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Part Three: Contemporary Views

Section 1: Chicana/o Movement, United States

In the United States, from about the 1970s to the present, the image of Guadalupe has
again been manipulated and used for social and political issues. The Chicano political
movement grew out of an alliance in the 1960s of farm workers struggling to unionize in
California and Texas. The Mexican American community changed radically when Cesar
Chavez’s Farm Workers Association, later the United Farm Workers (UFW) joined the Delano
grape strike. This accelerated the transition of a labor movement into what became the Chicano
civil rights movement (la Causa or el Movimiento).1 Most activities tackled issues such as
violations of civil rights, low-paid jobs, and decline of benefits to laborers.
The Chicano Art Movement arose toward the end of the 1960s. The history of the art
movement can be divided into two periods: from 1968 to 1975 and from 1975 to 1981 and
beyond. The second period will be further discussed because the Chicana feminist movement
emerged during that time. This period witnessed changes in the dynamics of an art movement
subject to the fluctuations of the political movement and the imperatives of the dominant society
to which that art was opposed.2 The most significant issue tackled by this movement was the
changing perception of the Chicano role in the United States and internationally. Consideration
of gender issues contributed to this change in social politics.3
Soon after the rise of the related Chicano art and political movements Chicanas were
influenced by the feminist movement of the 1970s. Although women were prominent in the
Chicano Movement, they sought to articulate more clearly their own role in society. The
Chicano Movement’s basic goals were to end oppression, discrimination, racism, and poverty.

1
Holly-Barnet Sanchez and Dana Leibsohn. “The Contexts of Chicano Art and Culture: A selected Chronology” (in)
Chicano Art Resistance and Affirmation, 1965-1985, (Los Angeles: University of California, Los Angeles, 1991), 211-
12.
2
Shifra Goldman and Tómas Ybarra-Frausto. “The Political and Social Contexts of Chicano Art” (in) Chicano Art
Resistance and Affirmation, 1965-1985, (Los Angeles: University of California, Los Angeles, 1991), 83.
3
Goldman, 83.

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Despite these crucial efforts the movement did not propose to change gender roles. Beginning in
the 1970s images of Guadalupe were altered by the participants of the movement, and
Guadalupe, as an ethnically charged icon, was used as a catalyst for social change. The
movement gave female artists the ability to reclaim the image of Guadalupe as a role model for
all women. Guadalupe, the woman, was no longer subdued by the male Catholic Church but
became an independent mestiza and native female figure. The traditional image of Guadalupe,
with head bowed and hands clasped, was perceived by Chicana women as a submissive figure
aligned with the Catholic Church, an institution that traditionally oppressed the native and
mestizo culture. As Gloria Anzaldua explains in, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza,
the figures of Guadalupe and Coatlicue/Tonantzin, described as Aztec mother goddesses, were
separated in order to remove the “shadow- beasts” which lead to their disempowerment. The
“shadow- beasts” are, according to Anzaldua, some sort of characteristics that emerge from the
goddesses that scare men and cause them to try to control and devalue female culture. “The
“shadow-beasts” in these female deities led patriarchal culture to disempower them and confine
them to a passive role by giving them monstrous attributes and by substituting male deities in
their place, thus splitting the female Self and the female deities.” 4 Therefore, after the Conquest,
the Spaniards and their Church separated Tonantsi/Guadalupe from each other and of these roles.
Tonantsi (Tonantzin) became Guadalupe, the chaste protective mother, the defender of the
Mexican people.5 The Chicano/a Art Movement encouraged artists to break visual borders, and
because the image of Guadalupe crossed from religious insignia to popular culture, further
manipulation of her ethnic appearance was allowed.

Associating Guadalupe with Tonantzin, which was thought by Chicana artists to be a


distinctive native deity (rather than an honorific title), gave them a reason to transform the image
of Guadalupe into a new figure with an indigenous identity. The inclusion of the name
Tonantzin, understood to be an Aztec Goddess, in their descriptions and or titles of their works
essentially aimed to connect the “Mother Goddess” concept to La Virgen de Guadalupe. This
theme was frequently used after the 1970s and interestingly enough was creatively invented to

4
Gloria E Anzaldua. Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, (San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books, 1999), 4.
5
Ibid, 4, 49-50. Interestingly, these explanations were created by Anzaldua to promote the association of
Guadalupe with Tonantzin and the “Mother Goddess” concept.

