Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Carrying the Light of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Four hills in the Valley of Mexico were considered sacred by its prehispanic inhabitants and, by many, still are today.   Tepeyac, to the north, Chapultepec to the west, Cerro de los Baños on the east, and the Hill of the Stars to the south.  The Basilica of Guadalupe is at the base of Tepeyac.  Chapultepec Castle is at the top of the sacred hill of the west.  The airport radar is on top of the Hill of Los Baños.  The Cerro de las Estrellas is in Iztapalapa in southern Mexico City.  

Tepeyac, located at the northern terminus of the causeway connecting Tlatelolco with the north shore of the Lake of Mexico, is where the Aztec goddess of fertility, Tonantzin, was worshiped.  In 1531, it was also where the Virgin Mary, in her manifestation as Guadalupe, appeared to Juan Diego, a recently converted Indigenous merchant.  In the minds of people of the time, María Guadalupe was very much a Spanish manifestation of the Virgin.  In fact, before setting off on the dangerous trip across the Atlantic, many Spaniards had entrusted themselves to Guadalupe de Extremadura, a dark Mary, legended to have been carved by St. Luke.  Yet here, at Tepeyac, she appeared as a living, beautiful woman, to an Indian, asking him to serve as her messenger to Bishop Zumarraga requesting that a church, dedicated to her, be built on that spot where she would be able to heal and care for her people.   

Unlike most portraits of Mary, on Juan Diego’s cape she is dark skinned and stands alone, though visibly pregnant.  Believers can find all kinds of symbolism in her clothing, the stars on her cape, the crescent moon she stands on, even the reflections in her pupils.  And they can find a syncretism between her and Tonantzin. 

Within very little time, Guadalupe became the dominant religious figure throughout New Spain, and areas it influenced.  As the centuries passed her importance in the Church grew; to the point that now her shrine is more visited than St. Peter's in Rome. 

Guadalupe is portrayed on Miguel Hidalgo's Insurgent Army's banner (see your new 200 peso note) and again carried into battle by Zapata's army during the Revolution; in the 20th Century right-wing Catholic groups began to rally around the Virgin of Guadalupe.  In the 1970's Theologians of Liberation realized that she is the example to be followed:  she appeared to an Indian, not a Spaniard, she met him on the outskirts of the center of power, she spoke to him in his language, Nahuatl; not Spanish, the language of the conquerors; she offered to help and to heal.  Now both extremes of the political spectrum within the Church hold up the banner of Guadalupe.  She permeates Mexican thought and culture.  I've even met a Mexican Presbyterian minister who told me he is a Presbiteriano Guadalupano! 

Guadalupe is becoming a strengthening link between North American nations.  Last week I told you about the torch-running that goes on throughout Mexico with communities each getting their returning light and statue of Guadalupe home in time for December 12th’s morning mass.  In recent years the torch-running has become an annual event from Mexico City to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC.
This year the International Antorcha Guadalupana departed the Basilica on October 3rd.  It crossed the U.S. Mexican border on November 2 and  will reach St. Patrick’s on December 12th.  Along the way the torch will have been carried by thousands of runners and the flame will have been shared with hundreds of churches along the way.  Each year the relay draws attention to the plight of immigrants in the U.S.  

Families of migrants, documented and undocumented, are invited to participate in relaying the torch on the Mexican side of the border; their migrant brethren are among those who carry the torch in the U.S. 

In 1945, Pius XII designated Guadalupe, Empress of the Americas, hence the flags of the American nations, and the silver crown above her image, in the Basilica.  Her feast day, December 12, was officially recognized by all Catholic dioceses in the United States in 1988.  In 1991, John Paul II declared it a Liturgical Holy Day throughout the continents, subsequently proclaiming her patroness of this hemisphere.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Remembering Our Lady of Guadalupe

“Lupe Reyes” (Lupe, a shortening of Guadalupe; Reyes, referring to the Three Kings) sounds like a woman's name, but in fact is the nickname for a frenzy of celebration bracketed by December 12, Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the front end and Epiphany, January 6, the celebration of Los Tres Reyes, at its close.  In between fall 9 days of posadas, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, December 28, Day of the Holy Innocents (Mexico’s April Fools’ equivalent), January 1, The Circumcision of Jesus; and January 6, when Mexican children expect gifts just as the baby Jesus received such from the Wise Men and all ages participate in cutting the rosca.  

Lupe Reyes may be the official start of the Christmas holidays but for many throughout Mexico the preparations have already begun. Driving in Chiapas two weeks ago I was stopped multiple times along the highway by young people collecting money for their pueblo’s pilgrimage to the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City. Across Mexico groups are fundraising and assembling their caravans to make the journey, light a torch at the Basilica, and return home by December 12.  They arrive at the Basilica on foot, bicycle or in highly decorated trucks carrying the Guadalupe of their home church.  The return is usually a torch running relay with trucks and buses dropping off the runners ahead.  In the days immediately preceding the 12th you'll see these relays on country roads, federal highways, even the autopistas;  they can take a week of running night and day. 

