Performance and Social memory

Jesus Canchola-Sanchez

la virgen de guadalupe (perception of)
& birth of "la chingada"

Mestizo boy plays Juan Diego.

At the age of five my grandmother decided that I, along with dozens of other boys, was to be Juan Diego on the day of La Virgen de Guadalupe. My grandmother prepared for months. It took all that time to gather the money for dues given to the church allowing the privilege, sewing my Juan Diego costume and psychologically preparing me for the exposure. At the time it all seemed like a big game where I got to dress up. I also had a little mustache drawn on my face to better resemble the indigenous man that was chosen by la Virgen de Guadalupe to carry out her wishes. December 12th came and the service was in process. My little five-year-old head did not understand why I had to take white flowers to the statue. My biggest fear at the time was parading through the center aisle with all the parishioners gazing at my small body. While all the other boys did their duty of making tribute to la Virgen, I refused. My refusal came out of fear without understanding the significance attached to this act. My grandmother for the first time got so angry that she pinched me. She didn't do it hard but enough to let out some of her frustration at my rebelliousness. Needless to say, I cried as if she had whipped me.

Made in México.

Growing up in a Catholic Mexican family is growing up with the image of the mestiza virgin all around you. She is part of Mexico's culture. Here culture is defined as a, "system of shared meanings, attitudes and values, and symbolic forms…in which they are expressed or embodied." As I grew up I came to understand the fervor in which she is idolized. Her image appears in almost any sort of product you can imagine. Today you see her in dice, key chains, hoods of cars, bodies, etc. Guadalupe appears outside of the traditional context in which she appeared. She is a product in the sense that people have made her image part of their acquisitions outside of the church. She is an example of popular culture or the "primitive" as she is transformed from a Catholic deity into a consumer product or commodity. In our case the popular is an, "…obstacle to be removed or a new category of commodities to help increase sales to consumers unhappy with mass production." The formula is not quite that simple as she continues to retain her validity as a celestial figure even within the sphere of an economic mass market. Guadalupe products contain a peculiarity distinct from any generic object in that she "…derives from the fact that the people create at work, and in their lives in general, specific forms of representation, reproduction, and symbolic elaboration of their social relations." The trinkets where her image appears maintain their holy appeal as equal to or at least very close to Juan Diego's ayate in la Basilica. The image retains her symbolic figure even as a product that can be utilized and/or changed. The economic value of a Guadalupe product maintains her position in a capitalistic enterprise where the goal of the vendor is to acquire profit using her image. Yet it is too simplistic to refer to the products containing the image of la virgen as profit oriented products solely. The image itself contains power over those who acquire it. Even in the most (what may seem to be) irrelevant forms, Guadalupe maintains her role of protector. Taxi drivers kiss their dice before beginning their shift, I carry my key chain as a reminder of my mothers' faith for protection against evil, vatos proudly showcase their cars as symbols of their Mexican identity, etc. The product contributes to the reproduction of society yet the symbolic prevails over the practical usage of the product. So, Guadalupe as a product and la Virgen as god's mother interact with each other in the popular of culture? Possibly her transformations are her new adaptation to remain with her people. Could it be that once again the 'pendejo mexicano' is being fooled by the interests of yet another colonizer? The history of her apparition could hold the answer.

"I am the mother of God..."

For most people, the story of the Virgin of Guadalupe begins in 1531 when she appeared to Juan Diego, an indigenous man in el cerro del Tepeyac. La Virgen appeared on that hill to Juan Diego and Juan Bernardino claiming to be the mother of god. Her request was simple. She wanted to have a temple built for her observance. La Virgen de Guadalupe states, "…I am the eternally consummate virgin Saint Mary, mother of the very true deity, God, the giver of life, the creator of people, the ever present, the lord of heaven and earth. I greatly wish and desire that they build my temple for me here, where I will manifest, make known, and give to people all my love, compassion, aid, and protection." Enduring great hardship Juan Diego accomplishes what the Virgin asks of him. Today in Mexico City stand three cathedrals side by side that have been built to fulfill the request of la Virgen that Juan Diego originally relayed to fray Juan de Zumárraga. Not all three are functional as temples of worship (or the only ones built for la Virgen) and only the most modern contains the holy image that appeared in Juan Diego's cloak. According to oral tradition it took the miraculous image of La Virgen de Guadalupe on the cloak to convince the Spanish friar that Juan Diego's story was valid.