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promote the idea that perhaps Guadalupe was not European in origin, but Aztec and absolutely
not Catholic. What historical evidence is there about this particular subject? The name
Tonantzin arose from the Franciscan Friar Bernardino de Sahagún’s account in New Spain. In
1576 Sahagún, who studied the Nahua language and religion, complained that the cult of
Guadalupe gave the natives a reason for idolatry and mentioned the name Tonantzin. According
to Sahagún’s testimony, as stated in his appendix to book 11 of his Historia general de las cosas
de la Nueva España (Florentine Codex), the native peoples of New Spain were addressing the
image of Guadalupe as Tonantzin, which he believed was the name of an Aztec deity. Sahagún
writes,
Near the mountains are three or four places where they used to offer very solemn sacrifices,
and they would come from distant lands. One of these is here in Mexico [City], where there is
a hill that is called Tepeacac and is now called Our Lady of Guadalupe. In this place they
used to have a temple dedicated to the mother of the gods, whom they call Tonantzin, which
means "our mother.” Now that the church of Our Lady of Guadalupe has been built there,
they also call her [or it] Tonantzin, taking their cue from the preachers who call Our Lady, the
Mother of God, Tonantzin… It is something that should be remedied because the proper name
for the Mother of God, Our Lady, is not Tonantzin but Dios inantzin. This appears to be an
invention of the devil to cover over idolatry under the ambiguity of this name Tonantzin. 6

Despite Sahagún’s claims, the word Tonantzin is not a name directed to a particular deity but
was a respectful form of address that was generally used by Nahua speakers of Central Mexico.
It is an honorific title in Nahuatl, meaning "Our Honored Mother" [To = our; nan = mother; tzin
= honored), that applied to elite women as well as a whole constellation of maternal deities.7
There is little or no independent evidence to support Sahagún’s assertion, and the name
Tonantzin is shrouded in obscurity and confusion. Tonantzin was clearly sometimes identified
with two mother deities, Coatlicue (“Serpents, her skirt”), and Cihuacoatl (woman serpent).8
The origins of Tonantzin as a title are uncertain, therefore, identifying Guadalupe as Tonantzin is

6
Stafford Poole. “Some observations on Mission Methods and Native Reactions in Sixteenth-Century New Spain.”
The Americas 50, No. 3 (1994), 340.

7
Carolyn Dean. Email Conversation May 2nd 2008.
8
Poole (1994), 343. The translation for Coatlicue (“Serpents, her skirt”) was given to me by Professor Carolyn
Dean after confirming the name in a Nahua dictionary. May 10, 2008.

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open to question. However, that did not stop Chicana artists from creating their own
interpretations of Guadalupe as an indigenous female.
Santa C. Barraza and Yolanda M. López, are just two of many Chicana artists who have
created (post)modern interpretations of the Mexican Guadalupe. I focus particularly on Barraza
and López because their perspective was not to change the gender role of Guadalupe as a
maternal woman, but give the character strength and connect indigenous/mestizo roots to the
symbol. They tampered with the complexion, facial features, and composition of the original
image to portray not only their ethnic identities, but their political perspectives on equal rights.

Section Two: Yolanda M. López

The Chicana artist Yolanda M. López also re-appropriated the image of Guadalupe to
create a modern role model that echoes feminist ideals on gender equality. The artist was born
and raised in San Diego, now living in San Francisco. López’s series of paintings do not directly
manipulate the original figure of Guadalupe, but alter the original composition to portray modern
ideologies. The artworks that will be examined transform the essence of Guadalupe, using the
concept of a “mother goddess”, to create a strong persona for both the Virgin Mary, but also
mestiza and Chicana women. The Chicano/a Movement re-examined Mexican icons and
through visual communication artists were able to incorporate new perspectives on these
symbols. Therefore, artists such as Barraza and López were able to incorporate their notions
about gender roles, indigenous origins, and Mexican heritage into their works of art. Beginning
in 1978, López conceived of a series of paintings and collages that converted the passive colonial
Guadalupe into a more relevant role model for women.9 In her collage piece, Nuestra Madre or
Guadalupe-Tonantzin, 1978, López comments on cultural syncretism by superimposing the
image of the Pre-Hispanic deity Coatlicue, earth mother goddess, over Guadalupe and the

9
Jeanette Favrot Peterson. “The Virgin of Guadalupe: Symbol of Conquest or Liberation?” Art Journal 51, No. 4
(1992), 46.

