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.