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Our Lady of Guadalupe

Our Lady of Guadalupe
Faith and Empowerment among Mexican-American Women
Foreword by Fr. Virgilio Elizondo

The role of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the lives of second-generation Mexican-American women.

January 1994
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263 pages | 6 x 9 | 4 b&w illus., 9 tables |

Our Lady of Guadalupe is the most important religious symbol of Mexico and one of the most powerful female icons of Mexican culture. In this study, based on research done among second-generation Mexican-American women, Rodriguez examines the role the symbol of Guadalupe has played in the development of these women. She goes beyond the thematic and religious implications of the symbol to delve into its relevance to their daily lives.

Rodriguez's study offers an important reinterpretation of one of the New World's most potent symbols. Her conclusions dispute the common perception that Guadalupe is a model of servility and suffering. Rather, she reinterprets the symbol of Guadalupe as a liberating and empowering catalyst for Mexican-American women.

  • Foreword by Fr. Virgilio Elizondo
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1. Historical Context: The Spanish Conquest
  • Chapter 2. Our Lady of Guadalupe: Story, Icon, Experience
  • Chapter 3. Insights from the Experience of Juan Diego, First Perceiver of Our Lady of Guadalupe
  • Chapter 4. The Experience of Mexican-American Women
  • Chapter 5. Methodology and Research Findings
  • Chapter 6. Analysis: Six Questions
  • Chapter 7. Theological Significance
  • Chapter 8. Conclusions
  • Appendixes
    • A-1: Demographic Questionnaire
    • A-2: Level of Religious and Cultural Participation
    • A-3: Most Important Church Holiday, Symbol, and Belief
    • A-4: Most Important Religious and Cultural Holidays-Ranked
    • B-1: The Adjective Check List (ACL)
    • B-2: Sample Scores
    • B-3: Categorization of Participants' Statements according to DeVos's Motivational Concerns
    • C: Consent and Participation Agreement Form
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Jeanette Rodriguez is an assistant professor at the Institute for Theological Studies at Seattle University.


There are 12.6 million people of Mexican descent in the United States (U.S. Department of Commerce 1988) and everywhere Our Lady of Guadalupe is known to them: a brown-skinned woman surrounded by the sun, cloaked in a blue mantle covered with stars, standing on a crescent moon held by an angel. She looks down, and the expression on her face is one of kindness, compassion, and strength.


The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is found throughout Mexican-American neighborhoods: as a statue or painting adorning a sacred corner of the home, as a medallion worn around the necks of young and old believers, as an image on T-shirts, on the sides of buildings, and even on business logos. The name "Guadalupe" is given to both girls and boys and is bestowed not only on parishes and churches but also on streets, towns, cities, rivers, and mountains.


To be of Mexican descent is to recognize the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. In the barrios and businesses of Mexican Americans, Our Lady of Guadalupe has a home. She shares the technological, fastpaced, elitist, and secular milieu of the United States with her many compatriots, who also share her dark skin and her language. In fact, it would appear that this religious image of a solitary woman is never far removed from the Mexican-American "phenomenon" in the United States.


This book emerges from a study investigating the perceptions that Mexican-American women have of Our Lady of Guadalupe, what--if any--relationship exists between them, and the context of that relationship. Who is Our Lady of Guadalupe today? More importantly, who is she for these women? Has the legacy of this feminine religious image had any effect on the lives and identities of Mexican-American women? Is Our Lady of Guadalupe a curious relic from the past or does she serve an important purpose in the lives of Mexican-American women today? As an educator, theologian, and pastoral clinician, these questions were of increasing importance to me as I struggled to assist Mexican-American women in their quest for meaning and identity in their homes, their church, and their society. Out of this commitment and concern for their religious and psychosocial health, I began to focus on questions involving the influence of Our Lady of Guadalupe on their lives. Out of that same concern, this book is offered as a resource for women to be affirmed through the message of Our Lady of Guadalupe.


Similarly, who is the Mexican-American woman of today? Do the Spanish Conquest and the U.S. takeover of northern Mexico in 1848 have an impact on the contemporary Mexican-American woman? What is the result of living one life in American schools and another one at home and in her community? She is seen by some as emotionally dependent while putting the needs of others before her own, archetypally a patient wife and mother. What is the impact of living with "those macho Latino men" on the women, often labeled neurotic and masochistic? Do Mexican-American women follow the "model" Mexican personality type characterized by pervasive feelings of inferiority? Within Mexican culture, women have been viewed as untrustworthy, violated, submissive, and passive all at the same time. How can these women be expected then to be warm, responsive, and devoted to their family? The Chicana is portrayed as a wife of a domineering man and a mother of a large family, passive yet untrustworthy. Often treated in an exclusively maternal role, she is designated a lowly status and expected to give completely of herself to her family.