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angelic figure leaving the mandorla, sun rays, and crescent moon intact (Fig. 18). She also
places four cartouches, one each corner, which contain images of the apparitions, similar to the
colonial paintings of Guadalupe. This form of manipulation allows the viewer to interpret and
perhaps question the true origins of Guadalupe. When López was asked about her images being
sacrilegious she defended them by stating, “Our Mothers; the Mothers of us all.” López was
possibly emphasizing the “Mother Goddess” concept, and that Guadalupe encompasses all
mothers despite religion or ethnicity. Therefore, the revival of Coatlicue/Tonantzin and
Guadalupe as one unit pays tribute not only to the racial and religious affirmations of the
Chicano movement but to the particular idols of feminist artists as well.10 The piece seems to
have an ancient aura to it as if Guadalupe is Coatlicue.11 The image does not need to be
historically correct; rather, the metaphor allows the viewer and artist to reexamine the original
meaning of Guadalupe. This image serves as an early example of López’s constant association
of Pre-Hispanic symbols with Guadalupe’s colonial composition.
In López’s triptychs, Our Lady of Guadalupe series, the reproduction of Guadalupe’s
traditional composition, including the sun’s rays and mantle, is used to ignite a new perspective
on Chicana, mestiza, and Mexican-American women. The artist explores the specificity of
Chicana self, the Mexican American woman/mother, and the Mexicana/grandmother with
respect to their particular historical insertion and culture within the United States and Mexico.12
The triptych series does not alter the complexion of the original figure. They also do not seem to
represent the traditional Guadalupe or the artist’s self-portrait, her mother, and grandmother, as
women with “silvery brown skin”. Instead Guadalupe is removed and mestiza, Mexican-
American, and Chicana women are superimposed. López utilizes the radiant mandorla, angelic
figure, green-blue mantle with stars, and crescent moon to identify herself, along with her mother
and grandmother, as empowered figures. In the portrait of her mother, Margaret F. Stewart: Our

10
Shifra Goldman. “The Iconography of Chicano Self-Determination: Race, Ethnicity, and Class”. Art Journal 49 No.
2 ( 1990), 170.
11
Historically, the connection between Coatlicue and Guadalupe is never documented nor associated. This
concept has been used only throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

12
Laura Elisa Pérez. "El desorden, Nationalism, and Chicana/o Aesthetics" (in) In Between Woman and Nation:
Nationalisms, Transnational Feminisms, and the State, (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1999), 29.

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Lady of Guadalupe, López depicts a hard working woman seated at her sewing machine stitching
gold stars upon Guadalupe’s robe wearing a pinkish dress, and with the crescent moon at her feet
(Fig. 19). The angelic figure, with striped red, white and green wings (the colors of the Mexican
flag), looks upon the mother/worker in a pensive manner. There also seems to be a dead snake
pinned to the top of the sewing machine. Tired and bespectacled, the mother at rest from her
work gazes at the viewer with the rays of light normally reserved for Guadalupe shining behind
her.13 The painting suggests that López’s mother labors to create a space of dignity, respect, and
the sacred. Moreover, the image comments on and criticizes the oppressive circumstances most
Mexican women have through domestic or low-wage employment, symbolized by the sewing
machine.14 It seems as if Guadalupe, a symbol of Mexican nationalism, has transformed into a
working class woman and can be recognized as a mestiza due to the implication that the sewing
woman is a Mexican immigrant but is also López’s mother. In the second painting, Victoria F.
Franco: Our Lady of Guadalupe, López depicts her grandmother sitting on what could be a chair
that is covered by the Tepeyac Guadalupe’s blue-green mantle (Fig. 20). The sun’s rays
illuminate her background, the angelic figure is not at her feet but by her side with a garland of
roses, and she is holding a knife and a skinned dead snake. She also wears a dress similar to
Guadalupe’s, pink in color with golden flowers, and the crescent moon is displayed as a
necklace. The portrait of López’s grandmother projects the compassionate and calming nature of
a mother figure, and because she has eye contact with the viewer she displays a strong
personality. The last of the series is a self-portrait of Yolanda López, Portrait of Artist: Our
Lady of Guadalupe, where she illustrates herself as a woman running forward, as if she runs
away from the colonizing feminine ideals that are associated with Guadalupe (Fig. 21). López
wears the Guadalupe pink dress with gold flowers, but it is shortened to show her muscular legs.
The mandorla surrounding the figure seems to express the brilliance of her personality and
courageousness. With a dead serpent in one hand and the mantle as a cape in the other she is
ready to tackle any obstacle. She is also shown running over the brown skinned cherub’s, red,
white, and blue wings, signifying her refusal to accept gender stereotypes. The defiant
characteristics of López’s self portrait, her mother and grandmother as Guadalupe, portray their
refusal to accept “the weight of tradition that immobilized woman thus depriving her of any
13
Betty LaDuke. “Yolanda López: Breaking Chicana Stereotypes”. Feminist Studies 20, No. 1 (1994), 120-1.
14
Pérez, 34.

