In the Southland and throughout the Southwest and Mexico, Latinos will venerate their patron saint, the Virgin of Guadalupe today. For Mexican-Americans, it is a time to reaffirm pride in their cultural heritage with processions, traditional early morning serenades called mananitas, Masses accompanied by mariachi music, folkloric and Pre-Columbian dances, and traditional Mexican foods.
You can sample the flavor of this special day at the festivities in many parish churches in Central and East Los Angeles.
The celebrations acknowledge the widely held belief that the Virgin of Guadalupe appeared to Juan Diego, a humble Indian, in early December, 1521, shortly after the conquest of Mexico. Juan Diego was walking near Tepayac Hill, at that time on the outskirts of Mexico City, when a beautiful dark-skinned woman appeared. She said she was the Virgin Mary and asked that a church be built in her honor on that spot.
The bishop, skeptical that so holy a figure would appear to a humble Indian, sent Juan Diego away. When Juan returned to the hill, the woman reappeared and told him to pick roses from the barren ground to take to the bishop as a sign. When Juan opened his cloak to show the roses to the bishop, an image of the Virgin appeared. She had the dark skin and appearance of an Indian.
Since that time, the banner of Virgin of Guadalupe has served to unite those seeking liberation from oppression. It is considered to be the first flag of Mexico, because Father Hidalgo, the priest who started the Mexican War of Independence in 1810, carried a standard portraying her image. Similar banners have also been carried in demonstrations of the United Farm Workers.
Elisa Garcia Lopez, executive director of the Educational Literary Society of Los Angeles, said: "The Virgin of Guadalupe is a symbol of the spiritual union of Spanish-speaking people. She is proclaimed to be the queen of the Americas and represents a great pride in our culture."
Today, the festivities honoring the Virgin of Guadalupe begin at dawn when the faithful gather at their churches for traditional mananitas. Usually mananitas are songs sung at dawn to honor the birthday or saint's day of a special relative or sweetheart. When the special songs are sung to the Virgin, they indicate the veneration that Mexicans feel for her. The Masses that are celebrated at 5 or 6 a.m. are often accompanied by mariachis.
After the Mass, parishioners enjoy a breakfast consisting of such typical, indigenous foods as menudo (a soup made from corn and the stomach of beef) served with lime and cilantro, tamales, atole (a Mexican Indian drink made of corn), champurrado (a drink combining chocolate and atole ) and sweet bread. Some churches plan celebrations of folkloric and matachin dancing throughout the day and at Masses tonight and Sunday. Matachin dancers in traditional Indian dress reenact Pre-Columbian Aztec dances to the accompaniment of flutes and drums.
On Sunday, an annual procession honoring the Virgin of Guadalupe will start at Our Lady of Loretto Church in Central Los Angeles, wending through the streets just west of downtown. As in similar processions held in Europe and Latin America, the faithful will follow the banner of the Virgin. The procession, which will include mariachis and matachin dancers, will return to the church for a festive Mass.
Special Masses and celebrations for the Virgin of Guadalupe are open to the public. Parking is available adjacent or near the churches. The following is a sampling of planned activities.
Our Lady of Loretto Catholic Church, 250 N. Union St.; (213) 483-3013.
The annual procession will begin at 12:30 p.m. at the church, proceeding south to Beverly Boulevard; west on Beverly to Alvarado Street; north on Alvarado to Temple Street and east on Temple to the church. Parking is available in a lot north of the school at 258 N. Union St.
St. Matthias Catholic Church, 3095 E. Florence Ave., Huntington Park; (213) 588-2134. Church members will reenact the apparition of the Virgin of Guadalupe to Juan Diego at a 7 p.m. Mass tonight. Following the mass, matachin dancers will perform and chocolate will be served.
Our Lady Queen of Angels Old Plaza Church, 100 W. Sunset Blvd.; (213) 629-3101.
Masses with mariachis are scheduled throughout today at 6:30, 7:45, 9 and 10:30 a.m.; 12:45, 2, 3:15, 5:45 and 7 p.m. At 11:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. the choir will sing. Masses with mariachis are scheduled Sunday at 11:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.; the choir will sing at other Sunday masses. Matachin dancers will perform in the patio, and menudo, tacos and chocolate or champurrado, will be available outside the church today.
St. Thomas Catholic Church, corner of Pico Boulevard and Mariposa Avenue (one block east of Normandy Avenue); (213) 737-3325. Tonight at the 7 p.m. mass, children of the parish will be dressed in Indian costumes typical of Mexico. Mariachi music and folkloric dancing will follow the mass, and typical refreshments will be served.
St. Patrick's Catholic Church, 1046 E. 34th St.; (213) 234-5963.
Aztec dancers from Mexico will dance before the Mass on Sunday at 11 a.m. The Mass will include a procession with the banners and a choir of youth singers. Following the mass, tamales, champurrado, enchiladas, bunuelos and other typical foods will be sold.