December 2011

On December 12th churches and organizations worldwide celebrate and pay respect to Latin America’s very own Virgin of Guadalupe.  The celebrations usually contain of masses, feasts, and live music/events.  After a little research, I even found out that there are sometimes large parades that they hold in celebration.  On Saturday I attended a mass in honor of Guadalupe at Queen of Peace church in Madison.  To find out about this event, I called my parents back home and asked them if they could help me find any masses going on in Madison and they told me they found one at my Great Uncle’s church, Queen of Peace, where they would be having a mass and feast following the mass. 

As I arrived, I noticed that more than the majority of the people there were of some sort of Latin American race.  I was not alone though, for there were a few of adults that were there probably just to experience the Latin American mass like me.  The mass to honor the “lady of Guadalupe” was opened by a Spanish-speaking priest, but there were bibles/readings put in both Spanish in English for attendants like me to follow along.  The mass was surprisingly packed and I had to stand the entire time in the back.  The mass was very different from what I’m accustomed to at my hometown church, which was to be expected.  I’ve heard that this mass is very lively, while the catholic masses I’ve attended regularly throughout my life have been seen more as strict, formal, and serious.  Everyone was dressed pretty formal, but there was plenty of sing-a-longs and even live music going on that I usually do not see at my church.  The mass lasted a little over an hour and the key to the mass was when the participants were lined up to walk up and touch a Virgin of Guadalupe shrine/figure as they said a quick prayer to themselves.  I noticed that some even kissed the shrine.  The mass was very different to me, but it was what I expected from it and I enjoyed it despite the trouble to understand what was going on, I really enjoyed how ecstatic all the Spanish participants appeared to be at this mass.

The mass was followed upon by a meal in a separate hall connected to the church, in which I did not stay to eat, but I saw they were serving Chicken, rice, and what I think were tamales. 

This event relates to the point in class where we discussed the importance of the Virgin of Guadalupe to the Latin American community.  The virgin of Guadalupe is one of the most sacred figures in Latin America, seen much like the Virgin of Mary to northern Americans.  I would recommend attending a mass or celebration next year, just to experience something not every ‘non-Hispanic’ gets to experience.

On Tuesday, December 13th, 2011, I went to 6:30 P.M. mass at St. Patrick’s in Whitewater, WI. It was during the Sacrament of Penance, El Rito de Reconciliacion II. As you enter St. Patrick’s, you cannot help but notice the shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe. On December 12th, the Hispanic community of Whitewater celebrated La Fiesta de La Virgen de Guadalupe. Two statues of a darker skinned version of Mary rested on the altar. Below their feet were dozens of flowers, cactus, and candles. Behind them was a poster of Juan Diego gazing up at the Virgin of Guadalupe. On the opposite side of the poster was a picture of the Basilica of Guadalupe.

As the priests entered the church, I looked down at a pamphlet I used to follow along with the service. On one side, the words were typed in English, while on the other side, the same words were translated into Spanish. Songs and hymns followed the same, with one set of words being in English while the other set were in Spanish. Church definitely was a lot different from when I was a little kid.

The influence of the Hispanic community and culture was evident that night I went to mass. From the colorful offerings to Guadalupe to the bilingual service, the Catholic Church has made great efforts to reach out to the Hispanic community and adjust to meet their needs.

But I could not help but wonder when and where did this adjustment come about? And was it the Hispanic communities who initially asked for this change or did the Catholic Church decide on their own to adapt their masses for Spanish speakers?

In class we discussed the Catholic community within Mexico. We discussed how Juan Diego was visited by the Virgin of Guadalupe on December 12th, 1531. She was of darker skin than the Spanish invaders; she was just like Juan Diego. And as time went on, since the majority of Catholics were Mexicans, the syncretism of the Virgin of Guadalupe came to pass. The Catholic Church recognized Juan Diego as a saint and the Virgin of Guadalupe was celebrated every 12th of December.