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possibility of action or creative initiative”.15 The male cherubs that reoccur in López’s paintings
can be viewed as insignificant figures compared to the larger sized women. They are usually
depicted with brown skin, and are being trampled, set aside, and even offer flowers to cater to the
female characters. These representations suggest a switch in gender roles where men are not
dominant in social structures. The depiction of the dead serpents being dominated by the
mestiza/Chicana Guadalupan women, on a metaphorical level, represents their power over a
traditional Western symbol of evil. The serpent symbol, in general, comes from Chicana
feminist interpretations that identify Guadalupe as “She who treads on serpents”, an imaginary
Aztec deity.16 López, therefore, refers to Pre-Hispanic symbols and cultures and combines them
with Guadalupe to present the latter as a mestiza who embraces her native ancestry.
Ultimately, the paintings by Yolanda M. López emanate a feminist ideal that challenges
the gender roles placed on Mexican, Chicana, and Mexican-American women. She describes the
paintings as objects that tend to honor working mothers and independent women,
I feel living, breathing woman also deserve the respect and love lavished on Guadalupe… It
is a call to look at women, hard working, enduring and mundane, as the heroines of our daily
routine…We privately agonize and sometimes publically speak out on the representation of us
in the majority culture. But what about the portrayal of ourselves in our own culture? It is
dangerous for us to wait around for the dominant culture to define and validate what role
models we should have.17

These particular examples do not directly manipulate the original figure of Guadalupe; instead
they alter the original composition to connect her with normal hard working women. Guadalupe
has become a transformed role model, depicted as various mestiza women who embrace their
native roots and Mexican culture. López differs from Santa Barraza in terms of style and her

15
LaDuke, 121.
16
According to Carolyn Dean, (Email conversation. Tuesday, June 3, 2008) The Aztec deity known as "snake
woman" (Cihuacoatl) was a powerful female earth deity who represented wisdom and was also addressed as
Tonantzín "respected, loving mother." Gloria Anzeldua, in Borderlands: La Frontera: The New Mestiza, identifies
Guadalupe as “Maria Coatlalopeuh,” the latter term meaning “the one who has dominion over serpents.” Anzaldua
thus merges the Aztec’s Cihuacoatl with her newly fashioned Coatlalopeuh and so creates a new Guadalupe who is
linked to Mexico’s Pre-Hispanic past (51).
López's tryptich series on Guadalupe uses the snake symbol perhaps refers to these interpretations.
17
LaDuke, 121.

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method of manipulating the Guadalupe image. Barraza personally accepts Guadalupe as
mestiza, but does not depict herself as the Virgin. Artworks by López depict herself and her
family as the Virgin while also correlating her mestiza/Chicana identity with the image of
Guadalupe. López’s Our Lady of Guadalupe series reinvents the female role in society by
giving the Virgin an independent persona through manipulation of Guadalupe’s composition.

Section Three: Santa Contreras Barraza

An exceptional artist that emerged from the Chicano/a movement in the 1960s and
participated in the Chicano Art Movement was Santa Contreras Barraza. Born and raised in
Texas, Barraza expresses the importance of nepantla, the alternative space for identity
negotiation or the concept of being in the middle, as well as the significance of Guadalupe’s dual
ethnic identity.18 Using symbols such as the maguey (a blue cactus plant), the Aztec goddess
Coatlicue, the name of Tonantzin, and other symbols Barraza visually expresses her concept of
Guadalupe as an indigenous woman. The maguey, for example, appears in most of her works
involving Guadalupe. For Barraza, the maguey is a symbol of her own identity, her Texas roots
and the concepts of life, death, and regeneration.19 It was during the Chicano Movement that
Barraza took the opportunity to reevaluate symbols and iconography from the colonial and Pre-
Hispanic period. She states that “it (the movement) gave us (Chicanos and Mexicans) the
courage to incorporate the past into our present lives as well as our future. The Indian (lo
indigena) and the Spanish (European) within us are important ethnic components of our identity,
of who we are as Chicanos.”20 Barraza did not begin to explore the iconography of Guadalupe

18
Constance Cortez. “The New Aztlán: Nepantla (and Other Sites of Transmogrification)” (in) The Road to Aztlán,
(Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2001), 367.
19
Santa Barraza. Artist of the Borderlands. Edited by Herrera-Sobek, Maria, (Texas: Texas A&M University Press,
2001), 6.
20
Barraza, xvi.

