You cannot explain Mexican culture without referencing Our Lady of Guadalupe. For Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, it is by far the most powerful symbol of identity.
Our Lady of Guadalupe is a Roman Catholic apparition of the Virgin Mary. And to millions it's not only a symbol of faith, her image is associated with anything from motherhood, to feminism to social justice."We grew up with her, we are used to seeing her. And as the Mexican-American population grows, the power of her image grows with it." said Latina author Pat Mora in an interview for NBC.
"She is used as a symbol of justice," she added, " she holds an appeal to the poor, to marginalized people. In the modern day, we can see her as representing people standing against oppression, declaring their independence."
To Eileen Truax, a Mexican journalist and author, Our Lady of Guadalupe is a chance for Mexican-American immigrants to
embrace their heritage without being perceived as un-American:
"To Mexican-Americans, it's an opportunity to be proud of their heritage."
But why? What's her story and how did it become such an important symbol?
Who is Our Lady of Guadalupe?
Our Virgin of Guadalupe is one of the few Marian apparitions that the Catholic Church considers "worthy of belief."
According to the church, the Virgin Mary appeared several times in Mexico before a 57-year old peasant named Juan Diego, who was walking near what is now Mexico City and came upon an apparition of the Virgin Mary. She told Juan Diego that she was the mother of Jesus and that she wanted a church on the Tepeyac Hill.
After he tried to convince the archbishop of what he had seen, Juan Diego was asked for proof.
He then returned to share the request with Mary and she instructed him to climb to the top of the Tepeyac Hill to gather flowers and bring them to the archbishop. At the top of the hill, Juan Diego found Castillian roses which were not native to the region.
The Castillian roses were arranged in Juan's tilma (a type of outer garment) and the Virgin instructed him to open the cloak in front of the archbishop.
When Juan Diego arrived back at the bishop's residence and opened his cloak, the flowers fell to the floor and on the surface of the tilma was the image that's come to be known as "Our Lady of Guadalupe".
Today the Basilica of Guadalupe stands on the site where the apparition is said to have taken place. The Basilica of Guadalupe is the most visited Catholic pilgrimage site in the world and the third most-visited sacred place, according to Travel Leisure. One of the reasons is that the tilma bearing the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is on display.
Pope John Paul II, who canonized Juan Diego in 2002, declared the Virgin of Guadalupe "Queen of the Americas."
Why Is She A Social Justice Warrior?
Lady of Guadalupe chose to appear to a peasant, Juan Diego. She appeared to him and not a more senior member of the church. She also spoke his language, the language of the indigenous Mexican people. By appearing to a poor man and speaking in this way, Lady of Guadalupe showed that she was willing to show the indigenous people that they were welcome in the church and loved by God. Her inclusivity helped spread Catholicism to all people in Mexico.