Timothy MATOVINA, Guadalupe and her Faithful:  Latino Catholics in San Antonio, from Colonial Origins to the Present.  Baltimore:  Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005.  pp. 232.  $22.95 pb.  ISBN 0-8018-8229-X.
Reviewed by Georgie Ann WEATHERBY, Gonzaga University, Spokane, WA 99258-0065

Matovina, in Guadalupe and her Faithful, begins his book with the controversy (from the 1500s on) over Guadalupan devotion.  When miracles from the goddess went unanswered, the Christian faith itself lost support, according to many Catholic leaders.  Also, is it the case that Juan Diego's miraculous encounter with Guadalupe sparked the beginning of the official devotion, or did the apparition follow an already existing tradition and image to accompany it?

What ensues is an explanation of Guadalupe as the one who "stayed," as opposed to other figures of Marian devotion who fade away, or fail to make good on their promises.  Via Guadalupan celebrations, women have at times been elevated in terms of leadership and authority,  though in the household and the public square, they were still deemed a subservient status.

San Fernando parishioners in San Antonio are the focus of this highly detailed work.  Their "most persistent belief about Guadalupe has been that her maternal presence is a source of strength, hope, and miracles" (pp. 44),  though not everyone has agreed to this level of worship. Statutes have been destroyed in order to save "souls from idol worship" (pg. 35), all of this being done in the name of God.  Reportedly, this upheaval only caused a strengthening in the devotion (and donation for replacements), however.

Our Lady of Guadalupe has also been viewed as a protectant from droughts, floods, epidemics, and poverty (pg. 47).  A lesson mostly in history, this book immerses the reader in the documented facts of Guadalupe in general, and the evolving of the San Fernando Church in particular.

At times, the book strays entirely from Guadalupan discussions and centers on topics such as the diversification of San Antonio by 1854 (primarily Mexican, German, and Anglo, parceled out in terms of adjacent neighborhoods).  As it progresses, the writing continues along the lines of ethnic and racial composition in the local population, and religious and political battles and milestones along the way.  Facts associated with Our Lady of Guadalupe are sprinkled throughout, but by the midway point of the book, the writing is directed more at historical accuracy than spiritual devotion of a specific people.

Finally, this delicate dance of seeming digressions unfolds.  There was an evolution in Guadalupan faith.  Abandoned by those in power, Our Lady of Guadalupe became exclusively the patron saint of the oppressed (the ethnic Mexican population in San Antonio).  "In the midst of the racial slurs and subordinate social status they endured, devotees' acclamation of their patroness affirmed the honor of the Mexican heritage and the dignity they possessed as children of the brown-skinned Guadalupe" (pg. 93).

A fair portion of the book is then devoted to unfair tactics used against Mexicans and Mexican Americans, including intolerance, discrimination, and downright everyday ill treatment.  The stage is set for a burgeoning Civil Rights Movement.  To quote La Prensa's report, "The day that the cult of the Indian Virgin (Guadalupe) disappears, the Mexican nationality will also disappear" (pp. 116-117).  In other words, in especially trying times, this saint is turned to even more often.  Without her, Mexicans' peace and homeland identity would be impossible to maintain on American soil.

Because the Guadalupan Virgin represented the "sacred laws of the home, love and unity, the foundations of the family" (pg. 123), she promotes the woman's traditional role as homemaker, leaving political and civic action to the male.

Recent demographics about San Antonio show those of Mexican descent (including second, third, and fourth generation Mexican Americans) are 52% of the population (pg. 131).  An attesting of increasing political and religious prominence through the years in the area follows. Both intermarriage and women working outside of the home become more commonplace with the passage of time.  Racial segregation and poverty among those of Mexican descent remain prominent even today in San Antonio, however.  "The illusion of inclusion" is posed in "increased Chicano political representation but little or no change in business leaders' unparalleled capacity to impose their vision of growth and development as the priorities of the city and its elected officials" (pg. 139).

Parallels to the Sacre Coeur in France (though not introduced in this present book) become striking during discussions of images of Our Lady of Guadalupe acting as a protectant during battle.  When examining various wartimes, soldiers of both descents relied heavily on the power of these visions to ward off harm and impending evil.

What is most clear at present is how varied the conceptions of Guadalupe are (pg. 171).  Take, for instance, these polar opposites in how they perceive of the Virgin:

    A Traditional Man's View Today:  "Our Lady of Guadalupe is  magnificent, she's everything" (pg. 153).
    A Liberated Woman's View Today:  "Guadalupe gives you dignity to go places you haven't been before" (pg. 161).
In spite of the fine points, most agree on this:  she is a "powerful but ambiguous figure of motherhood, womanhood, purity, activism, and strength" (pg. 176).  She is, in a word, eternal hope.  And in this regard, above all else, she appears to be all things to all people.

The downside of the writing is that it strays from its namesake often, without apology, and delves far into historical content.  The upside is the fact that Guadalupe, when she is concentrated upon, is shown in various lights—in all her glory, and at times her mystery is even slightly unveiled.


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