Mestizo boy kneels before her image.

Two years after my initial refusal to pay homage to the Virgin, my first pilgrimage to la Basilica was performed. My mother had made a promise to la Virgen that needed to be carried through in our trip. The four-hour voyage from Guanajuato to Mexico City was the first step towards fulfilling la promesa. When we arrived to the massiveness of Mexico City we worked our way through metro stations and peseros (mini-buses) to find our way to la Villita. Arriving at the site of la Basilica my eyes could not help but linger on the people traveling on their knees praying towards the image of the virgin. We walked to the entrance of la Basilica passing many vendors selling religious images of every kind. The image of Guadalupe dominated the small stands. They carried all sorts of trinkets with her image. All of them had been sanctified with holy water. Once we found ourselves in the entrance my mother stopped and kneeled. She was fulfilling her promise. It was her turn now to travel on her knees from the entrance up to the image of la Virgen de Guadalupe. Without understanding my mothers' actions, I mimicked her performance and listened to her silent prayer as we approached the image of the mother of god.

La Virgen del Tepeyac se llamó la virgen india, porque se estampó en una manta hecha de plantas indigenas, fabricada por los indios; su traje está formado por una túnica de lana que baja del cuello hasta los pies y un manto que cubre su cabeza como era el traje de las doncellas aztecas; su cabello es negro y lacio, su fisonomía amabilísima; se apareció a un indio y todo en ella indica algo nacional y del país conquistado.

It is estimated that during the seven years after her apparition, eight million indigenous people were baptized into the Catholic faith. No one has argued that the apparition of the virgin is solely responsible for the conversion rate but it certainly seems as if her image aided in the process of baptizing Meso-Americans into Catholicism. The image of la Virgen de Guadalupe is one that is regarded to be of utmost relevance to Mexicans, both in Mexico and the United States. Her relevance is not something that has developed through time but something that already existed even before she appeared to Juan Diego and was interpreted by the Spanish to be la Virgen de Guadalupe. The name of Guadalupe is controversial. Some argue that la Virgen de Guadalupe del Tepeyac is the same as Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe Extremadura. Our Lady of Guadalupe Extremadura had as a faithful follower Hernán Cortés. So the Spanish heard Guadalupe and were content with the name since they could connect it to the virgin of Cortés' hometown, Extremadura. Yet when the Virgin appeared to Juan Bernardino and he asked her name, she answered that she was the Immaculate Virgin, Holy Mother of Guadalupe. When the Virgin addressed Juan Diego and Juan Bernardino she addressed them in Nahuatl. Andrés G. Guerrero in A Chicano Theology argues that it is possible that what Juan Bernardino heard was the Virgin call herself Coatlaxopeuh, which is pronounced Cuatlashupe. Coatl means serpent.

Perceptions/sensations of an indigenous past/present/future.

