Our Lady of Resistance: The Virgin of Guadalupe and Contested Constructions of Community in Santa Fe, New Mexico

Article excerpt

In 1692, Spanish conquistadors entered Santa Fe in the reconquest of the current state of New Mexico. With them they brought an image whose potency had spread throughout colonial Mexico, the Virgin of Guadalupe. The first documented apparition of this Mexican Virgin Mary took place in 1531 north of Mexico City at Tepeyac, where she appeared to an indigenous Catholic convert, Juan Diego (Meyer and Sherman 1995, 186). Devotion to the Virgin of Guadalupe has increased over the past several centuries, and today she is one of the most revered Catholic figures in the Americas. The Virgin of Guadalupe--deity, icon, and patron saint of Mexico and the Americas--embodies fluid symbolic meanings (see, e.g., Peterson 1992; Taylor 1987) that are shaped by individuals; social, political, and economic institutions; and ethnic, gender, and class collectivities. The Virgin has reflected multiple expressions of power as, for example, an icon of the state, a symbol of a revolutionary movement, and a figure called on to express collective and individual identities. In their daily lives--at home, at work, and within social and political institutions--individuals and groups, mediated by multiple class, gender, ethnic, age, and regional, identities, among others, utilize and transform meanings of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

In 1998, the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe became the center of a conflict in Santa Fe, New Mexico. After officials at a public elementary school sought to ban images of the Virgin of Guadalupe as "gang-related" (Santa Fe New Mexican 1998b), community members engaged in a debate that positioned the Virgin of Guadalupe as a site of negotiation, and a contested symbol of multiple and contradictory meanings. Analysis of the conflicting discourses and multiple meanings assigned to the Virgin of Guadalupe can explicate power relations and inequalities in New Mexico. Through my interpretation of media representations of this dispute over the symbol of the Virgin, I explore the workings of discourses of difference--particularly the language of race and ethnicity. My analysis is contextualized within theories of the discourse of race, particularly those of Michel Foucault (1985, 1994) and Ann Stoler (1995). I argue that this recent conflict over meanings of the Virgin of Guadalupe reveals contemporary racial struggles in New Mexico, including the complicated web of racism and individual and collective resistance to ethnic discrimination and inequalities.


In April 1998, a Santa Fe elementary school principal banned "any outerwear that is deemed gang-related, for example, Our Lady of Guadalupe shirts" (New Mexican 1998b). E. J. Martinez Elementary School Principal Bobbie Gutierrez sent a letter to parents informing them that "gang attire" would not be permitted at the school. In response to the Martinez Elementary School ban of the image of Guadalupe, members of the community--including the archbishop and other Catholic Church officials, parents and children, and the media--engaged in a debate about the imagery and meanings of the Virgin of Guadalupe. The multiple and conflicting discourses defined and delineated different visions of community.

Although there are very few documented gang members in Santa Fe elementary schools (Leffler 1999), it is likely that Principal Gutierrez understood her move as precautionary. According to Detective Larry Leffler of the Juvenile and Gang Violence Unit in the Santa Fe Police Department, as of 1999 there were eight active gangs in Santa Fe, and more than thirty gangs from other parts of the country with ties to New Mexico (Leffler 1999). In 1989, the Santa Fe Police Department believed that gang activity had become significant enough to create the Juvenile and Gang Violence Unit (Leffler 1999). Throughout the United States, community groups, school administrators, and law enforcement agencies have attempted to address gang violence in multiple ways. …