humble man who had internalized a self-hatred that led him to describe himself in a derogatory manner, is one of the most discussed and valued dimensions of this narrative. When Juan Diego describes himself as a “campesino
...the excrement of people,” he is describing an internalized oppression that rings true today to many Indigenous. Though not a parallel world to sixteenth-century, present-day Guatemala, today’s culture continues to reinforce the stereotype that Indigenous peoples are less worthy and less human than Ladinos.
The act of wearing Indigenous dress as part of one’s ritual of thanksgiving is a manner of theologically affirming the culture and voices of Indigenous people. Underlying the unspoken requirement of dressing one’s child in traje is the assertion that it is only as Indigenous that one can give thanks and praise to Guadalupe. This practice demonstrates a preferential option for the Indigenous, a theological claim that is affirmed by both Indigenous and Ladino communities. Their Indigenous dress highlights that it is the who of the apparition that is vital in their remembrance of the story.
Let us hope at least that this moment of religious affirmation of Guatemala’s rich Indigenous culture, where the lines between Indigenous and Ladinos is beautifully erased, continues to live on in San Lucas and that Guadalupe’s preferential option for the Indigenous remains alive in San Luqueño’s theological memory.
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Thursday, December, 4, 2008