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Latina theologians on Our Lady of Guadalupe:a study of Jeanette Rodriguez and Nancy Pineda-Madrid

Theological analysis of the works of Jeanette Rodriguez and Nancy Pineda-Madrid and their contribution to the study of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Rodriguez and Pineda-Madrid share commonalities: both authors are women; both authors are Latino; and both have the same goal: to affirm the spirituality of the lay Mexican-American individual (most commonly woman) and to show how her union with religion is inspiring, rational, and deserving of investigation. Both also consider the Mexican persona, in general, and relationship with religion, in particular, be erroneously categorized and misinterpreted by condescending, largely masculine voices, and they endeavor to correct this through focus on the Latino's relationship with the Lady of Guadalupe.

Our Lady of Guadalupe is particularly chosen as icon since the Mexican people, specifically the Mexican female, has long had an unusual and persistent devotion to her (e.g., Taylor, 2003), and both authors see Our Lady serving as transformative icon to a troubled gender and a troubled individual. Both also see her as being misinterpreted in the popular theological sense (usually by patriarchal voices such as that in Pineda-Madrid's (2005) case, by Royce, and that her correct interpretation should follow that of the lay Mexican-American individual (in both cases, and specially here, the female).

Described in the foreword to her book 'Our Lady of Guadalupe: Faith and empowerment among American-Mexican women' as being "the best theologian that Mexico has" (23), Rodriguez is impassioned and vibrant and it is likely that she is so for she is being the mouthpiece of her people (Pena & Frehill, 1998). Another Joan d'Arc, Rodriguez insists that theology is real and that it is the people who can best mouth it. In other words, that the simple and spontaneous articulation of the people are neither simplistic nor simple-minded, as stereotypically opined, but rather express a well-ordered world vision. As Pena (1995) observes, this is a refreshing and bold statement to social scientists in that Rodriguez asserts that her commentary comes from faith, not from science, and this, in her view, best articulates the position of the marginalized and the disadvantaged.

Combining feminism with their own unique Latinidad voice, Rodriguez and Pineda-Madrid step squarely into the perspective of the Latino individual, generally the woman, and show how spirituality is genuine -- and, more so, rational - from her perspective. According to Rodriguez (2004), the Latino female displays a mestiza spirituality where as 'self in community' she reacts against degradation, stereotype, and discrimination with a praxis of love and extracts the inspiration for this praxis of love from Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Hispanic culture differs from that of American cultures in that all is synthesized and holistic, all interconnected and intertwined, and that this particular character can be evidenced in the Mexican-American's relationship to his or her religion. Rodriguez shows how, to the Latino, religion assumes an immediate and familial presence and that this is so can be evidenced by the Lady of Guadalupe. Jesus is more than a deity or a hero. He is also a brother in both his relationship to God and in his relationship to individuals. Mary is mother to the Latinos, and the Lady of Guadalupe, similarly, is their mother too. The saints, moreover, are friends of God just as the Latino individual feels that are friends of herself. To the Mexican-American, religion plays itself out on three fields: the human; the religious; and the interplay between the human and the divine. The Lady of Guadalupe, for instance, combines both. Just as she exists in the human milieu so, too, does she exist in the Divine realm, reaching, through her familial presence to the Latino, to combine and merge both worlds. She epitomizes leadership within a divine frame, and for the Latino woman who sees spirituality -- genuine not conventionalized spirituality -- in every nuance of her life, the elements of divinity and mendacity are excellently combined within the form of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Rodriguez is distinguished by not only articulating the voice of her people -- in the metaphysical sense (and sometimes in the political sense too (e.g. In her book, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Chapter 2), but she also assumes a feminist position. In her political sense, for instance, she expresses the confusion and ambiguity experienced by Mexican-Americans who are compelled to use the name given them by their 'captors'. A female Mexican-American may, for instance, might call herself Latin American in Mexico, yet in America she is referred to as Chicana. Similarly, too, many feel a conflict between their Latino tradition and between their Mexican-American values. Some may identify with one culture more than with another and the attempted synthesis causes conflict (Rodriguez, 1999). Pineda-Madrid (2008) expresses this sentiment in a different way when discussing the Latinos' 'sin of being' and of 'fully living'.

