Davíd Carrasco: Morning Prayers

This is December 12, which most of us identify as one more day in the march toward Christmas break or as part of Hanukkah or the holidays. But Mexican immigrants and long-time Latino citizens of the U.S. bring another meaning to this day, filling it with spiritual significance and power. Immigrants from Latin America bring more than hunger and hands, drugs and defeat, baseball and bongos. They bring spirits and saints and devotions and myths.

This is the story of a different gift the Mexican immigrants bring to this day. Yes, they are picking the food we need on our tables, serving us our meals and taking care of our children and cutting our hedges, driving our buses. They are the young teachers of their own and others, new doctors and new singers and actors and professors . . . but they bring more.

The other gift they bring to this day is the Virgin of Guadalupe. This is Guadalupe Day, December 12. All over this country, this city, even many places on this campus, Latinos live this day as Guadalupe Day.

This is the gift of her story on this day.

Ten years after the arrows and shields had been laid down in the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, when Indian peoples were dying in heaps, permeated by European diseases, Juan Diego was walking, just as it was beginning to dawn by the hill of Tepeyac, where the Indians had worshiped their mother goddess before the Spaniards came. Beautiful songs of birds drew him up the hill where in a field that looked like quetzal feathers, emeralds and gold the Virgin of Guadalupe appeared and spoke to him in two languages—Spanish and Nahuatl. The brown-skinned Virgin said to him, "Go to the bishop and tell him to build me a little chapel here so that in it I can give all my love, my compassion, my help and my protection to all the people of this land . . . all the peoples of different ancestries . . . who lament, who have miseries, who would speak with me."

Juan Diego goes to the bishop but is dismissed because he is an Indian. Returning to the Virgin he says, "Don't send me, I am a poor Indian, a backframe, a piece of rope, a wing, a man of no importance, a nobody and nobody will listen to me."

She answers, "I could send a valuable noble but you, my most abandoned one, are in the hollow of the mantle, in the crossing of my arms and my love will be mediated through you."

Juan Diego works up his courage and returns to the bishop who tells him, skeptically, "bring a sign to convince me that the Virgin has appeared in the form of a native woman to an Indian speaking in Nahuatl." He returns to the sacred hill and she tells him to climb to the top of the hill where, on December 12, flowers are blooming out of season. She wraps the flowers in his tilma, his Indian cloak, and he takes them to the bishop's palace and unraveling the cloak, with flowers falling to the ground, the image of a dark-skinned Virgin of Guadalupe appears, driving the bishop to his knees as he weeps for shame and joy. And the text ends, "Absolutely this entire city with no exception was deeply moved and came to see her precious image."

There are two messages that this story has for our time. The first is that love, divine love, appears in the form of a woman of color to a man of the lowest social standing whose life is saturated, then, and for centuries after his death, with sacred illumination. This sacred reach, the extent and span of Guadalupe's love to people in travail was recently expressed in Rudolfo Anaya's Elegy on the Death of Cesar Chavez, where he writes:

Cesar is dead, And we have wept for him until our eyes are dry, Dry as the fields of California that He loved so well and now lie fallow. For Cesar has fallen, our morning star has fallen,
And the arrogant hounds of hate
Are loose upon this land again, and Cesar weeps in the embrace of the La Virgen de Guadalupe, still praying for his people Rise mi gente Rise.

The love of Guadalupe extends even into the afterlife, but as a means of agency for living.

The second message that crosses our borders is that she spreads her garment of compassion for all the peoples, all the different groups of peoples in the land. God asks us through Guadalupe to defend and protect all the peoples in travail. In contemporary terms, Guadalupe love would permeate and work to transform all forms of prejudice against all groups. She does not defend one group alone. In the words of Carlos Fuentes, Guadalupe overwhelms all the born-again fascisms, anti-Semitism, anti-Arabism, anti-Latino Americanism, anti-African Americanism.

Yet you notice she has color and what of that. It's ambiguous color.
Mexicans aren't quite sure whether she is Indian or Mestizo, red or brown. If we were to ask her how dark or light she was, she might answer:

I am dark,
Darker than the other dark
I am the dark inside the dark
How light am I
I am light
I am lighter than the other light
I am the light inside the light
What colors am I
I am colored
I am more colorful than the other colors
I am the colors inside the colors.

This is the gift of her story on this day.

Isn't it strangely wonderful that the story of this Brown Mother, whom my daughter calls "the number one Mother," named Guadalupe, has migrated, along with Dr. Loco y Los Dos Montoya, to Harvard today.