On the 9th, 10th and 12th of December of 1531 the Virgin Mary, in her manifestation as Guadalupe, appeared to Juan Diego, a recently baptized Indigenous merchant.  She was a beautiful, life-size, woman hovering slightly above the ground. Most any Mexican will be glad to tell you his or her understanding of these momentous events and the conversations which ensued.  The four encounters -- three apparitions to Juan Diego, the fourth when her image appeared on Juan Diego’s cape in the presence of Bishop Zumarraga -- are so important in Mexican thought that portrayals of them frequently replace the four evangelists in the four medallions at the base of domes in catholic churches.
December 12, from morning to night, may be the loudest day of the year in Mexico. Traditions of celebrating the Feast Day of Guadalupe are as varied as those of the Days of the Dead but none of them are quiet.  In most parts of Mexico the bells call the people to a pre-dawn mass. The cohetes (rockets) start at midnight and will continue until the following nightfall.  

Parres, a charming small pueblo on the outskirts of Cuernavaca has it’s own Virgin of Guadalupe traditions, starting on December 2 with a daily novena consisting of prayers, saying of the rosary, and moving the statue of Guadalupe from one house to the next.  As she moves through the streets the people sing devotional songs.  When they reach her new home for the night there will be more prayers, rosaries, singing, followed by atole and treats for the children. Our Lady of Guadalupe is returned to the church on the night of December 11 when a large mass receives her and the pilgrims who have accompanied her on her journey either through the pueblo or with her light from the Basilica.  After the mass cohetes resume their vigil.   The men charged with this task stay awake all night helped by freely partaking in a jug of pulque. By morning one does well to stay out of range of the rockets.

In the pre-dawn of December 12, church bells ring and the band and community play and sing the Mexican traditional birthday song of Las Mañanitas to the Virgin before the first mass of the day. When Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to Juan Diego she said, “Am I not here, I who am your mother?”  From that day Mexicans have all had two mothers, the one they share with their brothers and sisters and the one who is mother to the nation.  A special verse of Las Mañanitas is sung on this occasion. 
For the moon I’d give a peso, For the sun, I’d give a half
For my mother, and the Virgin, My life and my heart.
The town band and cohetes accompany the singers.  The mass includes numerous songs, celebrating Mary which everyone sings.  After mass the town assembles for atole and pan dulce.   A few hours later the church's statue of Guadalupe is carried into the street and, followed by the band and the community, makes numerous stops as the rosary is said.  Masses, cohetes, bell-ringing and the band continue throughout the day until nightfall. Silence finally descends.  But this is only the beginning of Lupe Reyes.  There will be much more bell-ringing and many more cohetes in the weeks that follow.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Revolution, 'Viva Zapata!'

“Viva Zapata!” is the ubiquitous call for social justice heard ‘round the world. Pueblos, towns, and schools throughout Mexico bear his name.  Why does his fame endure? What in the legend of Zapata is based in myth; what in truth?  The hagiography of Zapata began at the moment of his 1919 death with many claiming that he survived the assassination, escaped to Arabia, and lived the remaining years of his life protected by an Arab compadre. 

Zapata was branded a traitor and assassinated by government forces yet within days of his death, he was celebrated in art, music, and prose throughout the Republic. In Cuernavaca’s Cortez Palace one finds Diego Rivera’s extraordinary mural, The Conquest of Cuanahuac, depicting Zapata, a mere ten years after his assassination, as the hero of the revolution. 

The strength of Zapata’s legacy is a deeply ingrained love, respect, and devotion found in the hearts of millions of Mexicans, particularly the poor and campesinos who hunger for land and a better life for their children. Though only one of the many generals of the revolution, martyred Zapata remains the spiritual heart of the intent of that epoch. 

Mexico’s view of its Revolution is conflicted.  Some look back on this time as folly, a stain on Mexican history best relegated to a footnote in the history books.  Other historians and social scientists argue that the goals of the Revolution, as articulated in the Plan de Ayala and The Constitution, were stillborn with little re-distribution of land and resources or amelioration of the dismal conditions of the peon.   This view better explains the rise of many successive movements, most often invoking the name of Zapata, in the nearly hundred years since his death. 

Loved by many throughout The Republic, in Morelos Zapata is revered. His legacy remains alive, visible to this day in social movements fighting for land and water rights.  The most well-known of the post-Zapata, Morelos, struggles was that of Ruben Jaramillo (1900-1962), who at 17 served as a Captain in the Zapata army and spent the remaining years of his life trying to fulfill the goals of the Revolution. 

