Medina Review of Castillo Goddess of the Americas

Goddess of the Americas/La Diosa de las Americas. Edited by Ana Castillo. New York: Riverhead Books, 1996. Pages, xv +231. Paper, $14.00. ISBN: 1573220299 Reviewed by: Lara Medina Goddess of the Americas/La Diosa de las Americas edited by Ana Castillo offers an outstanding collection of creative writings by an impressive group of artists and intellectuals on the diverse meanings of Guadalupe/Tontanzin to their contemporary lives. In homage to the divine mother, and as an offering to a world in need of feminine wisdom, Castillo and her contributors challenge the reader to ponder the multiple ways that Guadalupe remains present and active in our troubled world. In short essays, poetry, performance narrative, and theological reflections, the reader encounters multiple perspectives on the complexity of Guadalupe's identity and the limitless power of her unconditional love. No longer confined by official ecclesial interpretations of the Guadalupe event as solely a Marian apparition, the authors re-image, reconstruct and reclaim the divine woman for themselves out of their own spiritual and socio-political contexts. As Castillo writes, “we make no claim to represent the Catholic Church here, thank goddess” (xxii). As creative literature, Goddess of the Americas broadens the scope of traditional scholarship on Guadalupe that tends to be historical, theological, and/or anthropological. With many of the contributors being Chicana/o, including Sandra Cisneros, Gloria Anzaldúa, Cherrie Moraga, Denise Chávez, Luis Rodríguez, and Luis Alfaro, the anthology illuminates the political and social reasons for devotion to Guadalupe beyond geographic borders. Writers of Jewish, African, Mexican and Puerto Rican ancestry enrich the volume’s ability to create a cross-cultural dialogue about a culturally specific icon that attracts the admiration, respect, and even devotion of non-Latinos. Castillo's own introductory essay emphasizes the Nahua/Mexic-Amerindian understanding and symbology hidden within the Christian myth of Guadalupe. For Castillo, and many of the contributors, to ignore the indigenous identity of Tlecuauhtlacupeuh or She Who Comes Flying from the Light Like an Eagle of Fire, is to ignore the people and the historical context from which she emerged. In the midst of a militant and patriarchal conquest the Mexic-Amerindians turned to their female spiritual forces for assurance, hope and strength. The power of indigenous spirituality is to seek balance between male and female dualities. The need for balance and unconditional love continues to compel the 21st century descendents of the Nahua to turn to the Mother Goddess. Guadalupe's indigenous identity is primary for many of the authors including Gloria Anzaldúa, Richard Rodriguez, Cherrie Moraga, Pat Mora, and Francisco X. Alarcón. Their insights redeem the indigenous mother and the indigenous self silenced through 500 years of Western Christianity. As Anzaldúa writes, “She is the symbol of the mestizo true to his or her Indian values” (54). For others, her role as an activist in the struggles of the poor and marginalized receive primary attention. Margaret Randall’s “Guadalupe, Subversive Virgin,” interprets the icon's role as a proletarian warrior, while Ruben Martinez sees her as an undocumented worker. In Sandra Cisneros’ “Guadalupe the Sex Goddess,” and Liliana Valenzuela’s “Virgencita, Give Us a Chance,” Chicana sexuality is liberated through the unveiling of Guadalupe’s own sexuality. All of the writers liberate Guadalupe from the confines of a passive, longsuffering Madonna figure. They remind us of the original message of the Guadalupe story, “Am I not here, your Mother? ...Is there anything else you need?” (xviii). As many of us know from experience, it is impossible for mothers to be inactive. This mother works in a soup kitchen, heals broken hearts and ailing bodies, crosses borders illegally, visits forgotten prisoners, joins in public protests, touches her own body for sexual pleasure, and soothes the damaged psyches of her children. Lest we forget, however, in “The Two Guadalupes” Guillermo Gómez-Pefia reminds us of the conservative Guadalupana forces that go to extremes to silence those who reveal the Great Mother's autonomy. The strong voices of those who restrict the freedom of Guadalupe remain in our midst, which is precisely why this volume is so important. Chicanas/os have been “able to reinvent and activate the icon of la Guadalupe in a way that would be unthinkable in Mexico" (181). Their boldness and authenticity have influenced the creativity of other writers and artists across geographic, ethnic, and class borders. Goddess of the Americas presents us with the best of these creative productions that illuminate the essential meaning of the Guadalupe event. As Luis Rodríguez eloquently states, "She is the eternal which anyone can possess, proof we are never truly conquered, never truly defeated" (131). I highly recommend Goddess of the Americas for anyone interested in how the traditional image and story of Guadalupe continues to speak to many today but with necessary adaptations for contemporary contexts. Goddess of the Americas sheds light on the complex and dynamic spirituality of practicing Mexican Catholics and Chicanas/os and other Latinos estranged from institutionalized religion, yet who maintain a vibrant faith in their fundamental goodness and the protection of divine forces. This anthology can be very effective in undergraduate classes on religion in the Americas, in Chicano/a Studies courses, and in pastoral ministry and theology courses attempting to understand the core of Mexican Catholicism.