By Gemma Cruz Araneta
Before leaving Mexico where I had spent a delightful month with Fatimah and her family, she gave me a goodbye gift, a T-shirt of Our Lady of Guadalupe with “Reina de México” inscribed beneath the world-famous image.” You can wear it to sleep, or to the gym,” my daughter said, “I know you are not the T-shirt type.” I thanked her and said that Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe was once upon a time also the Reina de Filipinas until La Inmaculada Concepcion took over.
That continues to baffle me; I am still researching on when and how the turnover took place. At the entrance of Pagsanjan, Laguna, there is a stone arch of Spanish colonial vintage dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe. According to an early 19th century legend, a band of marauders were about to enter the town of Pagsanjan, under the cover of darkness, to wreak havoc, rob, and kill its unsuspecting peace-loving inhabitants. However, as soon as they arrived at the town boundary, they were met by a lady clothed in light, surrounded with an aura of stars. She bade them to leave the town in peace and never again return. Our Lady of Guadalupe saved Pagsanjan and its grateful inhabitants constructed that arch in her honor. Happily, or should I say miraculously, it has survived the Philistines in the local government and the road-widening frenzies of the Department of Public Works and Highways.
There is a Guadalupe district in Makati,with a Spanish colonial church, in that part called Poblacion, contiguous to the Pasig River and which antedates the ultra modern financial district constructed by the Ayalas. Last Tuesday evening, 12 December, on my way to the Meralco theater to attend a concert, the inhabitants of Guadalupe were exploding firecrackers (in total disregard of the ban) to celebrate the feast of their patroness. How consoling to know that Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe is still the revered Reina de Filipinas in that rim of the Philippine Republic.
While enduring the snail’s pace traffic on EDSA—it took me 2 hours and 15 minutes to get to my final destination — I reminisced about the many Guadalupana feasts I had witnessed in Mexico City. On 12 December, it is best to stay home if one has no urgent business to conduct in the DF (distrito federal or the capital) Through the centuries, Mexico city has spread so far and wide that it has engulfed Tepeyac, that hilly place where Our Lady was supposed to have appeared to Juan Diego. Hordes of pilgrims from surrounding towns trek to the basilica, from the eve of the feast to the day itself. In the late 1980’s the city government had to redesign the main avenues leading to the basilica by constructing center lanes to accommodate the procession of hundreds of thousands of pilgrims.
Significantly, the apparition of Our Lady of the Guadalupe remains controversial to this day and age. Not a few Mexican historians affirm that during the early years of colonization, the Spaniards were extremely alarmed at the almost 90% decline of the local population. The Mexican Indians had succumbed to the violence of the conquest and hitherto unknown European diseases like chicken pox; they lost their will to live because of extreme despondence caused by the destruction of their culture and beliefs. Something had to be done to arrest the hecatomb, so one fine day the Blessed Virgin appeared to Juan Diego, a native, at a hill where the Aztecs venerated Tonantzin, the mother goddess of fertility. My Mexican historian friend, Dr. Cristina Barron, told me early on that whether or not the Blessed Virgin appeared to Juan Diego is beside the point. “The real miracle is that Our Lady of Guadalupe united the Mexican nation.”
Our Lady of Guadalupe was the battle standard of those who began the anti-colonial armed struggle against Spain in 1810. Fr. Miguel Hidalgo brandished a banner of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and so did other Mexican heroes like him. That is why it is my contention that Our Lady of Guadalupe was officially Reina de Filipinas until that point. Seeing how in the Virreinato de la Nueva España (Mexico) she had become the symbol of the anti-colonial struggle for independence from Spain, it would have been perilous to continue spreading the devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe in the Philippine colony. La Reina de Filipinas had suddenly become a subversive icon. How inconvenient could that be!
On a certain 8 December – enter La Inmaculada Concepcion, the new Reina de Filipinas.