December 12, 2021 Editor

“Our Lady of Everyday Life”: La Virgen de Guadalupe and the Religious Lives of Mexican Catholic Women

December 12, 2019

by Melissa Borja

photo above: Photo credit: Roberto Castañeda, Jr.

WN: There is something beautifully compelling in the layers of meaning in Mexican Catholicism about la Virgen.

We Protestant Reformation descendants suffer under a massive dearth of awareness about the Virgin Mary, one that cannot suddenly be injected into our spiritual consciousness after decades of living without her . . .

I value the insights in this article. I am grateful to be drawn in, in some small way, to that great spiritual mystery . . .


Today, December 12, is the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and in honor of La Virgen, Mexicans and Mexican Americans will be gathering to celebrate mass, recite novenas, make music, dance, and march in the streets. But the reality is that devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe is not limited to this day only—La Virgen is such a central figure in Mexican cultural and religious life that she is present and powerful every day. This is especially true for women, who find in La Virgen the possibility of transforming sorrow and pain into strength and hope.

To understand the significance of La Virgen in the lives of Mexican Catholic women, I interviewed Dr. María Del Socorro Castañeda-Liles, author of Our Lady of Everyday Life: La Virgen de Guadalupe and the Catholic Imagination of Mexican Women in America (Oxford University Press, 2018) and “Our Lady of Brave Change: Spiritual Imagination at the Heart of Strength & Resilience.” Dr. Castañeda is Co-Founder, with her teenage daughter Lupita, of Becoming Mujeres a firm that helps Latina mothers and daughters translate cultural expectations into opportunities. A Ford Foundation fellow whose research has been supported by the Hispanic Theological Initiative and the Louisville Institute, Dr. Castañeda is a former Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Santa Clara University and a sought-out speaker and expert in the areas of Mexican Popular Catholicism, Our Lady of Guadalupe devotion, LatinX cultural expectations, mother-daughter communication, and teenage girls and social pressures.

This is especially true for women, who find in La Virgen the possibility of transforming sorrow and pain into strength and hope.

I argue that through the nexus of faith and lived experience, these women develop a type of Mexican Catholic imagination that helps them challenge the sanctification of shame, guilt, and aguante (endurance at all cost), allowing them to transgress strict notions of what a good Catholic woman should be while retaining life-giving aspects of Catholicism. This transgression is most visible in their relationship to La Virgen, which is fluid and deeply engaged process of self-awareness in everyday life.

What is essential to understand is that while the women may be handed down conceptions of La Virgen as submissive, all-forgiving, and all-accepting, this does not necessarily translate into submissive, all-accepting, and all-forgiving women. Ultimately, women re-craft the social subjectivity of La Virgen as part of their adaptation and resistance to the structure of opportunity they experience in the United States. In their eyes, Our Lady of Guadalupe calls women to act and not endure situations that attempt against their human dignity.

MB: Your decision to consider religious experience across multiple generations is a unique contribution of your book. How does studying Catholic life inter-generationally allow us to understand Catholic life, especially Mexican American Catholic life, in a new way?

MSCL: As I mentioned above, it allows us to come to a more in-depth comprehension of women’s Catholic upbringing. More specifically to the Catholic Mexican American/ChicanX experience, the childhood memories of the three generations of women, reveal the life-giving aspects that come with growing up Catholic. Some of these memories include listening to the stories of miracles granted, las posadas during advent, and las mañanitas (morning serenade) to Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12th.

In their eyes, Our Lady of Guadalupe calls women to act and not endure situations that attempt against their human dignity.

These traditions help solidify a Mexican Catholic identity early in the lives of children. They learn about La Virgen from their mothers, abuelitas (grandmothers) and tias (aunts). In other words, devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe is passed on through the women in the family. From their mothers, they learn to see Our Lady of Guadalupe as their heavenly mother, someone they could turn to in moments of despair. On December 12th, her feast day, they feel her particularly closer as La Virgen comes into their lives through songs in her honor, flower offerings, the traditional mariachi serenade at their local church, and family traditions like home altars and dressing girls and boys in traditional indigenous clothing for the special mass on her feast day.

While these reactions from mothers may be the case across race and ethnicity, Our Lady of Everyday Life argues that this type of silence is rooted in what theologian Virgilio Elizondo calls the sense of shame imposed on Latin America’s conquered people by the Catholic Church.  Unfortunately, this sense of shame continues to be one of the most devastating consequences of the conquest because it cuts across generations. Furthermore, it not only has a particular class, race, and color; it is also gendered, relegating women to a life of complete or selective silence about their bodies, sex, and sexuality. To this day, the Catholic Church continues to perpetuate this sense of shame, placing women in the role of involuntary perpetrators of their own mental and physical subordination as mothers feel nervous to talk to their daughters about puberty, sex, and sexuality. Consequently, some mothers choose to remain silent.

When the horizontal (their sense of their own agency, here in their lived earthly experience) and the vertical (their faith in the heavenly power of Our Lady of Guadalupe) intersect a certain type of feminist consciousness emerges—what I call a (fe)minist consciousness where fe literally means faith. This (fe)minist consciousness allows them to develop strategies for transcending oppressive situations and limiting belief systems. I saw this in particular among the mothers and young college women generations.

To this day, the Catholic Church continues to perpetuate this sense of shame, placing women in the role of involuntary perpetrators of their own mental and physical subordination . . .

Within this (fe)minist consciousness, the relationship that the women have with Our Lady of Guadalupe is continuously shaped by women’s sense of self, life experiences, and devotion to her. While this relationship anchors Our Lady of Guadalupe in Catholicism, it nevertheless is articulated in ways that unbind La Virgen from the more restricting aspects of Catholic teachings about and for women. In La Virgen they find the courage to speak up against physical violence in spite of their vulnerable legal status in this country. They take pride in sharing the same skin color as La Virgen. In La Virgen Morena (the brown virgin), they find racial and ethnic affirmation, peace in the midst of their personal struggles, strength to act rather than to endure, and humility that does not embrace humiliation.

Please click on: “Our Lady of Everyday Life”

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Wayne Northey was Director of Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman – Restorative Christian Ministries (M2/W2) in British Columbia, Canada from 1998 to 2014, when he retired. He has been active in the criminal justice arena and a keen promoter of Restorative Justice since 1974. He has published widely on peacemaking and justice themes. You will find more about that on this website: a work in progress.

Always appreciate constructive feedback! Thanks.