Origin Stories: 12/12/12

Watsonville_Guadalupe_Theater-1Today is my dad's birthday. He's turning 78 this year. When I was a kid he used to tell us that when he was visiting Mexico, they would call him Lupito, or el Guadalupe, because his birthday fell on the 12th of December. December 12th is the day Our Lady of Guadalupe is honored, an extremely important holiday for Mexican people. I didn't fully comprehend what the holiday meant as a child. My mother was from Mexico, but we didn't speak Spanish at home or celebrate the cultural holidays as Mexico does. However, as an adult, I learned not only what was so very special about December 12th, but I have also connected with my own origin story. My American father met my Mexican mother in Mexico. I was conceived in Mexico and my dad brought my pregnant mother to the Unites States, so I literally was carried across the border in my mother's womb. I was born in the United States and I was raised with Anglo culture and Anglo neighborhoods. As a result I developed a yearning for my Mexican roots.

When it was time to decide on a major for college I decided to study Cultural Anthropology so I could learn more about my mother's culture. My field studies consisted of visiting the town of Watsonville, a Mexican immigrant community, whose culture of origin is a party of daily life. Through these studies I learned that there was an oak tree at nearby Pinto Lake, with an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe in its bark, where people would pray and give thanks for miracles at an outdoor shrine.

For eight years exactly, as of today, I have been visiting this outdoor sanctuary and learning the broader meaning behind the Guadalupan adoration. I learned that the apparition of the Virgin of Guadalupe to an indigenous Mexican is a symbol of the collision between two cultures, the Spanish and the Native, which created the Mexican people. Modern Mexican people, religious or not, living in Mexico or not, see the Virgin of Guadalupe as a symbol of their origins. It is similar to how we, in the United States, see and celebrate Thanksgiving or even 4th of July. December 12th, the day of the Virgin, is a celebration of the Mexican origin story.

I have been photographing Guadalupan culture ever since my first visit to the shrine. This year I was invited to photograph the rehearsals and performances of "Hechos Guadalupanos," a theater production in Watsonville which tells the story of the Virgin of Guadalupe, produced and performed by a grassroots theater group, and performed in a local church. The above image was taken at last night's performance. Tonight they'll perform for their largest audience, hundreds of people who believe the Virgin of Guadalupe is their Blessed Mother. This production is just one example of many that demonstrate the cultural importance she has for the Mexican people.

Without realizing what I was doing eight years ago, I put myself on a path to discover the cultural origin story of my Mexican roots, which as it turns out is celebrated the same day as my dad's birthday. Happy 78th birthday Dad! And Feliz Dia de Virgencita de Guadalupe! I'm proud of my roots, thankful for a year full of blessings, and looking forward to another year full of learning about arts and culture.