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until the late 1980s and early 1990s, when she started to produce imagery with the idea of
connecting the “Mother Goddess” concept to Guadalupe. For example, she states,

After the Spanish Conquest, a young, brown Nahuatl goddess, identifying herself as
Tlecuauhtlacupeuh, appeared to Juan Diego.21 In identifying herself to Juan Diego she spoke
in the native dialect mixed with Spanish. Thus a universal correlation was established
between the cosmos, the earth, and the celestial and the common. Not only her speech and
her location, but also her visual, symbolic presentation linked the Guadalupana with the
native population. I attempt to employ the image of Guadalupe as a source of empowerment
and self-identity. I depict the Virgin according to the Nahuatl interpretation, as a young native
woman. Instead of appearing submissive, she stares at the viewer with eyes wide open. She
represents and heralds a new and different beginning, that of the mestizo nation of the
Americas.22
These metaphors allow Barraza to approach and transform the image of Guadalupe into a
woman with native roots. Most of her images are saturated with color- bright yellows, greens,
and various other vibrant shades. The image Renacimiento/Rebirth, 1980, was a key painting in
Barraza’s movement toward the retablo format. Retablos are traditional votive artworks painted
or sculpted on wood or metal depicting religious icons (Fig. 22). By reevaluating the Spanish
tradition of retablos, Barraza began to create retablo paintings as a way of revitalizing the
vernacular painting tradition. The painting is a multilayered visual interpretation of cultural
syncretism. The artist emphasizes the notion of rebirth, but also embraces both tradition and
change.23 The retablo style painting is pastel and gold leaf on paper. It depicts the cycle of life
and death through the use of temporal botanical symbols, such as the aloe vera plant and corn.
Guadalupe, the central floating figure above the child, witnesses the miracle of regeneration
represented by the luxuriant sprouting of an aloe vera plant near what seems to be a dead child.
It could be that the dead child symbolizes both death and birth. The figure of Guadalupe is
illustrated as a young woman with very dark skin and native features, for example she seems to
21
Barraza, 42. The Goddess’s name translates as “she who comes flying from the region of light like an eagle of
fire”. There is little evidence to support this claim as fact. The only historical evidence known about Guadalupe’s
interaction with Juan Diego is from the pious legend which suggests that the Virgin Mary spoke to Juan Diego in
Nahuatl, but does not mention a name. Interestingly, the narrative explained by Barraza is a created explanation
to support her argument that Guadalupe was an indigenous goddess.
22
Barraza, 42-44.
23
Tómas Ybarra -Frausto. “Chapter Three: A Borderlands Chronicle” (in) Artist of the Borderlands, (Texas: Texas
A&M University Press, 2001), 71.

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have high cheek bones and black straight hair. Despite being witness to the creation of a new
life, the Guadalupe figure does not look happy. Perhaps the figure is discontent in seeing
someone die before another can live. In her retablos Santa Barraza blurs distinctions and
hierarchies, and also transforms the image of Guadalupe from a traditional European image,
which was initially associated with the Spanish conquest and conversion during the colonial
period, to the “Earth Mother Tonantzin” (indigenous goddess).24

In the painting La Virgen, 1990, Guadalupe is depicted with a solemn expression and
steady gaze (Fig. 23). She is placed off-center with an arid landscape as a background, full of
cactus and maguey plants. Traditionally Guadalupe is depicted as a full bodied figure with an
angel supporting a crescent moon at her feet. In Contrast, Barraza’s Virgin arises from a mature
maguey plant, she is shown as a young indigenous girl, and wears a robe with golden motifs
recalling native embroidery. The mantle and dress are not direct copies of the originals worn by
the Virgin, rather they appear as simple garments. According to Barraza, “she is a sixteen year
old indigenous girl, empowered by looking straight at the viewer. She is a heroine who is greatly
revered by her people.”25 Spiritually Guadalupe is the site of confluence between and unity of
indigenous and Christian beliefs. She is a prime symbol of Mexicanness, of cultural integrity
and pride.26 Barraza tells us that, “The Virgin of Guadalupe became the pan-Mexican icon of
motherhood and mestizaje, a transitional figure who emerged only twelve years after the
Conquest as the Christianized incarnation of the Aztec earth and fertility goddess Tonantzin…in
her role as blender of dualities.”27 In each painting, Guadalupe is identified as a mestiza and a
symbol for Mexico. This idea is also exemplified by an earlier work by Barraza titled,
Coatlicue, 1986, where she placed Guadalupe above the image of Coatlicue, the Aztec earth
mother (Fig. 24). In the lithograph, photomontage of images, the figure of Guadalupe seems to
crown the Aztec deity. Barraza explains that she was investigating the “Mother Goddess