The connections to the indigenous past that la Virgen de Guadalupe brings forth are many. Her appearance in Tepeyac where the Aztec goddess Tonantzin (meaning nuestra madre or our mother) was worshipped is one of the strongest ties to the pre-Catholic past. This attests to the majority of the Mexican indigenous peoples' ignorance of the Spanish name "Guadalupe" well into the 18th century. The common or preferred name was that of nuestra madre, Tonantzin. The symbolism of the serpent was entrenched in the Mexica religion. Tonantzin was la serpíente encantada or enchanted serpent who took many forms or was known by different names: Yollotlicue, Cuahuicihuatl, Yaocihuatl, Tzetximihuatl, etc. The versions of who Tonantzin was and how important she was vary depending on who is giving the account. In general, the writers agree that Tonantzin was a major divinity, her space of worship or temple was on Tepeyac (where la Virgen appeared to Juan Diego), and that Meso-Americans came from all over to celebrate her feasts. Tonantzin was also known as Cihuacóatl. Cihuacóatl was part of the duality composed by Quetzalcóatl and the goddess. These two made up the divine pair in which the principal of Mexica duality, Ometéotl, existed. Here the beginning of all life and of all things originated. La Virgen mestiza strategically appeared as an image of connection. La Virgen, "appeared as an Aztec. No Indian doubted that she was Indian. Moreover, she appeared to an Indian, one of the downtrodden, not to a Spaniard. We could say that, politically, she appeared on the side of the oppressed."
The connection that La Virgen de Guadalupe has to Tonantzin is more than coincidence. I propose that the image of la Virgen has been adapting throughout generations to maintain her role as mother of her people. It is not la Virgen herself per se, but people who have kept her in their senses. The link to the pre-colonial bodies of faith stems from a perception and appears through the bodies of the descendants of the indigenous Meso-Americans. The use of perception stems from Merleau-Ponty in Phenomonology of Perception:
To perceive is not to experience a host of impressions accompanied by memories capable of clinching them: it is to see, standing forth from a cluster of data, an imminent significance without which no appeal to memory is possible. To remember is not to bring into the focus of consciousness a self-subsistent picture of the past: it is to thrust deeply into the horizon of the past and take apart step by step the interlocked perspectives until the experiences which it epitomizes are as if relived in their temporal setting. To perceive is not to remember.

'Los indios' claim the bodies of their children through the image of a transforming/adapting mother. And the children utilize the image in a context that is comprehensible to their existence. Joseph Roach in Cities of the Dead utilizes the process of surrogation to explain the filling of loss with alternates. So in Roach's terms, La Virgen de Guadalupe is filling the lost space created by the violent repression of the
worship of Tonantzin et al. All of the "coincidences" attributed to the relationship between the two are not as relevant as what is perceived by those who worshipped Tonantzin (and the deity mothers before her) and whose descendants now worship La Virgen de Guadalupe. The traditional pilgrimage to Tepeyac in honor of Tonantzin (attested to by Sahagun in the 16th century, by Torquemada in the 17th century, by Fray Servando Teresa de Mier in the 18th century) continues today via la Virgen de Guadalupe. The performance of the pilgrimage is giving reverence to the original as well as the stand-in. Roach explains performance as the process of trying out various candidates to supplement the original. La Virgen de Guadalupe is not an alternate, necessarily, but a forced evolution. Although Tonantzin is no longer known in her ancient form, the physical sense of her worshippers remains intact. La Virgen de Guadalupe as an effigy evokes an absence, gives body to something from the distant past. Roach explains that an effigy, by means of surrogation, fills a vacancy created by the absence of the original. La Virgen de Guadalupe, therefore, produces the memory of Tonantzin via surrogation. Tonantzin herself stems from a series of surrogations. She embodies an even more ancient experience of spirituality that has transformed to include many threads. Guadalupe is not a mere replacement but the continuous exposure of another way of understanding the world recognized in icons, rituals and blind acts of faith.

…it is that in all modes of experience we always base our particular experiences on a prior context in order to ensure that they are intelligible at all; that prior to any single experience, our mind is already predisposed with a framework of outlines, of typical shapes of experienced objects.


