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The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Fifth Edition
Paul Lauter, General Editor

Virgin of Guadalupe in 1531
Tradition has it that a miraculous apparition of the Virgin Mary took place near Mexico City in 1531, as the text in the Heath Anthology relates. The Virgin of Guadalupe is a syncretic religious figure. She represents a particular form of the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus Christ, and as such she mediates between humans and God the Father. She is the symbolic mother of all Catholics. At the same time, her brown skin and Indian features make her a Native American Virgin Mother. In addition, she appeared to a poor Indian. Finally, her apparition was on a sacred site traditionally associated with a female Indian god of fertility, Tonantzin. For centuries she has been the image of miscegenation incarnate, the blending of Spanish and Indian worlds.

In the eighteenth century, when American independence movements were stirring throughout the colonies, Mexican nationalists turned the Virgin of Guadalupe into an image of cultural and political nationalism. Her image became the standard of a war of independence, and the miscegenation of Spanish and Indian was deemphasized in favor of an image of New World hybridity, the mestizo. While she competes regionally with other forms of the Virgin, like Our Lady of Conquest in New Mexico or La Virgin de San Juan in Texas, Guadalupe has become a central icon of Mexican American culture. Her image appears in statues on home altars, painted in murals on the side of buildings, tattooed on biceps and etched into windows of low-rider, customized automobiles. Her image serves many different functions, from religious to political, turning up in churches, picket lines, and Chicano literature. She is generally associated with the struggle for civil rights, although her symbol cannot be divorced from traditional values of Catholicism, women, and the family.

Andrew Wiget
New Mexico State University

In the Heath Anthology

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Secondary Sources

Richard Dorson, "Foreword," in Folktales of Mexico, ed. and trans. Americo Paredes, 1970

Ramon Gutierrez, When Jesus Came, the Corn Mother Went Away, 1991

Eric Wolf, "The Virgin of Guadalupe: A Mexican National Symbol," Journal of American Folklore, 71 (1958): pp. 34-39