A question I would have loved to discuss with the priests of St. Patrick’s is what their viewpoints on the Virgin of Guadalupe are and how
they view her festival? I understand that Guadalupe may come from the old
mother goddess Tonantzin from Tepeyac, where the Virgin of Guadalupe was said
to have appeared to Juan Diego. Does this cultural significance bother non
Hispanic Catholics?

In an attempt to answer my own question, I would assume that
a majority of Catholics do not find this offensive or bothersome at all. After
mass, I walked up to the altar to admire the many offerings in remembrance and
recognition of Guadalupe. An elderly woman approached me and began to describe with
happy enthusiasm all the different events that occurred that past Sunday at St.
Patrick’s for the celebration of Guadalupe. Her genuine admiration for both the
celebration and culture were evident in her features and tone. She made it seem
like an event no one should ever miss for the world. I guess I know where I’ll
be next December 12th.

Lourdes is my mother and an exceptional woman. I did not realize her long journey until realizations from this class of what immigrants go through. Lourdes was born in Nicaragua, now the poorest country in Central America. However, she and her family were one of the few families to be fortunate to be raised with a family who had the opportunity to education. Her father was a doctor and mother was raising 10 children, would be twelve had two not died a minimal time after birth. The children including Lourdes had a very nice upbringing. She recalls always having two nannies who many times took the place of her mother given the ten children. Although education was provided many of her sisters did not graduate high school. Lourdes was the only woman of her sisters to graduate high school. She explained during those times it was common for women not to graduate that instead they would marry before graduation and then start a family.
During this time a civil war was occurring in Nicaragua against the Somoza family a dictatorship that had been in power for forty years and the guerillas known as the Sandinistas. Shortly after the war Lourdes met and married Ernesto a man who was a guerilla and in the Sandinista party. The Sandinista party however did not prove to be what the people were hoping for, rather it became another dictatorship. The Sandinistas would confiscate home and take peoples civil liberties. Many of the families in the same neighborhood including Lourdes brother in law lost their land and home to the Sandinistas without any form of law to help. Bank accounts would be frozen for suspicious activity without any relevance. The money quickly devaluated. Lourdes recalls the government stamping the money and putting a new amount over the actual Cordoba, their currency. Years later both Lourdes and her husband Ernesto decided to leave the country to move to the United States for fear of their government.
With three children at this point the family moved to the United States through visas and political asylum. The family moved in 1988, Lourdes was 28 years old. The first move was in Miami. She had brothers making the trip more comforting however she felt it was no place to raise her kids. Lourdes decided to follow her sisters to Wisconsin. As many of the immigration stories mentioned in class, Lourdes loved her country and assumed she would return three to four years after the political turmoil passed. However Nicaragua to this day stays politically corrupt. The president when Lourdes left is now president of the country again, serving his third term after changing the Nicaraguan Constitution.
Coming to the United States had many changes from what she was used to, she thanked God she had family here. Lourdes knew little English upon arriving. However she made the effort to learn by taking classes at WCTC a free program offered in Waukesha. She stated there were many difficulties and frustrations but that Waukesha had a wonderful program for immigrants. Ernesto fell into disastrous habits. He became an alcoholic who proved to be of little help in providing income for the family. Lourdes with three kids would learn to drive, attend MATC and earn her associates in Dental Laboratory Technology, and raise three children with the help of her family.
However she like many immigrant women would work a variety jobs, usually two to three at a time. While attending school she recalled working at a restaurant washing dishes and cleaning houses on Friday. Later in years she became a teacher’s aide through La Casa in Waukesha. Lourdes is now a dental technician in Milwaukee. She owns her own home and has successfully raised three children the majority of the time being a single mother.
Immigration has been a major issue in class. Not too long ago we were discussing the dream act, an act that would grant citizenship to illegal immigrants after working in the country for longer than five years. I truly believe in the act. The United States is a country where the majority of the population is immigrants. To me immigrants who overcome the many obstacles and succeed deserve citizenship over those who take no action to move their success and their countries success in the right path.