The framework in which Mexicans work when worshipping la Virgen de Guadalupe is one that was outlined before the Spanish imposed Catholic ritual. The bodies of the participants in pilgrimages attest to the survival of perceptions/senses that people were forced to erase. The form of organized erasure utilized by the Spanish upon the indigenous groups of Meso-America created a need to survive among people, "…who realized that the struggle of citizens against state power is the struggle of their memory against forced forgetting, and who made it their aim from the beginning not only to save themselves but to survive as witnesses to later generations, to become relentless recorders." Our ancestors found an opportunity to continue the worship of Tonantzin via La Virgen de Guadalupe, who eventually became the legitimate mother of god in the eyes of the Catholic church. Through commemorative and bodily practices the performance of perception has maintained the connection among mestizo Mexicans of today with their indigenous fathers and mothers of yesterday. The pilgrimage, flowers, incense, promises to the Virgin, Tepeyac, offerings, her mestiza image (and countless other links) through the sense of the body have maintained their original significance of identity within a different belief and economic system.
Through the accepted religious framework Mexicans today utilize the image of la Virgen de Guadalupe as a symbol of struggle and perseverance. The political significance of the symbol of Guadalupe and her unifying strength is present not only today but comes
from a tradition of using her to combat injustice. Hidalgo used the image in the uprising against the Spanish, Zapata carried her through the fight for justice during the revolution, Chavez unified farm workers with the same image to fight for worker's rights. Although she is seen as a symbol of unity among all, women have especially utilized la Virgen as a means to re-evaluate their identities as Mexican women. In the documentary Flowers for Guadalupe women explain how the image of la Virgen is a part of their lives. All female pilgrimages have been organized as a means to acknowledge the contribution of women within a structure that maintains their status as secondary to male worshippers. The organization of these women goes beyond exposing matters of worship to include societal awareness of their second class position in Mexico. Individual after individual in the documentary explains how she sees herself in the image of la Virgen. The mestiza resemblance is one of the most powerful connections these women have to the celestial image. The interviews of these women are all passionate revelations of their faith to the female idol, and she is seen as, "la Virgen como nuestra protectora, nuestra guerrillera…" The protection and justification for struggle against injustice is what draws these women to find empowerment through the image. The fact that she herself is female and that she appeared to a commoner and entrusted him with a celestial duty allows the utterance of, "si valgo." La Virgen is not only female but pregnant and she is seen as, "ready to give birth to a new woman who's been forced into a certain position. La Virgen has the power of transformation for la campesina."
Mexicana-Chicana women have also used the image of la Virgen to proclaim and evaluate their identities as mestiza women. Sandra Cisneros writes, "My Virgen de Guadalupe is not the mother of God. She is a face of god without a face, an indígena for a god without ethnicity, a female deity for a god who is genderless, but I also understand that for her to approach me, for me to finally open the door and accept her, she had to be a woman like me." La Virgen de Guadalupe as a religious, political and cultural image of the Mexicano-Chicano encompasses every aspect of the formation of a unique identity. The fact that she appeared to a commoner who could identify with her because of her link to Tonantzin is a testament to her taking up the psychological and physical devastation of a people. The mirror reflection that Mexicans, inside/outside borders, see in her image could be that direct relationship to the past, as well as a reminder of the creation of mestizaje and the continued need to persevere against all odds. She has become a symbol of hope and faith. Mexicans have placed upon her the responsibility to sustain and insure survival and have no conflict or challenge in siding with her.

La chingada or fucked one.

Mexicans have more than one mother. The second mother appears in the form of la chingada, Malinalli-Tenepal, Malinche, Malintzin, or Doña Marina. She is presented to us as an indigenous woman, mother and whore, traitor and a symbolic uterus of the Mexican people. La Virgen appeared to Juan Diego as god's messenger while Malinche is thought of as an evil goddess and creator of a new race. Malinztin sold by her own people to serve and then presented as a gift to Cortes remains a conflicted historical figure. She is a traitor to her own people because of her pivotal skill in assisting the Spaniards to conquer the Aztecs.
Malintzin, has become known as la Chingada - the fucked one. She has become the bad word that passes a dozen times a day from the lips of Chicanos. Whore, prostitute, the woman who sold out her people to the Spaniards are epithets Chicanos spit out with contempt.

