I have shared a lot of my life with many of you throughout the last half of this year.
Although this blog was intended to share my own personal experiences through the lense of the Jesus tortilla, I have actually shared more of ‘it’ and my mom than I have of myself. This was not intentional. It just kind of happened. Normally, I have no problem sharing in a public space (Just ask my family and friends. Being the center of attention is not a problem for me at all). However, perhaps subconsciously, I have kept from spending too much time writing about myself…until today.
If you know me well, you will have read the title of this post and have had a good chuckle. On the other hand, if you have no idea who I am, you’re bound to ask, “what the hell is she talking about? Is that even possible?”
To answer your question, it is possible. I am living proof. Just read on.
First, it is December and it is a month of miracles. I will get to that shortly. But where does the Catholic, Jewish, Chicana come from, you might ask?
Every single one of us has a personal identity. A concept we all develop about ourselves that evolves over the course of our lives. My identity is a unique one (and my siblings will jokingly laugh about it) but nonetheless, it is mine. But before I get into that, I’d like to share some miracles with you.
La Celebracion de Nuestra Virgin De Guadalupe
On Friday, December 9, we celebrated Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe. By we, I mean most of my family and Mexican friends. I’m sure there are a lot of non-Mexican’s who celebrate La Virgen de Guadalupe, but for the purpose of today, I’m just going to stick with my community of Mexicanos. For those of you who don’t know the story about why we celebrate La Virgen de Guadalupe, I will try to explain it as concise as I can. La Virgen appeared to Juan Diego at the hill of Tepeyac on December 9, 1531, just outside of Mexico City. A native of Nahuatl, Juan Diego was asked by this vision of La Virgen to build a church on this very site, in her honor. After Juan Diego informed a local archbishop, Juan de Zumarroga, the archbishop insisted that Juan Diego return and ask the lady for a miracle to prove her identity. La Virgen de Guadalupe not only came through with one miracle, but she came through with three miracles. The first was healing Juan Diego’s uncle, the second was asking Juan Diego to gather rare flowers at the top of Tepeyac, where flowers never bloom, ESPECIALLY in December and finally, to arrange those flowers in his tilma (cloak), where the cloak would later be opened up for the archbishop, with roses cascading to the floor and the fabric of the tilma having the image of Nuestra Virgen de Guadalupe.
And so it is.
Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights
On Tuesday, December 16, was the first night of Chanukah (Hanukkah) “The Festival of Lights.” It is an eight day Jewish holiday, commemorating the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt against the Greeks in the second century. Hanukkah is observed for eight nights and days, which occur at any time from late November to late December (Hanukkah falls on the 25th of Kislev in Hebrew calendar, but different days in the calendar most of us use. This year it fell on December 16th)
The festival is observed by lighting the nine branch menorah. The Shamash, which is usually above or below the rest of the eight, is used to light the eight candles, one additional light on each night of the holiday. When the second temple in Jerusalem was destroyed and Judaism was outlawed by the Greeks, a large scale Jewish revolt, lead by Judah Maccabee, took place against the monarchy and was successful. It lead to the liberation and rededication of the temple and Hanukkah commemorates this event. When the temple was cleansed, oil was needed to light the menorah in the temple and needed to burn throughout the night. However, the story goes that there was just enough to burn for one day, but it burned for eight days instead. An eight day festival was declared to commemorate this miracle. In addition to blessings recited each night, potato latkes and donuts are eaten during this holiday, which are food items that are fried in oil, representing the miracle of the menorah.
Surprise! I celebrate both of these holidays (insert face palm)
The December celebration of La Virgen is a major part of my cultural identity. My mother, Maria, is a big part of the reason why I still commemorate this celebration every year. For the record, it is not because we pray to her directly, (although I do talk to her quite a bit) but she is symbol of all that is good and wonderful about our culture and our faith. The second celebration of Hanukkah is part of my spiritual identity. The rituals and beliefs I have gravitated to overtime, ever since I was a very young adult, have lead me to gain a deep desire to learn more about the Jewish faith and its people. Judaism has also provided me with a great sense of understanding of how I can become more balanced and centered in my own spiritual life. Attending temple, reciting Jewish blessings and reading from the Torah, all share a wonderful place in my journey.
And then there is the miracle of the Jesus tortilla. Sure, it’s not just like the miracle of Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe or the Festival of Lights, but it’s my own personal reminder of mom’s own little miracle tortilla.
I am a Chicana that was born into a Mexican family that has always been devoted and faithful to the Catholic faith. We grew up literally twenty yards from the front door of the Catholic church in Lake Arthur. Despite all of that, this Chicana has gravitated to the Jewish faith for most of her young adult life, never really knowing where it all came from. I actually never met a Jewish person (that I know of) until I was 22 years old.
It’s not complicated. It’s just my life.
In this spiritual journey, it somehow accompanies my cultural identity of connecting with La Virgen. She’s a big part of my life. Not so much because of her symbolism to the Catholic church but more so for what she has done for my community. She symbolizes our abuelitas, our tias, our madres. She’s the mujer we look up to. She also reminds me of my mom. While Our Lady of Guadalupe has no flaws, my mom does and yet that is what makes her so special. She is a woman of faith.
Can the two beliefs combine as one? No. They can’t. But can I live out my life with the values of both and hold on to a deep sense of self? Yeah. I think I can.
Last night, as I lit the menorah, celebrating the first night of Hanukkah, it was a very
special moment for me. It could have easily been two worlds colliding, but instead it was a feeling of peace I hadn’t felt in a long time. As I called my mom on the way home, sharing my evening of celebration, it was nice to hear her voice of encouragement, which isn’t always the case when it comes to this issue. This isn’t easy for her. Not at all. So I do not take it lightly when I say that this journey I do not travel alone, but it is a journey I travel with my madre. She is, in fact, la mujer de la tortilla, who is completely devoted to her Catholic faith, having hoped to instill the same discipline in her youngest daughter. Even though she may feel like she failed, she did not. She did instill in me discipline in faith…my faith.
Maria is a big part of my formation, which is one that is constant and evolving and one that I know she is privately proud of.