My Best Friend’s Birthday


A few days ago my best friend Karen turned 25 years old. Karen was born in a little town called Sabanagrande, which is located in the southern region of Honduras. Sabanagrande is a beautiful town with cobble stone roads and little houses, it is surrounded by mountains and everybody seems to know everybody. Although Karen lives in Honduras with her family, she decided to come to Madison to celebrate her birthday; however, she didn’t know I had my own plans for her birthday.

As soon as Karen arrived to Madison, the pachanga (party) started. We went to my house right after leaving the airport. I spent the whole day cooking traditional food from Honduras, such as baleadas, which are flour tortillas filled with fried beans, mantequilla (something like sour cream, but better) and melted cheese. I also made ceviche, which is raw shrimp ‘cooked’ in lime juice with onions, tomato, cilantro and some spices, and just in case that wasn’t enough, I made rice, tuna dip and many other things. She was happy to see many of my friends and family in my house waiting for her; she had already met many of them.

After we ate, my gift to Karen came out of my garage; five mariachis singing “Las Mañanitas,” which is a typical and very old song that people sing to other people in their birthday. Having mariachis singing for you “Las Mañanitas” is something really special in Honduras and many other Latin American countries. Karen was very happy and surprised because she thought there were no mariachis in Madison. The mariachis played a few other songs and my friends sang with them. It looked like they were having fun.

After eating, drinking and singing for a couple of hours, we all went to “The Cardinal,” which was my last surprise for Karen. The Cardinal is basically the only disco-bar in Madison where they play salsa, merengue and other Latin music. Again, Karen was surprised because she never imagined there were bars that play Latin music in Madison.

When we got to the Cardinal, there were many people dancing and there was little space to dance, the dance floor was fully occupied the whole night. Everybody was dancing and having fun. Karen told me she could tell that most people in the Cardinal haven’t danced in years, because they wouldn’t leave the dance floor.

It was a long day, but it was a pachanga day, and more especially, it was my best friend’s birthday. We all had fun celebrating Karen’s birthday.

On Sunday December 11 I attended Mass at St. Patrick’s. On this day a bilingual mass was held in celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe, or “Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe”. Our Lady of Guadalupe is a very significant figure in Latin American Catholic tradition. The story goes that on December 9, 1531, Juan Diego was visited by a young women while he was on a hill in the Tepeyac Desert, near Mexico City. This woman to build a Church exactly where she was standing, but when he told the Bishop, the Bishop was not convinced and demanded proof. When Juan Diego went back, he again had a vision and the woman told him to cut roses from the bush behind him and bring them to the bishop as proof. Diego did this, put the roses in his poncho,  and when he opened his poncho to show the bishop there was an image of the lady in the vision. This woman became known as Our Lady of Guadalupe, and this day in history has been celebrated and honored every year since.

When I entered the Church, I sat down in the middle of the pew, but was soon forced to the other end as people crowded in by the dozens. As I was praying and quietly reflecting, a loud “BOOM boom boom BOOM boom boom” made me jump. Eight people, men and women, processed into the Church dancing and hollering, and carrying a statue of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe. They were wearing hats that resembled sombreros only made out of brightly colored feathers, each about 2 feet long. They were dressed in blue sparkly clothing, and shook maraca-like instruments as the leader pounded on his snare drum. I had never heard this much noise in a Catholic church in my life! They sang and danced at the front of the Church before kneeling down in the aisle where they stayed for the remainder of the service. Once my attention had been grabbed, the cantor (lead singer) welcomed the congregation in both Spanish and English, then sang Ave Maria as the guitarists and bells played along. Children processed down the aisle with roses and carnations in their hands to place at the feet of the statue. They had on brightly colored dresses and scarves and outfits from their native culture. Throughout the mass, the priest spoke in both Spanish and English. He gave two homilies, and would sometimes get confused and forget to say something in both languages, which in turn confused the congregation, but overall it was a beautiful experience. So many people came to celebrate this occasion that some had to stand in the back. What surprised me the most was that I was clearly the minority, with about 75% of the congregation of Latin American heritage. But it was so inspiring to see how closely they held this faith to their hearts. We have discussed the importance of religion, specifically Catholicism, in the lives of Latin Americans, and oh, how true this is.They responded throughout the mass with excitement and sang without reservation. They were dressed as if the president was coming to Church, and even the babies had on dresses and ties. They all looked amazing! As I sat and participated in this celebration, I was moved to see how excited and joyous the children were. They sang, giggled, and actually enjoyed themselves! That is more than I can say of my childhood experience growing up in a Catholic Church. This mass was a beautiful experience, and I was moved by the joy and interest expressed by the congregation.