24
Ybarra –Frausto, (2001), 72.
25
Barraza, 81.
26
TYbarra –Frausto, (2001), 73.
27
Barraza, 81. This claim is an interesting comment by the artist, and is only relevant when used in the context of
her art. The connection between Tonantzin and Guadalupe is still a questionable remark, by Sahgún, and does not
have enough historical evidence to be thought as fact.

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complex”, where she replaced the earth goddess with Guadalupe, and the maguey grandmother
is represented by the cactus plant.28 Again the artist combines Pre-Hispanic imagery and
Guadalupe to create a uniting force of indigenous heritage. She identifies the image of
Guadalupe as a native goddess, and by not portraying her as a woman of European decent,
Barraza implies her dual ethnicity as an indigenous and Mexican figure.

Another painting appropriately titled Nepantla, 1995, depicts an indigenous woman


emerging from the maguey plant with the image of Guadalupe on her back etched upon the
Zapotec traditional garment, huipil (Fig. 25).29 Constance Cortez describes Nepantla as, “a site
of transformation, but one where the result of transformation is always secondary to act. It is the
place where transformation is possible, but more importantly, it is the magic and the potential, of
independent action for itself.”30 Nepantla is signified by the image through the reciprocity of the
indigenous woman and Guadalupe. The native woman seems to be born from the native soil,
and even has a sprout of maguey atop her head. Procreation is a subordinate theme in the
painting. The woman gazes away from the viewer and onto her surroundings. The dominating
issue in this format is the concept of border crossing and migration.31 Guadalupe is shown with
the wings of the farm workers eagle which adorns the back of the yellow blouse, referring to the
United Farm Workers strike of the 1960s and the present condition of migrant workers in the
United States who must survive as they venture into unknown territory.32 The Guadalupe image
is not only part of the native woman’s blouse, but is also part of the woman’s identity. The two
figures have the same skin tone and have the downward gaze. However, the Guadalupe image
seems to have a contemplative or somber expression; while the indigenous woman does not
show her entire face. The Virgin Mary and the indigenous woman are literally in a space of
nepantla, in between two distinct cultures, and are represented as one unit. Santa Barraza’s
paintings essentially connect her personal identity, as a mestiza, with the image of Guadalupe.
The images link Guadalupe’s ethnic identity with Chicano/a ideals of re-appropriation, re-

28
Barraza, 29.
29
Cortez, 368.
30
Cortez, 367.
31
Barraza, 6-7.
32
Ibid, 7.

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evaluation, and reclamation of ancestral icons and symbols. Perhaps the artist’s intentions to
connect Aztec deities, and names, with Guadalupe further identify the Virgin Mary as a dual
ethnic figure. Despite López and Barraza’s differences in process and style both artists
reclaimed a cultural icon and created images that broke social and political boundaries. Their
personal identities merged with their political beliefs to form a new wave of visual
communication. Their risks, along with others throughout this period, opened the pearly gates of
artistic freedom. In turn, the image of Guadalupe was appropriated to cater to a specific
movement and social class to insure the development of new ideas for future generations.

Section Four: Guadalupe Art in the Early Twenty-First Century

After the Chicano Movement, and Chicano Art Movement, artists continued to produce
images of Guadalupe that were reproducible and adaptable without limitations. Although there
are many contemporary artists who re-appropriate the image of Guadalupe, I will focus here on a
few exemplary artists- J. Michael Walker, Rafael López Castro, and Marion C. Martinez- who
continue the tradition started by Yolanda López of transforming Guadalupe into a dark skinned
mestiza. Unlike some of López’s artwork these three artists visually represent Guadalupe as an
ethnic mestiza. These artists do not identify Guadalupe as a “Mother Goddess”, in terms of
associating her to an Aztec deity. Rather each pursues an idiosyncratic course with regard to
Guadalupe’s ethnic identity as mestiza with indigenous features.
J. Michael Walker, a Los Angeles based artist, mildly manipulates the image of
Guadalupe to depict her as a mestiza ethnic woman with indigenous facial features. His
Guadalupe series, which consists of colored pencil drawings, were done in the mid 1990s. The
images portray women, mostly of his mother-in-law, as Guadalupe placed in domestic settings.

