On Tuesday, I tell the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe to my seventh grade wunderkinder. They have never heard it before. At first, hearing that a beautiful lady appeared to Juan Diego, they laugh: did Juan Diego fall in love with Mary!? No! I exclaim, surprised that that comment (of all their comments!) managed to shock and exasperate me, and sidebar later to privately examine the potential romantic structures of Marian apparitions more closely.
After I calm them down and return their focus to the story, they listen to the story of roses in December and the tilma. They are in awe upon hearing that inside the eyes of the painted Mary you can see small Juan Diegos reflected in the irises. They are, for a miraculous moment, silent.
Mark Seitz, bishop of El Paso, wrote Night Will Be No More, a pastoral letter to the people of the diocese, following the shootings of August. I’ve thought about it a lot in the intervening months, and I thought of it when the students’ eyes lit up hearing about Virgen de Guadalupe‘s eyes.
If we are honest, racism is really about advancing, shoring up, and failing to oppose a system of white privilege and advantage based on skin color (§14).
We in the borderlands understand in our bones the reality of hate directed at Mexicans and how people can be ‘othered’. Our faith community was born in the fraught encounter between Indigenous communities and Spanish colonists, a ‘choque de culturas’. In that encounter, an insidious message was sent like the report of cannon fire throughout the American continent which reverberates to the present day: Tú no vales. You don’t count (§21).
Against that dehumanization, as once she said to San Juan Diego, who represented a people dehumanized and disenfranchised, Guadalupe says to our people today, ‘you count’, tú vales.
To the refugee turned away at the border, she says ‘tú vales’. To the worker displaced by free trade, she says ‘tú vales’. To the border agent who envisioned giving your life in service to a just cause but now struggle in confusion, and to your family, she says ‘tú vales’ (§50-51).
Her simple message persuades us, as it did that day on Tepeyac, that she is the God-bearer, Theotokos. Only a woman such as this young, brown, mestiza empress, born on the edges of empire and who revealed herself anew on the edges of empire, could have convinced our people of the nearness and tenderness of God. She who shares in our in-betweenness. She is the Mestiza, who takes what is noble from each culture, elevates it and points out new ways towards reconciliation. She takes on our people’s pain and trauma and she transforms it to give birth to hope and redemption (§52).
Guadalupe loves so tenderly that she holds her children in her eyes. What more do we want, do we long for but to be seen—by a mother, a lover, a friend—and held in their gaze? To be known and understood. To be told, by someone who sees us: you matter and you count.