- Guadalupe and Her Faithful: Latino Catholics in San Antonio, from Colonial Origins to the Present
The personal and the communal, ethnic ties and the parish unity, the faith community and the universal church, and the Catholic and the ecumenical—these [End Page 412] are some of the conflicting and complementary forces at play in the devotion to Guadalupe in San Antonio's San Fernando parish portrayed by Timothy Matovina's very engaging story in Guadalupe and Her Faithful: Latino Catholics in San Antonio, from Colonial Origins to the Present. San Fernando Cathedral's symbolic central role for all of San Antonio's Catholics and for the Mexican American faithful and the mestiza (mixed blood) and Mexican character of the Virgen de Guadalupe presents Matovina with a unique opportunity to trace the city's past, particularly as it relates to Mexican American spirituality and history, and he does so insightfully and interestingly.
The Canary Islanders who established the Villa de San Fernando appropriately incorporated Guadalupe, the patroness of their soldier-settler cofounders, as their protectress, along with their own advocate, Our Lady of Candlemas (Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria). December 12, the feast day of Guadalupe, marked the beginning of San Fernando's annual community celebrations, and that day and observance easily became associated with the festivities surrounding Christmas, thus associating Guadalupe with the core and Mexican flavor of the faith. The subsequent Mexican and Mexican American character of San Fernando parishioners gave the devotion of Guadalupe prominence and centrality.
Here, as elsewhere, Matovina argues convincingly that Guadalupe became the "Defender of dignidad" during the late nineteenth century when Mexican San Antonians, reduced to a minority in the face of large numbers of Anglo Americans and German Texans and a vastly more powerful new economic system, found themselves as foreigners in their own native land. The public processions of Guadalupe—"a defensive posture of a community under siege"—defied the negative perception of Mexicans held by the new lords of the land and the city.
Guadalupe devotions took a different character when San Antonio became the refuge for émigrés fleeing the economic, political, and religious turmoil of the Mexican Revolution of 1910. Leadership among organizers of Guadalupe celebrations was taken over by Mexican nationals and to some degree by upper- and middle-class newcomers who formed a México de afuera, an exile community with stronger intellectual and emotional ties to developments in Mexico than to the deprivations of the masses of Mexican and Mexican Americans who were pawns to economic forces pushing and pulling workers north across the Rio Grande.
In a chapter entitled "Celestial Mestiza," Matovina covers the civil rights struggles since the beginning of World War II and where the Guadalupe connection to Mexican American history and to the renewed city-wide role of San Fernando Cathedral becomes understandably more tenuous, even as the role of Guadalupe is more clearly articulated by Virgilio Elizondo and other Mexican American theologians. Still, "Guadalupe's adaptability . . . is striking."
Indeed, the Guadalupe devotions and the parish life of San Fernando reflect developments affecting Latinos and their faith in San Antonio over two and a half centuries, and Guadalupe and Her Faithful presents a very strong case for this, particularly for the pre-1910 period. Matovina's strength is that he brings both a historical and theological perspective. He presents a brief but careful analysis of the role of Guadalupe in Mexico's history that includes recent critical assessments, and his study of this devotion in San Antonio's Mexican American experience includes [End Page 413] treatment of gender, class, ethnicity and acculturation along with religiosity. It is an excellent contribution to Mexican American history and Latino spirituality.