December 14, 2001

La Virgen de Guadalupe Unites People of All Ages and Ethnicities:

Parade Celebrates Heritage and Culture

By Yvette tenBerge

As many as 4,000 members of San Diego County's diverse Hispanic and Native American communities met at the San Diego City College parking lot, located at 16th Avenue and B Street, Sunday, December 9, before embarking on a procession to honor their "Patroness of the Americas," La Virgen de Guadalupe.

Young and old participated in a 30 minute-long march, which began shortly after 1:00 p.m. and culminated in an elaborate Catholic mass at the Community Concourse's Golden Hall at 3rd Avenue and B Street.

Police officers stopped traffic to make way for costumed children who smiled from atop decorated floats, young women in crowns and velvet capes who waved from convertible cars, groups of vibrantly dressed dancers who balanced baskets of flowers on their heads while swishing their long skirts, Native American drummers who chanted while beating their instruments and groups of mothers, fathers and grandparents who marched and sang while holding framed pictures of La Virgen high in the air.

Parish float reenacts events of December 12, 1531.

Although it is rare for people of different ages and ethnic groups to find a cause to celebrate and worship together, an informal survey of this diverse group of San Diegan's proved that everyone present was, indeed, marching to the beat of the same drum.

Father Richard Brown, 74, has been the priest at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, located at 1770 Kearny Avenue, for the past 33 years. He explains that each parish will still honor La Virgen on her official day of December 12, but that this weekend's parade and mass served to bring together 25 parishes throughout the San Diego diocese.

"There is only one word to describe this whole thing. These people come together out of love. Young, old, sick and well, they all come out on this date for love of La Virgen," says Father Brown, who wears a black T-shirt emblazoned with the words "Padre del Barrio." He is careful to point out that La Virgen de Guadalupe is not just important to Mexicans, but that she is also significant to people from Canada to South America. "She unites everybody."

Historians credit La Virgen de Guadalupe, also known to many as the "mother of all Mexicans," with converting millions of Mexicans to Christianity. In 1521, the capital city of the Aztec empire fell to Spanish forces. Less than 20 years later, nine million inhabitants who, for centuries, had worshipped more than one God and routinely practiced human sacrifice were converted to Christianity.

(Left to right) Marisa Juarez, Marlem Lomas, and Patricia Garcia.

According to Catholic records, a "Lady from Heaven" appeared to Juan Diego, a poor, recently-converted Indian, in December of 1531. She appeared to him on Tepeyac, a hill northwest of Mexico City. This dark-skinned Madonna with Indian features identified herself as the mother of God and instructed Juan Diego to have the bishop build a temple on the site. As proof of her appearance, she left him with a bouquet of roses and imprinted an image of herself on his cloak.

For the past three years, Gabriela Ginese, 56, has been the coordinator of the Guadalupana Federation, the organization responsible for arranging the annual celebration in honor of La Virgen. Her dedication to La Virgen is obvious as she proudly lists some of the things Escondido's St. Mary's Church has done in her honor. Ms. Ginese does not hesitate to answer when asked why the December 9 procession and mass is so important to her community.

Dancers balance baskets of flowers on their heads as they march toward Golden Hall.

"The purpose is to show our youth and our children our traditions and to show them our faith in and our love for Our Lady of Guadalupe," says Ms. Ginese. She explains the silence and reverence that people of all ages and ethnicities displayed at Sunday's mass. "We never get tired of hearing the history; it's wonderful, and it revives our faith."

As for the children who reenact the December 1531 event atop the various parish floats, Ms. Ginese laughs before explaining. "You can see in their faces that the children feel like they are a part of the celebration. They are proud and they are happy," says Ms. Ginese, who states that the white, cotton outfits worn by tiny "Juan Diego's" and the baby blue, sequin-lined veils donned by miniature "Virgen de Guad-alupe's," are either purchased from shops in Mexico, from stores that sell Mexican items here in the states or from swap meets.

As the procession comes to a finish, the participants transform the plain concrete walkways outside of the Golden Hall into dancing grounds for Aztec and Zapotec Indian warriors and into a stage for six to 10 year-old folklorico dancers. Each of these groups worships their Holy Mother as their ancestors did centuries ago.

Worshippers singing "Hymno Guadalupana."

Mario Luis, 16, belongs to an Oaxacan dance group from San Marcos called Danza de la Pluma. This group, which has been a part of the San Marcos community for 30 years, represents more than 30,000 full-blooded Zapoteco and Mixteco Indians who live throughout the San Diego and Los Angeles areas. Mr. Luis' face is serious under his large red, white and green feathered headdress.

"I am here to represent my culture and my ethnicity. I have been taught since I was little a little kid that La Virgen is the maker of miracles, so I dance for her today," says Mr. Luis, before raising his rattle and wooden ear of corn and moving his feet to the music.

Mario Luis is a member of San Marcos' Danza de la Pluma.

It was the Aztec dancers from a group called Toltecas en Aztlan (Aztlan is the ancient kingdom of the Aztecs) that caught the attention of the majority of the crowd. A drummer wearing a suede cape on which the image of La Virgen de Guadalupe was imprinted, beat a tall drum while eight dancers twirled in brightly colored costumes decorated with sequins and feathers.

Rosa Olga Navarro, 57, has been the Director of the dance group for 17 years. She explains why honoring La Virgen de Guadalupe transcends age barriers and ethnic barriers. "Everyone from children to older people have a part in paying homage to Our Mother. You see the children dressed up in their indigenous outfits, and you have a really beautiful family thing. Everyone who attends has the same spiritual feeling whether we are strict Catholics or not," says Ms. Navarro, who often lulls her audiences by blowing on a conch shell during performances. "This day goes beyond being just a Catholic or Christian; it is the unification of spiritual people of all different types and races."

One of the hundreds of children dressed as Juan Diego

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