Whenever you hear Malinche mentioned, it is in reference to illegitimacy or selling out your own people. The responsibility of the conquest is laid upon her shoulders. Andrés G. Guerrero in his Chicano Theology adds that, "Guadalupe is the Virgin Mother and la Malinche is the raped mother. For Mexicans and Chicanos both are our mothers. One is our spiritual mother and the other is one that has been violated."
A frame exists here that does not have to do with the celestial but with the physical perception of a female body that descends in our tongues as we curse her. Malintzin was offered along with the chickens, turkeys, cotton, jewels, corn and the other nineteen women in a lot to Hernan Cortés after a war battle. An object was sold as the Guadalupe trinkets of today are sold. Malinche's body does not render objects paying her homage or days celebrating her appearance into the world. It seems that her figure exists in complete opposition to Guadalupe. There are two versions of Malintzin's person. One comes from texts composed by indigenous men loyal to the Mexica cause. The other comes from the Spanish conquerors and their allies. In the first her actions are seen in
disgust while a strong resentment lingers because of her power with and over Cortés. In the second she is presented as an example of her people that is able to manipulate the political and religious values of the righteous. The most revealing presentation of her existence comes from Hernan Cortés himself who in his letters to the Spanish crown refers to her as "la lengua." The term was utilized to describe interpreters but Malinche was more as she functioned as ally, secretary, council, lover, etc. In the eyes of the indigenous Cortés was an extension of her. He was known as Malinche. The documentation of her existence leaves more questions than answers. The letters written by the Spanish and the accounts drawn by converted indigenous men leave an absence that cannot be captured with text. In that absence cries out the voice of, "The dark-skinned woman [that] has been silenced, gagged, caged, bound into servitude of marriage, bludgeoned. For 300 years she has been a slave, a force of cheap labor, colonized by the Spaniard, the Anglo, by her own people…"

The cosmic cycle continues.

…La Conquista coincide con el apogeo del culto a dos divinidades masculinas: Quetzalcóatl, el dios del autosacrificio…y Huitzilopochtli, el joven dios que sacrifica. La derrota de estos dioses - pues eso fue la Conquista para el mundo indio: el fin de un ciclo cósmico y la instauracion de un Nuevo reinado divino - produjo entre los fieles una suerte de regreso hacia las antiguas divinidades femenina.

The duality that exists between these two figures speaks to the inner turmoil that exists in the continuing formation of identity. Today we are continuing an unfinished cosmic cycle filled with sensations and perceptions, a cosmic cycle that interacts with capitalistic markets, historical texts, oral history, images, etc. All of our senses within/without our corporal existence drive our actions to conversations linked with bodies of the past. The two mothers, La Virgen de Guadalupe and Malinche, must be merged in their paths to speak of their objectification. The trinket has something in common with "la lengua" and the men who sell her body continue a legacy that informs his children. A dialogue continues throughout our corpses enabling the evolution of our children's interpretation of their beginnings.


The image of La Virgen de Guadalupe exists in the walls of my room, the chain of my keys and my conscious memory of her veneration. The juxtaposition that exists between product and faith is something that I owe to my mother. She has given me the gift of transmission. It is precisely in her body that exists the conflict between La Virgen de Guadalupe and Malinche. Through her I am the virginal mestiza and "la chingada."