One question that I asked myself throughout the mass is, “Are these costumes worn every year, and is this traditionally how Latin Americans celebrate the day of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe? When I went home and did research online, I found that yes, there is always a procession of the statue, children always bear flowers, and there is percussion and dancing involved as well as bright, unique costumes. What a learning experience this was, and I plan on attending the celebration again next year!


After being encouraged by one of my professors to be involved and attend various presentations, I became incredibly intrigued with the Latino heritage lecture series. I was very interested in first getting a feel for how Latinos are living after migration so I decided to attend “Latinos in the United States: History & Culture” by Salvador Carranza.

Salvador began by explaining all of the various boards he is a part of, mainly Latino oriented, with President of Latinos United for Change and Advancement (LUCHA) being the most prestigious. This requires him to learn and aid in helping migrated Latinos adjust and succeed in the not so friendly American economy. In earlier years, it was very rough for Latinos to fit in due to the limited amount of minorities surrounding them. As the population of minorities grows however, Latinos are not afraid to share their culture and customs. He continued by explaining specifically about their rich culture and how it is rubbing off in the United States making it popular by displaying a power point of examples. For instance, when driving through a town it’s common to see Mexican restaurants now. Salvador explained how this expanding of Latino culture makes it more appealing for other citizens to come out of their shell. He reassured that in coming years, Latinos’ will strive for higher paid jobs and a higher education. He emphasized the importance for migrants to get an education in order to not simply live in the United States, but be successful; many of his organizations entail giving these opportunities to these migrants.

Salvador’s lecture directly correlates to previous discussions that we have had in class referring to migrants and how they adjust. We have learned that often migrants do anything they can to make it to the United States; however, once they get here they aren’t prepared for what they encounter. Sometimes it leads to low-paying jobs and isolation that makes adjusting to this lifestyle horrendous. A previous guest speaker, Pilar Melero, explained how Latinos would have to share a house with countless other friends and family which perfectly exhibits the struggle that Salvador talked about. This makes me wonder, do migrants ever return back to their native land empty handed after not being able to adapt to life in the United States?

Overall, the presentation by Salvador Carranza was very intellectually pleasing as he taught me a side of Latinos that I was unaware of before. Knowing that their struggle is slowly dissipating is satisfying as he continues in his efforts to make their life more successful and enjoyable. Salvador is a very influential individual who is making a difference to countless Latinos in the United States.

Central America

The small country of El Salvador has played a big role in the life of Professor Jim Winship from the UW-Whitewater Department of Social Work. As a  young man fresh out of college, Dr. Winship dwelled in El Salvador as a Peace Corps volunteer.  He continues to return regularly, currently researching the youth of El Salvador, looking at the drawings they produce, the dreams they hold, and the effects of immigration. One recent product of  this research, funded in part by a Fulbright grant, is a documentary entitled “Difficult Dreams: Coming of Age in El Salvador.”
Professor Winship is also involved in a new web 2.0 format called digital storytelling. Here are some examples of that genre, including the second story called “From Arnoldo,” which is a reflection on salvadorans and his time in the Peace Corps.

 The legacies of the civil war in El Salvador from the late 1970s to the early 1990s are still visible to Professor Winship in the work that he is carrying out. Those times of trouble were also one of the few times when U.S. citizens paid attention to the country, one of the smallest in the Western Hemisphere. There are still resources available about the country and the period of war, such as this Web page by the Public Broadcasting System.