As Mexican-American women take part in the day-to-day affairs--both familial and social--of their lives, they cannot help but question and redefine themselves as women in U.S. society. Faced with clashing cultural and social values, struggling as "women of color" within a predominantly white society, Mexican-American women daily meet the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. For these women, Our Lady of Guadalupe is a model that arises out of their own cultural living, a model of feminine strength that appears in both the secular and religious worlds.


The Study and Its Framework


Struck by the prominence of the feminine image of our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexican-American culture and concerned with the ways in Mexican-American women might relate to and identify with this image, I set out to study its effect on their lives and identities. I chose to do an exploratory study that would identify these women's perceptions of Our Lady of Guadalupe and describe the nature of the relationship between them--the first step in understanding how Our Lady of Guadalupe influences the daily existence of Mexican-American women.


By no means is this understanding complete. A total picture would be interdisciplinary and include many factors that have not been addressed in this study, such as anthropology, education, economics, political science, and immigration policy. To focus the study and to avoid broad generalities, I examined Mexican-American women with a single lens which includes psychosocial, religious, and developmental factors. Each dimension of this perspective helps to elucidate the other dimensions, offering a more comprehensive picture of the relationship of these women to Our Lady of Guadalupe. This perspective offers professionals (specifically educators, clinicians, and pastoral workers) a tool with which to assist in Mexican-American women's empowerment.


My working assumption was that an individual's experience is grounded in history--in a specific historical, social, and cultural context, interacting with other people. An individual's experience is shaped by culture, history, and economics; similarly, a culture's experience is shaped by its history.


Intrapsychic life (emotions, fears, motivations, aspirations, religious yearnings) is also influenced by experience and the interpretive framework we assign to that experience and is an integral part of being human. How we respond to intrapsychic and interpersonal life experiences depends on our stage of development, whether exploring psychosocial or theological categories.


Because there had been no development of a systematic psychology of Mexican-American women at the time of this study, I found it necessary to take an interdisciplinary approach. I developed a psychosocial religious framework, which emerges out of my own discipline of Religion and Personality Sciences, which in turn draws from psychology, religious studies, anthropology, and sociology. Such an approach first began in the 1960s under the name Chicano Studies, incorporating sociology, anthropology, psychology, and the humanities. The theorists I draw from include Jerome Frank (1961) for the psychosocial dimension, William James (1958) for the religious dimension, and James Fowler (1981) for the faith developmental dimension. In addition, I utilized the contributions of Carol Gilligan (1982) for her insights into ways women relate, and Gloria Anzaldúa (1987), who captures the soul of the mestiza or Mexican-American woman through her poetry.


The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe as a source of empowerment is even more noteworthy in light of the growing feminist movement in the United States, which seeks to eradicate the exploitation and domination of women as well as to give precedence to the self-development of people over imperialism, economic expansion, and material desires (hooks 1984:324). There are four basic tasks of feminist scholarship and specifically of feminist theology: (1) to rediscover women's position in whatever area we are discussing, (2) to critique patriarchy, (3) to create a new understanding that is based on or emerges from women's experience, and (4) to transform the world and the church. In my study I articulate Mexican-American women's position in the world; I acknowledge that because we live in a patriarchal society the voices of these Mexican-American women have not been heard; I attempt to create a new understanding about who God is, using the relationship between Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Mexican-American women of my study; and I hope to transform the church with this new perception of Our Lady of Guadalupe.




Chapter 1 describes the historical and cultural setting of the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe. As noted earlier, experience is rooted in and arises out of a historical context. The apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe has its roots within a particular historical setting (the sixteenth-century clash of Spain with the "New World"), and this setting played an important role in how it was experienced from a psychosocial and religious perspective.


This chapter utilizes well-known historians of the period, such as Miguel León-Portilla (1963) and Jacques Lafaye (1976), as well as Michael Meyer and William Sherman (1987) and Alfred Mirandé and Evangelina Enriquez (1979), because of their unique perspectives on history: the former write out of the experience of the Aztecs, and the latter from the experience of the Mexican Americans. Virgilio Elizondo (1978, 1980a,b,c) is included because of his specifically Christian reading of this history. Women historians, such as Martha Cotera (1976a,b), Anna Britta Hellbom (1967), and Ana Nieto-Gómez (1975), offer an interpretation of the same period from the perspective of women and include effects of the Spanish Conquest on the female population.


