my first experience with guadalupe faithful was in salamanca, guanajuato eleven years ago. sure, i'd been exposed to the cultural guadalupanas--the chicana feminist writers who also called her tonantzín and the chicana artists who rendered her as the statue of liberty or as a black belt in karate. but that year in salamanca i found myself with mexican men, women, and children who exhibited their faith in a more traditional sense.
my relatives in salamanca picked me up from the bus depot (i had just arrived from guadalajara), shuttled me to their house to leave my things, and then ushered me back into the car so that we could drive to the church in el centro. i gently tried to explain to them that i was tired, that i really wanted to rest; they brushed aside my weak protests as if i had not made them at all. it was december 11th, after all, the eve of el día de la virgen de guadalupe.
in el centro in front of the church, we joined a growing crowd. one of my cousins bought me a carton of fresas con crema while we waited. they explained to their culturally illiterate pocha cousin that the peregrinación would begin at midnight. we would walk together, carrying an image of la virgen and singing to another church, where there would be more singing, food, and festivities.
i admit. i didn't really get it. it was midnight, and i was tired. and what was this holiday? (yes, i really am that much of a pocha). but i resigned myself to participate with my family. i participated in the procession along with hundreds of other people, holding high the image of la virgen and faking the songs that i could.
years later, i would learn about the cultural/religious significance of la virgen de guadalupe, that she appeared to an indigenous man, the now-sainted juan diego, and because she herself is brown-skinned, like the thousands of her faithful. in many ways, she helped to bridge the gap between the spanish colonizers and the indigenous people of mexico.
but that night, at some point during the peregrinación i started to feel soothed. in the company of the crowd of faithful people, marching along under a blue black sky and orange street lights, i started to feel her significance. that night i experienced a bit of a revelation as to why miguel hidalgo called for the independence carrying her banner and why, 150 years later, césar chávez marched for farm worker rights carrying her banner, as well.
that night, i understood a tiny piece of the history that i couldn't have learned without having experienced it.
i'm glad that my c0usins dragged me, tired and a little bitter, to that peregrinación. it was a good night to be out in the streets of mexico with family, compatriotas, and little miracles.
sometime in the middle of graduate school someone told me that i should attend my discipline's professional conference every year to present my research. i don't know why i listened to that person except that maybe i just wanted to go to new orleans, which is where it was held that particular year.
that year i remember that i arrived in new orleans just a few hours before i was supposed to present my paper. i checked into a nice hotel (i could afford it because i was sharing a room with three other people) and ran, in the rain, to the conference hotel. i had been anxiety-ridden about my paper, thinking that it wasn't "theoretical" enough for the high brow anthro crowd. when i arrived at the room where my panel would be presenting, however, i realized that i had nothing to worry about. only about seven people had shown up to see the panel; most of them were friends.
i spent the next day watching panels i found pretty predictable and a little bit boring. the following day, a friend and i decided to play hooky and go sightseeing in new orleans. we walked around the french quarter, poked around the shops, ate beignets at cafe du mond, and we went salsa dancing at the end of the night. i was thrilled to bump into ruth behar on the dance floor (she is quite a dancer, by the way). i wondered if someday a grad student would be thrilled to run into me on a dance floor at the anthropology conference.
since that first experience, the anthropology conference has come to mean different things to me. it has meant presenting my research and hearing others present theirs. for a couple of stressful years, it also meant enduring the university job interviews.
this year was different. i felt compelled to go so that i could "network" and maybe get some good advice about how to spend my next few years as a junior professor. i'm not that great at networking, but i did talk to some people who did give me some helpful advice. actually the advice was all the same--"write!" and then one of my friends peer pressured me into talking to some university press editors about my non-existent book manuscript (thanks, ronda!). i admit that i felt a little overwhelmed by the weekend, which is probably why i said yes to a night of mojitos and dancing the last evening of the conference.
now, back in california, i am winding down the quarter and preparing for the holidays. i am processing all of the advice, but tucking away my big academic ambitions for the new year.
during the middle of last week i found myself staring into the eyes of a deadline. this fall i'm applying for postdoctoral fellowships so that i can take some time off of teaching to write my book.
of coruse, every application requires a statement of research. these essays usually require you to say, very succinctly, what is your project, what is the status of your research, what you will be doing during your time on the fellowship, and why your project is important (its significance).
i confess that i've been struggling with the fellowship applications. i think that because i've let go of my writing (no blogging, no journaling, certainly no academic writing) i'm having a difficult time articulating my project. i frequently find myself at an utter loss for words.
deadline looming, i found myself that day agonizing over each phrase of my statement of my research and plagued by self-doubt. suddenly my phone rang. i saw from the caller ID that it was a woman i know from south texas.
she is an artist and gallery manager in the rio grande valley that i met recently because of a paper i wrote about border art. though we most often talk about art, she has also expressed an interest in my research in south texas, because my field site is her home town. in fact, a couple of months ago, she asked if she could have a copy of my dissertation to reference for a paper she was writing.
that day on the phone she told me that she had read my dissertation and had been "riveted." my jaw dropped. first of all, the only people that have read my entire dissertation (apart from my committee members) have been my dad and joseph. second of all, riveted?
she told me that she recognized the people and the stories that i had written and said that it was great to see it all laid out in an academic paper. she shared some anecdotes about her experiences with some of the issues that i speak to in my research. her main reason for calling, however, was to brainstorm about how some of the concepts that i cover in my dissertation could be extended and/or translated to some of the art projects that she is currently undertaking.
what serendipity that as i was writing about my project in south texas, a woman from there should call me and tell me that my work was good and meaningful.
i wish that i could say that after the phone call, all the right words came to mind and that i wrote a brilliant research proposal, but no. it was still a long couple days of writing and revision. nonetheless, i was encouraged and felt a little more faith in myself that afternoon.