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In his personal statement he describes his imaginative epiphany that led to the creation of the
Guadalupe series.
The image of Guadalupe and her angelito (angel) freed themselves from their pose, stepped
off their pedestal, and moved about in my studio. In a flash I knew la Guadalupe and her
angelito would feel right at home in the kitchen of my suegra, my mother-in-law, back home.
Now I could visualize the Virgin sitting at a humble table in a hand-hewn chair, reading a
letter from her son, just as I had seen my mother-in-law do, illuminated by the golden light
filtering in through the window; or ironing her robe while standing before a small family
altar. Guadalupe, it seems, can be everywhere with us, present in every woman.33

Walker places symbols from the original Guadalupe composition, such as the mantle, the pink
dress with golden flowers, and the golden crown, onto his figures to signify their embodiment of
the Virgin Mary.34 The pencil drawing, Ironing, Thinking, 1995, shows the mestiza Guadalupe
tending to her daily household chores “as do so many mothers” and conveys to the viewer a
tired, worried, or perhaps lonesome expression (Fig. 26). In another drawing, Retablo de la
Virgen Indigena, 1995, the mestiza looking woman, represented as the “Indigenous Virgin”,
passively gazes at the viewer and is almost caught smiling (Fig. 27). Here Walker tries to
incorporate the retablo concept not as an actual format, but as part of the title to perhaps imply
some sort of veneration to the image of a native Virgin Mary. Compared to the retablo images
by Barraza (discussed above), Walker’s Guadalupes tend to not be in control of their situations
nor have authority over their audiences. Barraza’s retablos represent Guadalupe as a strong
mestiza character who occupies metaphorical spaces of duality. Most of Walker’s pencil
drawings show the female figure as a discontent mother, doing simple chores around the house,
and portrayed as a mestiza Guadalupe.35 Despite his efforts to portray mestiza women as
compassionate mother-type Guadalupes, his interpretations seem off balance and in some ways
sexist. The women are not shown doing anything other than domestic work, and these

33
J. Michael Walker. Artist’s Statement. Website: http://www.virginguadalupe.com/. Acquired: Monday June 2,
2008.
34
The golden crown might be a reference to the image of Guadalupe prior to the painted “touch-ups” done in the
early seventeenth-century. This is further explained in Jeanette Favrot Perterson’s article, “Creating the Virgin of
Guadalupe: The Cloth, The Artist, and Source in Sixteenth-Century New Spain.” The Americas 61, No. 4 (2005),
576.
35
J. Michael Walker. Information found at website: http://www.virginguadalupe.com/. The artist’s statement and
under “note cards” there are short descriptions that accompany his paintings of Guadalupe as a mestiza woman.

37
representations of mestiza women, who look native, are docile mothers who always need to tend
to their children, mostly their sons. Interestingly, he states that Guadalupe is in “every woman”,
yet all of his drawings show his mother-in-law as a native looking mestiza. J. Michael Walker is
a good example of a contemporary artist who still associates Guadalupe with a particular ethnic
group, and visually portrays her as a mestiza woman. His personal relationship to the
Guadalupe, however, differs from Chicana artists who challenged the kinds of stereotypical
feminine roles that Walker’s Guadalupe embraces.
Rafael López Castro is a Mexican artist whose style comes from his background in
graphic design. In his most recent works López Castro depicts Guadalupe as a mestiza woman
with some indigenous features. Two examples of his prints were showcased in the exhibition
Revisioning Tradition at the University of New Mexico’s Zimmerman Library.36 In his serigraph
print, Untitled, 2006, López Castro took a photograph of a young native looking woman from
Uruapán, Michoacán and used Adobe Photoshop Elements to create the aura and mantle of
Guadalupe (Fig. 28). The young woman looks very native, but is described as a mestiza (mixed
race) Virgin. 37 The mestiza Guadalupe seems to peer into the eyes of the viewer with an
intimidating facial expression. The phrase “caught you in the act” comes to mind especially
since the Guadalupe image has one eye open and the other closed in a knowing wink. Another
serigraph print by López Castro, Untitled, 2006, depicts Guadalupe as a woman with a brown
skin tone and jet black hair (Fig. 29). López Castro was influenced by a similar print by
nineteenth century printmaker José Guadalupe Posada, and only altered the skin tone of
Guadalupe, the cherubs, and added color to the entire print. He also superimposed Emiliano
Zapata, popular figure from the Mexican Revolution, over the angelic figure that usually is
portrayed at the feet of the Virgin holding the crescent moon. The phrase, shown near the
bottom of the print, reads “This is national idolatry; And in every Mexican there always; Exists a