Chapter 2 describes the story of the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe to Juan Diego in 1531, with both Christian and Nahuatl interpretations. The original story as told in the 1531 Nican Mopohua (Here It Is Told) is recounted, as well as an indigenous interpretation by anthropologist/priest Clodomiro Siller-Acuña (1981c), who offers a liberationist interpretation of the Guadalupe event. In discussing the text and its interpretation, the works of Ernest Burrus (1981, 1983, 1984) stand out as some of the most thorough historical-critical studies.


The imprinted image of Our Lady of Guadalupe contains codices. A codex is a book or manuscript with ancient symbols and words; thus Our Lady of Guadalupe is a story in pictures. The technical study of this codex has been done primarily by Jody Bryant Smith (1984) and Philip Serna Callahan (1981). Apart from one study on the stars of Guadalupe's mantle (Rojas Sánchez and Hernández Illescas n.d.), there has been no technical work on the image by Mexican scholars. One explanation for this dearth of scholarship may be that the apparition is considered such an essential part of the Mexican identity that any analysis and/or proof of its validity is rendered a "nonissue" for Mexicans. The fact of the apparition matters less than the fact of their faith. Given that Mexicans and Mexican Americans believe in her, how can we best understand her meaning to them?


In Chapter 3, the focus moves from the image itself to the first perceiver of the image: Juan Diego. This perception was a powerful faith experience for the poor and marginalized 52-year-old Christianized Indian. The perceptions of Juan Diego may offer us an understanding of others' faith experience in perceiving this image. He is part of the event and is the interpreter of that event to his culture. Our Lady of Guadalupe is not merely a popular story but is actually a recorded religious experience of Juan Diego. His religious experience underwent certain changes which follow a pattern. Although Juan Diego lived in a different time and culture, I have found James Fowler's 1981 Stages of Faith schema useful for my own understanding of his experience.


The psychosocial perspective concerns itself with the assumptive worldview of the subjects, including assumptions formed by perceptions, behaviors, environment, emotional states, values, expectations, and the way a person images the self and others. This perspective is influenced by experience and by the historical events, choices, and social conditioning that make up a person's psychosocial milieu.


The religious dimension of the assumptive worldview integrates both religious belief and human behavior, an approach which is especially relevant to a study of Mexican-American women in relation to Our Lady of Guadalupe. In this population, religion is overtly a part of culture, and for many Hispanics the religious worldview is the only worldview. Additionally, religious and cultural oppression play a major role in the formation of this population's worldview.


In Chapter 4, I examine the social science literature on Mexican-American women and discuss its shortcomings, including the stereotypical interpretations of Mexican-American women, men, and their families, the problems with these uncritical studies and interpretations, and the picture that is emerging from careful critical study.


This chapter focuses on the psychosocial religious reality and the assumptive world of contemporary Mexican-American women, using their history as a springboard. These women are not only the product of a mixture of Spanish and indigenous roots (the Mexican culture, mestizaje) but also of the Anglo-American culture which has traditionally dominated life in the United States. Mexican-American women are thus mestizas twice over, ethnically and culturally. In addition we cannot ignore the influence of Christianity itself. Our Lady of Guadalupe as an essentially mestiza figure may serve as a symbol that embodies this multiculturalism.


I chose the historians and sociologists Rodolfo Acuña (1988), L. Grebler, J. Moore, and R. Guzman (1970), and Alfred Mirandé and Evangelina Enriquez (1979) as sources because of their revisionist interpretations. They recount the past through the eyes of the Mexican and the Mexican-American people, rather than through the eyes of those who most benefited from that history. Judith Sweeney (1977) brings a feminist interpretation to historical events. The social scientists used in this study-M. Baca Zinn (1975, 1979), Betty García-Bahne (1977), Sally Andrade (1982), Alfred Mirandé and Evangelina Enriquez (1979), Yvette Flores-Ortiz (1982), and Irene Blea (1992)represent the various fields that make up an interdisciplinary approach. Their work has refuted that of Mexican Rogelio Diaz-Guerrero (1955, 1975) and those Anglo writers who base their theories on him. In addition, the work of George Bach-y-Rita (1982) is used to underscore the psychological reality of Mexican-American women today. I offer a feminist revision of the stereotype and conclude by highlighting the importance of acculturation.