On May 23, 1962, Ruben, his wife, sons and unborn child were taken from their home by government forces and massacred at Xochicalco.   The following day 8,000 campesinos marched at his funeral. Carlos Fuentes, famed Mexican author, traveled to Morelos with other well-known writers to document Jaramillo’s work and death. Fuentes interviewed numerous witnesses, fellow Jaramillistas, family members, and chronicled the poignant, well-known The Death of Ruben Jaramillo in contemporaneous, first-hand accounts of Jaramillo’s legacy as a direct descendent of Zapata.  Like Zapata, Jaramillo is honored for refusing profit from his work on behalf of the campesinos. One of the witnesses said, “Maybe they thought that by killing off the entire Jaramillo family there would be no more Jaramillos to go on fighting.  They did not realize that the death of five Jaramillos was the best fertilizer for the next five hundred, the next five thousand Jaramillos…. They killed our leader.  Now we are all Jaramillos.”

This prediction became palpable to me on the night of November 2.  I led that portion of this years’ Day of the Dead trip (to which you may remember you were all invited) on a study trip to Xoxocotla and Ocotopec, two indigenous communities with very different ways of celebrating.  Outside the church of Xoxocotla we met a friendly woman, the sacristan of the church.  She graciously invited our group to view her home ofrenda.  Although her house was adjacent to the back wall of the church we walked a block around the festivities to get there. En route she introduced us to her husband at his small newsstand. He is Saul Roque, the leader of the 13 Pueblos, winner of this years’ Don Sergio Mendez Arceo National Human Rights Prize!  When we reached their centuries old home we learned that Zapata had been a guest of Don Saul’s grandfather in the very room in which we were standing and that Ruben Jaramillo had often shared comida at the table on which the ofrenda was laid and had been the close friend and mentor of a much younger Saul. 

From Zapata came Jaramillo, from Jaramillo descended the leaders of Morelos’ 13 Pueblos, a consortium of indigenous people still fighting non-violently for their ancient land and water rights, rights guaranteed in written titles given to the indigenous people by the Spanish Crown at the time of the conquest and preserved to this day.  Here in the South, the Mexican Revolution was fought to enforce those rights; Zapata and Jaramillo died for them. The grito “Zapata vive! La lucha sigue!” is one you hear whenever there are land or civil rights protests anywhere in Mexico.  

Perhaps the legend of Zapata’s survival of the assassination attempt is not an exaggeration after all.  He may not have lived out the remainder of his life in Arabia but he does live in the hearts of his countrymen.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Revolution: Traversing 'Zapataland'

Morelos is the Tierra de Zapata.  Though now a world-wide icon, Zapata only rarely journeyed outside the boundaries of the second smallest state in the Republic. In a day one can visit the most important places in his life. Unfortunately, in the interest of time, it is best to go out of chronological order

When I take groups on a Zapata study trip, I like to start with the train station in Cuautla.  There you can see locomotive 279, of the kind famous for carrying Zapata and his army throughout Morelos.  Not only a means of transportation, moving trains often served as meeting places and temporary headquarters.  Similar trains were used by Pancho Villa and the northern armies.

In a plaza, a few blocks walk from the Cuautla train station, is a colossal statue of Zapata standing guard over his remains. It’s worth the walk as you pass through the heart of this well kept, but little visited city.  

The horse-whisperer of his day, Zapata trained horses and was friend and employee of Ignacio de la Torre, son-in-law of Porfirio Diaz.  After six months working for De la Torre in Mexico City, he returned to Morelos and trained horses at the Hacienda Cuautlixco, a few miles outside Cuautla and within view of Anenecuilco.  Now a huge burned out shell the ex-hacienda is still worth the effort to visit; I’ve found it a perfect place for a group picnic (and occasional siesta) under the trees.

There are a trio of Zapata museums found in Anenecuilco, Chinameca and Tlatizapan. My favorite of the three museums is that of Anenecuilco, a picture postcard town proud to be the birthplace of Mexico’s most well-known citizen.  On the grounds of the museum are the remains of the house in which Zapata was born, and to one side a stunning 20 meter mural depicting a somewhat mythologized version of Zapata’s life.  From its inception the museum has been the dream of Lucino Luna Dominguez, a passionate devotee of Zapata, who has dedicated himself to this project for many years. Since there are few photos of that epoch, Lucino contracted for a series of large paintings to visually tell the story of Zapata’s life, Hacienda life and the Revolution.  Several of these canvases are already in place each reflecting years of research and a great attention to accurately detailing the conditions of 1910-1919.

The museum itself is a small, nearly perfect space, containing numerous artifacts collected by the Director with the help of the Anenecuilco community.  Lucino once told me he only had to ask for these items for the people to proudly give up treasures that could easily have been auctioned in the open market.   