36
Post: UNM Today. University of New Mexico. August 06, 2007. http://www.unm.edu/~market/cgi-
bin/archives/002109.html

37
http://econtent.unm.edu/ . Choose "advanced search", enter "Rafael Lopez Castro" in the top window and
scroll down in the lower window choosing "Sam L. Slick Collection". Information about the print: look under
“Description”. Email Conversation with Dra. Teresa Eckmann, Center for Southwest Research Special Collections
(University of New Mexico) on April 21, 2008.

38
more or less large dose; of Juan Diego.”38 The saying seems to add a little humor to the print by
implying that in every Mexican there are traces of not only devotion, but genetic relationship, to
Juan Diego. Essentially the two prints by López Castro depict Guadalupe as a mestiza woman,
and are deliberately manipulated to make her native looking. Despite his alterations, the images
do not evoke the political issues raised by the artworks of Chicana artists. His are subtle
transformations of Guadalupe, and do not spark tension.
Marion C. Martinez is a New Mexican Chicana artist who uses disposed computer parts
to create mixed media artworks of Guadalupe. Martinez considers herself to be an “Indio-
Hispanic folk artist” but within the context of contemporary Chicana art. Her images tend to
follow a more traditional votive format, and do not drastically alter the original Guadalupe
image. In her piece Oratorio de la Virgencita, 2000, Martinez reproduces the image of
Guadalupe out of circuit boards (Fig. 30). The Virgin Mary is placed inside a wooden box, an
oratorio, and decorated with two lunette or sun rayed motifs at the top and bottom of the box.
The style is similar to most nineteenth century New Mexican retablos, and she includes two rows
of rose garlands on the right and left sides of the box.39 What is interesting is that the computer
parts seem to have been arranged, or cut, so that the dark-brown background becomes the skin
tone of the face and hands of Guadalupe. Martinez also emphasizes the skin tone of Guadalupe
in another mixed media piece titled, Madre Querida, 2002, where the mantle is neon blue and
her face and hands have a brownish red skin tone (Fig. 31). Martinez’s pieces signify change;
she seems to regard the image of Guadalupe as an instrument of conversion, and so portrays her
in such a way as to credit her with social and cultural transformation.40 Martinez’s futuristic
style introduces a new perspective on Guadalupe in contemporary Chicana art. Her artwork
represents Guadalupe as a mestiza by painting or finding brown colored computer parts to fit the
composition. The images are altered not for a political agenda but to express the notion of
progress, regeneration, and underscore Chicana cultural identity in the twenty-first century.

38
http://econtent.unm.edu/ . Choose "advanced search", enter "Rafael Lopez Castro" in the top window and
scroll down in the lower window choosing "Sam L. Slick Collection". Information about the print: look under
“Description”.
39
Catherine S. Ramirez “Deus ex Machina: Tradition, Technology, and the Chicanafuturist Art by Marion C.
Martinez.” Atzlán 29, No. 2 (2004), 57.
40
Ramirez, 57, 70, 71, and 76.

39
Martinez’s innovative visual style will continue to represent Guadalupe as a mestiza woman
further into the technological age, and will perhaps carry this concept onto future generations.
It seems that in the early years of the twenty-first century artists still emphasize
Guadalupe’s ethnic identity as mestiza. Her complexion remains brown, native features such as
the black hair are usually apparent, and sometimes she is drawn with high cheek bones.
Contemporary representations have crossed many boundaries and have lept into strange territory
compared to the eighteenth century paintings discussed earlier (part one: section three). Despite
the changes in interpretations, the manipulations, and differing outlooks on Guadalupe the image
remains a much reproduced icon of motherhood, a role model for women, and the embodiment
of Mexicanidad in all its diversity.

40

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