Chapter 5 summarizes the data about the psychosocial religious aspects of the Mexican-American women in the sample. Here you will encounter the women who participated in the original study. They did more than participate: they opened their hearts and shared their lives. Because of their generosity of spirit and their trust, my life was changed. For those of you who have experienced the presence of Our Lady of Guadalupe in your lives, and have been nurtured by that presence, I want to affirm and validate that source of strength for you. And for those who seek to be consoled, empowered, and given direction, I invite you to contemplate her image.


For my study I purposely selected Mexican-American women who had to some degree been acculturated. I sought to identify the existence and nature of continual Guadalupan devotion and to examine the effects of acculturation. My criteria for acculturation were that the women (1) be Mexican American, (2) be second-generation, (3) be English speaking, (4) have a high school diploma, and (5) have been exposed in some way to the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Traditionally, the nucleus group of Guadalupe devotees is lower class, but as it happened the more acculturated group was slightly more affluent. However, I set out to study acculturated devotees, not more affluent ones. I have attempted to retrieve a basic meaning in a new context.


In Chapter 6, I explain how the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe can be understood in light of the psychosocial religious state of the Mexican-American women in this study. This state contributes to the data needed to respond to the following six research questions: (1) What is the assumptive world of the Mexican-American women in this study? (2) What factors influence and inform this assumptive world? (3) Who is Our Lady of Guadalupe? (4) How is Our Lady of Guadalupe perceived by the Mexican-American women in this sample? (5) What is the nature and content of the relationship between Our Lady of Guadalupe and the sample? (6) How does this faith experience of Our Lady of Guadalupe affect the women's overarching assumptive world? I show how exposure to the experience of the apparition can lead to tension and conflict, potentially moving the individual from reflection to change. The story of Guadalupe may enable Mexican-American women to move beyond the model of silent, passive endurance to one of empowerment, defense, and help for the oppressed. These questions cannot be answered adequately by any one of the theorists mentioned previously; thus, using an interdisciplinary analysis, I asked the women to speak for themselves.


Chapter 7 begins the process of theological reflection about Our Lady of Guadalupe. In addition to the influences of conquest and acculturation, Christianity has played a major role in the definition of Mexican-American women's identity because Christianity's belief system has so dominated the cultures of which they have been a part. I used the work of theologians José Luis González (1983), Virgilio Elizondo (1980b), Orlando Espín and Sixto García (1989), Robert Schreiter (1985), Clodomiro Siller-Acuña (1989), and Elizabeth Johnson (1989).


There are three areas in which the understanding and application of the Guadalupe event may offer some theological insights to the larger church: (1) popular religiosity, (2) Guadalupe as symbol of God's unconditional love, and (3) the need for "feminine" metaphors for a more comprehensive understanding of the divine.


In conclusion, the purpose is not only a better understanding of our Mexican-American brothers and sisters. I feel that the image and symbol of Guadalupe itself has something to contribute to all the inhabitants of the Americas by helping us amplify our understanding of who and what God is and how God works in the world. I also believe that the symbol of Guadalupe can be a model for what church needs to be-primarily inclusive. Because I believe she can be a source of comfort, validation, and empowerment, I propose that Our Lady of Guadalupe be given an appropriate place in both theological education and ministerial training to assist those encountering Mexican-American women.


My theoretical framework, a psychosocial religious perspective, is an interdisciplinary construct. My tools and methods are also interdisciplinary composites, using a variety of cognitive as well as affective approaches to elicit a response to something that had never before been asked.


A note on terminology: throughout this book I use the terms "Hispanic" and "Latina/Latino" interchangeably for people of Latin American ancestry, although I personally prefer "Latina" because "Hispanic" is a Eurocentric term. "Mexican American" refers to people of Mexican ancestry born in the United States; "Chicana/Chicano" connotes a certain political awareness or consciousness.




“Rodriguez examines the holy image in a scholarly and informative way. Her six years of research lead her to assert that Mexican-American women learn from Guadalupe about themselves as well as something about who God is. This is a study of dignity and humanity, of true power.”
National Catholic Reporter

“ original approach to Our Lady of Guadalupe and her importance for Mexican-American women. In reporting what she has learned in her six-year journey toward understanding Guadalupe and Mexican-American women, Jeanette Rodriguez challenges prevailing readings of both. Throughout, there shines the promise of a passionate, vital, feminine star in the theological firmament.”
Mary Aquin O'Neill, RSM, Mount Saint Agnes Theological Center for Women