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Meditations on Our Lady at Santa Clara University

Dancers in front of the Mission as campus hosted the 22nd annual performance of La Virgen Del Tepeyac. Photography by Jim Gensheimer.

By Aurora Zahm 

“Life is messy and exists” in shades of grey, says Maria Del Socorro Castañeda-Liles, a 1998 Santa Clara University graduate who co-founded the popular La Virgen Del Tepeyac performance – with special collaboration with Teatro Corazón – which ran for its 22nd year this past December at Mission Santa Clara. 

In her book Our Lady of Everyday Life, La Virgen de Guadalupe and the Catholic Imagination of Mexican Women in America, she finds that often the messier parts of life are relegated to silent shadows. She says, “It’s that silence that is a sin.” To break that silence, she interviewed Hispanic Catholic women, finding a culture that turns to Our Lady of Guadalupe for support. 

The book is described on Amazon.com as “one of the first sociological studies and the first intergenerational analysis of Mexican origin women and Catholicism” and “the first in-depth analysis of how women are socialized into Mexican Catholicism, and how they transgress limiting notions of what a good Catholic woman should be.”

Here’s an excerpt of what she learned.

What does coffee with milk have to do with Mexican Catholicism? According to Esperanza (age 68), it has everything to do with it. I had arranged to interview Esperanza after the noon Sunday Mass. This prompted me to ask whether, for her, Our Lady of Guadalupe is a Mexican cultural symbol or a Catholic religious symbol.

In a firm but endearing tone, she asked, “Could you please … remove the milk from the coffee you are drinking?” Her question caught me by surprise, and … I felt puzzled – as well as stupid. I told her that what she asked me was impossible, for the coffee and milk were mixed. She then proceeded to say: Exactamente mija, Mexico es como el café con leche. No se puede separar a la Virgen de Guadalupe de la religión y la cultura, todo está mezclado (Exactly mija, Mexico is like coffee with milk. You cannot separate the Virgin of Guadalupe from religion and culture, it is all mixed together.)

(A version of this story originally ran in Santa Clara Magazine online.)