I was 16 when I left home to study abroad for the first time. Right before I left for the airport, my grandma said goodbye to me in a way only she could do: Que la Virgencita te cuide y te acompañe — May Our Lady of Guadalupe be with you at all times. As a farewell gift, she put a gold charm on my neck with Our Lady of Guadalupe on one side and my name on the other.

Until that moment, I had always taken for granted the significance of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I was born and raised as a Catholic in Mexico, and Our Lady of Guadalupe has not only been a symbol present in my family, my church and my Catholic high school, but also a historical figure used in war emblems, constitutional seals and famous literature.

In the Mexican community, Dec. 12 represents a day of gathering and hope, a moment of union and faith. Classes are cancelled, Mom and Dad are off work, and churches are opened. There will be family gatherings full of tamales and hot chocolate. The significance of Our Lady of Guadalupe goes beyond religious celebrations; she is a symbol of culture and tradition.

Why are Mexicans so devoted to this figure? Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared as an application to Juan Diego, a native Aztec, in 1531 — a period of annihilation of the Aztec Empire and of imposition of the Spanish culture and religion. The Aztecs were known as a devoted polytheistic community. It was not until Our Lady of Guadalupe made her apparitions that indigenous people started accepting the Catholic faith as their own. She appeared in a way Aztec people could identify with. The color of her skin was neither white nor indigenous; it was a blend of both. She used Nahuatl, not Spanish, to communicate with Juan Diego.

She is replete with symbolism. Her pink robe, her blue stellated mantle, her name “Guadalupe,” her facial expressions — everything is full of meaning for the Aztec community. Instead of imposing a new, unfamiliar set of values and beliefs, she acknowledges the richness of a culture, blending the Catholic faith with Aztec beliefs. The message of Our Lady of Guadalupe is a message of love and protection. She acknowledges those in the margins who don’t seem to have a voice.

The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe among the Mexican community in the United States carries the same meaning it carried 500 years ago in the Spanish-Aztec context. It reminds us of the value every human being has beyond nationality, social class or racial privileges, portraying that the reconciliation of a heterogeneous and complex society is possible. This message is just as important today with our struggles with immigration as it was in the time of Juan Diego. In that spirit of inclusion, the Mexican community welcomes everyone to join us in the celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe this Dec. 12 at 7 p.m. at St. Mary Student Parish. The mass will be in Spanish, and English guides will be available. Directly following mass, all are invited to celebrate with traditional Mexican food and Mariachis.  

Andrea Cuamatzi is an LSA senior. 

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