Our next stop, a short distance away by kilometers, but light years away in ambience, is Chinameca, the dismal town where Zapata was ambushed and assassinated. The site museum is currently being refurbished for the Centenario and hopefully, by the time you arrive, will reflect better on the town and its place in history however despised.  Despite its poor museum, the town is worth visiting if for no other reason than to see the bullet holes from the Zapata ambush still visible in the walls. 

Tlaltizapan, home of Zapata’s revolutionary headquarters is my recommended next stop.  The headquarters building itself is home to another excellent small museum.  Tlaltizapan is a beautiful little town and, like Anenecuilco, well worth a visit on its own merits.  Tlatizapan has a heroic revolutionary history, being famous for protecting Zapata from the federal army that, on August 13, 1916, massacred 250 men, women, children, and elderly who died at the hands of the army rather than reveal information that would lead to Zapata’s capture. 

If you choose to make this trip on your own, I strongly urge you to take John Womack’s Zapata with you.  It is memorable to read the pertinent sections while visiting the various sites.  If you prefer a guided field study, an excursion to “Zapataland” is one of my favorites and available with a 10 person minimum.  If you are interested in being on a list for this trip or getting a group together, please email me at the address below.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Mexican Revolution through the Eyes of Foreigners

Today is the last of the Days of the Dead; if you haven't done so, make a point of stopping in at a cemetery to see the transformation of the last 24 hours; be sure to take your camera.  Once Days of the Dead is behind us, the media, government, and commercial enterprises will shift gears and bombard us, not with Thanksgiving, but with the centennial anniversary of the beginning days of the Revolution of 1910.   

Interestingly, four outstanding authors who wrote about the Revolution are English-speaking foreigners.  John Womack, Jr.'s, Zapata and the Mexican Revolution is considered, both in Mexico and around the world, the definitive history of the Revolution. Describing the social upheaval as it affected central Mexico, Zapata is a fascinating weave of Emiliano Zapata's motivation and his leadership role in the social upheaval.  With facts and figures Womack gives us cultural and socio-economic information to help us understand the motivation and point of view of the various groups in society.  You will want to read this book with map in hand as he takes you through the state of Morelos and occasionally into Puebla, Guerrero, and Mexico City.  Womack, a U.S. academic, writes in a well-documented, footnoted, style.  

Englishwoman, Rosa King doesn't have a single footnote in Tempest Over Mexico (available free at <tempestovermexico.com/download.html>).  In contrast to Womack's statistics, Mrs. King poignantly narrates the pain, suffering, and death  she witnesses, involving people from every social class, many of whom she knew personally. From the vantage point of her little English tea shop on Cuernavaca’s main square, Mrs. King seems to see it all.  The powerful came through her front door, the poor through the kitchen.  From her you receive a visceral 'feeling' for the social conflicts of the Revolution.   Most every landmark she mentions still stands open for visiting.      

Mrs. King empathized with the peasants and the conditions leading to the Revolution.  Nonetheless, when the war began she found herself caught in the middle, dependent upon government forces to make the grueling, tragically costly, evacuation from Cuernavaca. 

Mrs. King, like many of the readers of this newspaper, held the citizenship of a country in which she was not born and never lived for extended periods of time.  Some of us are travelers vacationing in Mexico, some are here temporarily on business, some  self-proclaimed “expats,” have moved from abroad and intend to stay and make our residence here. There are even some of us, an unusual lot, who live in Mexico but may never have lived in our country of nationality.

Journalist John Reed, author of Insurgent Mexico, covered the Mexican Revolution for Metropolitan Magazine, at a time when the U.S. was considering intervention and annexation.  Reed traveled with Pancho Villa’s army, shared their deprivation, and came to understand the motivations of these peasant soldiers.  Reed deeply sympathized with the peons and vehemently opposed the U.S. intervention that began after he left.  Insurgent Mexico is the compilation of his war correspondent stories, many of them so timeless they could have appeared in yesterday’s paper.

In contrast to Rosa King’s personal narrative,  John Womack’s academic masterpiece, and John Reed’s intense journalism, is John Steinbeck’s "Viva Zapata!", starring Marlon Brando, 1952.  A  dramatization of the revolution through the eyes of General Emiliano Zapata, it was nominated for multiple Oscars. What most people don’t know is that Steinbeck lived for some time in Mexico, loved this country, and, in preparation for writing the script, was a student of the conditions that led to the Revolution.  Zapata, a hard to find, but excellent, book includes the background information and narrative he used in writing the script for "Viva Zapata!", and also two quite different versions of the familiar script. 

All four of these books (and the movie too) are excellent and may help readers to a better understanding of why revolutionary ideals are considered sacred to so many in this country.   Next week will be an excursion through the rich revolutionary geography of Morelos with ideas for trips one might enjoy.