Adler, Hans and Menze Ernest A. (eds). On World History Johann Gottfried Herder: An Anthology. M.E. Sharpe: Armonk, NY. 1997
Aguayo, Spencer. La Virgen de Guadalupe en la Historia de México. Libreria de Manuel Purrúa, S.A:
Mexico D.F. 1971
Alarcon, Norma, Castillo, Ana and Cherríe Moraga (eds). The Sexuality of Latinas. Third Woman Press: Berkley. 1993
Anzaldua, Gloria. Borderlands La Frontera: The New Mestiza. aunt lute books: San Francisco. 1987
Anzaldua, Gloria, ed. Making Face, Making Soul: Haciendo Caras. an aunte lute foundation book: San
Francisco. 1990
Barnard, F.M. Herder's Social and Political Thought: From Enlightenment to Nationalism. Clarendon Press: Oxford. 1965
Behrens, Helen. The Virgin and the Serpent-God. Imprimatur: Mexico D.F. 1966
Burke, Peter. Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe. NYU Press: New York City. 1973
Campos, Xavier. La Virgen de Guadalupe y la Diosa Tonantzin. Mexico. 1970
Castillo, Ana, ed. Goddess of the Americas; la Diosa de las Américas: Writings on The Virgin of
Guadalupe. Riverhead Books: New York. 1996
Castillo, Ana. Massacre of the Dreamers: Essays on Xicanisma. University of New Mexico Press: Albuquerque. 1994
Castillo y Pina, Jose. Tonantzin: Nuestra Madrecita la Virgen de Guadalupe. Manuel Leon Sánchez S.C.L"
Mexico. 1947
Connerton, Paul. How Societies Remember. Cambridge University Press: New York. 1989
Demarest, Donald and Cole Taylor, eds. The Dark Virgin: The Book of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Cole
Taylor, Inc: New York. 1956
Dip Ramé, Mons. Dr. Guillermo. Tonantzin Nuestra Madre: Amoxtli Codigo del Tepeyac Mariologia
Guadalupana. Seminario Guadalupano y Josefino A.R.D: San Luis Potosi, Mexico. 1997
Flowers for Guadalupe: The presence of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexican Women's Lives directed by
Gleason, Judith and Colectivo Feminista de Xalapa. Women Make Movies: 1995
García Canclini, Néstor. Consumidores y Ciudadanos: Conflictos Multiculturales de la Globalizacion. Grijalbo: México, D.F. 1995
García Canclini, Néstor. El Consumo Cultural en México. La Prensa Cultura: México, D.F. 1993
García Canclini, Néstor, ed. Cultura y Comunicación en la ciudad de México. Editorial Grijalbo, SA de CV: México. 1998
García Canclini, Néstor. Transforming Modernity: Popular Culture in Mexico. University of Texas Press: Austin. 1993
Glantz, Margo, ed. La Malinche, sus padres y sus hijos. Facultad de Filsosofia y Letras, UNAM: México. 1994
Gramsci, Antonio. Selections from Cultural Writings edited by David Forges and Geoffrey Nowell-Smith. Harvard University Press:
Cambridge, Massachusetts. 1985
Guerrero, Andrés G. A Chicano Theology. Orbis Books: New York. 1987
Ibarra Garcia, Laura. La Visión del Mundo de los Antiguos Mexicanos: Origen de sus conceptos de causalidad, tiempo y espacio.
Universidad de Guadalajara: Guadalajara, Jalisco. 1995
Lafaye, Jacques. Quetzalcoatl and Guadalupe: The Formation of Mexican National Consciousness 1531-
1813. The University of Chicago Press: Chicago. 1974
Laso de la Vega, Luis. "Huei tlamahuicoltica" in The Story of Guadalupe edited and transalted by Lisa
Sousa, Stafford Poole, C.M., and James Lockhart. Standord University Press: Stanford. 1998
Marti, Samuel. La Virgen de Guadalupe y Juan Diego: Guía Histórica Guadalupana. Ediciones
EuroAmericanas: Mexico D.F. 1973
Merleau-Ponty, M. Phenomology of Perception. The Humanities Press: New York. 1962
Morraga, Cherríe and Gloria Anzaldúa, eds. This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of
Color. Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press: New York. 1983
Nuñez Becerra, Fernanda. La Malinche: de la Historia al Mito. Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia." México. 1996
Paz, Octavio. El Laberinto de la Soledad. Fondo de Cultura Económica: México. 1950.
Rodriguez, Jeannette. Our Lady of Guadalupe: Faith and Empowerment among Mexican-American Women. University of Texas
Press: Austin. 1994.
Roach, Joseph. Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance. Columbia University Press: New York.
Rowe, William and Schelling, Vivian (eds). Memory and Modernity: Popular Culture in Latin America. Verso: London. 1991
Sahagun, Bernardino. La Aparicion de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe Mexico. Impresio por Ignacio
Cumplido: Mexico. 1840
Stallysbrass, Peter and White, Allon. The Politics and Poetics of Transgression. Cornell University Press: Ithaca, NY. 1986
Watson, Simone. The Cult of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The Liturgical Press: Collegeville, Minnesota. 1964
Williams, Raymond in A Critical and Cultural Theory Reader. Edited by Easthope, Antony and McGowan, Kate. Toronto Press:
Toronto. 1992
Wilson, Raymons. "Herder, Folklore and Romantic Nationalism" in Journal of Popular Culture. Vol. 6 No. 4: Spring. 1973