Rodriguez's theology is a mission to the Mexican people, particularly the Mexican woman. As she describes in her book:

Mexican-American women have been raised within a culture and a church, which have never taught Mexican-American literature, history, customs, traditions, or food. We have had to study about everyone else but never about ourselves. We now need to take that time to study about our origins and ourselves because "history is not merely the record of the past but the life source of the present and the hidden energy of the new future"(p.63).

The Chicano, in reality, is made up of a variegated spectrum of personalities and different character types, but Rodriguez accuses America of stereotyping the Chicano and, by doing so, reducing her into a formless simplistic individual. As excuse for American prejudice, colonialism, and discrimination, the Mexican -- American family is portrayed as dysfunctional, naive, superstitious, and primitive, and the woman is, often, depicted, as illiterate and simplistic. The reverse is, in fact, often the case. As recent historians and social scientists are asserting: the Mexican woman is a strong, independent individual who serves as the basis and bastion of her family and as transition between all realms, human and divine bridging both. She is, in a way, a microcosmic Lady of Guadalupe.

Both authors accuse traditional researchers of depicting the Lady in a traditional, erroneous, masculine manner. Pineda-Madrid focuses on Elziondo (and Rodriguez does so, too, on various occasions). Both assert that the Lady absorbs masculine traits (such as omniscience and power) in her overarching feminine form and, by doing so, transmutes them to femininity. The Lady is more than justice; she is salvation, love, and compassion. And it is the typical Mexican-American (or Chicano or Latino individual -- howsoever you may wish to style her) who possesses the truest perception in seeing her as thus: "Human liberation must include not only the pursuit of justice but the celebration of life" (Pineda-Madrid, 2005, 33), and the Lady excellently merges both.

In practical research done amongst samples of Mexican-American women on their relationship with the Lady of Guadalupe, Rodriguez repeatedly discovered that parallels exist between the stereotypes of the Mexican-woman and between the stereotyped images of the Lady of Guadalupe. In other words, that just as the Mexican woman is condescendingly portrayed by America as uneducated and simplistic, the Lady of Guadalupe is similarly characterized as a model of servility and humility. To the reverse, the Mexican woman is increasingly been seen by sympathetic voices as being a strong, driving force within her family, and the Mexican-American woman, in turn, reinterprets Guadalupe as a liberating and empowering catalyst.

It seems to me that Jeannette is trying to draw a connection here: Mexican-American woman are stereotyped just as the Lady of Guadalupe is. Mexican-American women couch their Lady in their own image so that she serves as instrument to enable them to deal with their conflict of synthesizing two contradictory cultures, one of which asserts itself to be superior whilst condemning the other as inferior. (Rodriguez, 1994).

More so, as Rodriguez (1997) points out in another essay, just as Mexican-American woman are simplified so, too, is the Lady of Guadalupe but within the Lady, within her spirituality lies leaderships skills; the Lady is the paragon of leadership, and the Mexican-American, by identifying with these characteristics, is that too.

It is interesting that both authors perceive the Lady of Guadalupe as someone whose interpretation differs according to experience of the interpretateor; that contemporary perceptions perceive her as liberator for women and that, by so perceiving her, shift her traditional connotations from masculine-based to Feminist leadership incarnate. Our lady becomes, in effect, the leading Chicano Feminist. Molina, one of the Hispanic ladies whom Jeannette interviewed, defined leadership as spirituality, and, indeed, leadership is the very essence of the Lady: therein lies the syntheses of her compassion, power, and deliverance, and it is due to that that she has won both enduing respect from the Mexican populace as well as committed affection.

Pineda-Madrid (2005) wonders how theologians can seriously consider feminist and phenomenological reinterpretations of…