Ask a Mexican

How did the Virgin of Guadalupe Get Her Name?

Dear Mexican,

How did the patron saint of Mxico get a name derived from Arabic?

El Moro Judo

Dear Jewish Moor,

You're referring to the Virgin of Guadalupe, the brown-skinned apparition of the Virgin Mary who tradition says appeared before the Aztec peasant Juan Diego in December 1531 just outside modern-day Mexico City. As you correctly noted, Guadalupe's etymological roots spring from Arabic: The name is a mishmash of the Arabic word for valley (wadi) and the Latin lupus (wolf) and was what the Moors called a river in the Extremadura region of Spain. Hernn Corts and his merry band of murderous Extremadurans venerated a Black Madonna found near their hometown river, so it's no stretch to theorize that any Holy Mother appearing before a bunch of Mexicans on the conquistador's watch would assume the nombre of Guadalupe.

But another school of thought favored by many Mexican and Chicano scholars argues that Guadalupe got Her name thanks to Spanish stupidity. They maintain that Spanish clerics misunderstood Juan Diego when he told them la virgen called Herself Tlecuauhtlapcupeuh ("She who comes flying from the region of light and music and intones a song, like the eagle of fire" in Nahuatl) and Coatlaxopeuh ("I crushed the serpent with my foot"). The two terms are rough homonyms of Guadalupe, goes the tale, and so the Spaniards assumed Juan Diego meant their goddess and renamed his brown virgin Guadalupe. The problem with this revisionist theory, however, is that it has no basis in historical fact. The German theologian Richard Nebel pointed out in his 1992 study Holy Mary Tonantzin Virgin of Guadalupe: Religious Continuity and Transformation in Mexico, "Until today, no one has found any document from the sixteenth century in which one can verify the Nahuatl phonetic origins of the word that the Spaniards supposedly thought resembled 'Guadalupe.'" Besides, the idea of an Islamic-derived Guadalupe is better: Imagine how freaked out gabachos will get when they discover that the Empress of the Americas is part Muslim!

Dear Mexican,

Can the December 12 roundups be construed as just your everyday harassment and discrimination against Mexicans by a corrupt government and corporate slave masters hellbent on intimidation?

Gabacho Blood, Mexican Heart

Dear Gabacho,

S. America is still chattering about the Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids last month at six Swift & Co. meatpacking plants that nabbed about 1,300 illegal immigrants. Reactions fell along the same tired lines: Anti-immigrant pendejos applauded the government for tearing families apart and messing with our free-market economy, while the amnesty crowd howled at the government for enforcing immigration law. But this Mexican doesn't believe the sweeps signify the start of something sinister, as some Mexican activists fear. Raids are an accepted part of Mexican life in the States: I remember playing a version of hide-and-go-seek as a child that involved someone shouting "La migra!" and everyone else scattering away. For folks to act surprised that the government dared chase after illegals is arrogant at best, ignorant at worst. I will fault la migra for one thing, though: choosing the feast day of Guadalupe to carry out the beaner busts. Hell, even the Nazis had the decency not to stage Kristallnacht during the Sabbath.

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Gustavo Arellano
Contact: Gustavo Arellano