Growing up as a young girl in the Rio Grande Valley, I saw images of La Virgen de Guadalupe everywhere. My maternal grandmother, Maria Guadalupe Soto, was named after her and prayed to her constantly. Grandma Lupita, as she was known to us, especially loved La Virgen. Her image was splashed all over an altar in my grandma’s room with figurines, candles, and framed pictures. She even wore a gold necklace with a Virgen charm that I’d often catch her rubbing and moving along the chain when she was worried about something or someone.
The Hail, Mary was one of the first prayers I learned in CCD and I remember feeling really proud of myself when I could recite it all on my own. What I didn’t know then was that there would be many times in my life when I’d refer back to those words looking to find comfort and hope in them; most of all at the end of my Grandma Lupita’s life. It’s been 15 years since my grandma passed away, but I like to think that both Lupes are looking down and watching over me.
When I was 13 or 14, Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Brownsville, TX where I was an altar server and we regularly attended mass, asked me to portray the Virgen in the church events on December 12th. I remember feeling really shy and not wanting to do it, but my mom said it was a huge honor and there was no way I could say no. My grandma Lupita was SO proud and told all her friends so there was basically no backing out. The day finally came and I rode through the streets on a float with "Juan Diego" aka another alter server named Greg. Then we returned to the church and I stood for hours as tons of people laid roses and prayed in front of me before the official mass. It was pretty grueling and I was really tired, but I knew it was a big deal to the parishioners so I powered through. I could hear many of their comments as they whispered to themselves or to their friends, but the ones that stuck with me were those of the older women who commented on how much I looked like the Virgen.
“Mira, que linda la virgencita. Y es morena como debe de ser!” I heard it over and over again. They were excited I was brown! No one had ever really complimented my skin color like that before, let alone celebrate it!
Growing up I loved to play outside and go to the beach, but after a few negative comments about how dark I was, I started to get self conscious and limited my time in the sun. As we know, colorism in prevalent in Latino communities. Luckily I’ve worked through those issues so I won’t go into it more here, but basically it was tough and having a sister who looked like Snow White and everyone called beautiful cuz she was “güerita” didn’t help! Lol. Anyway, my point is standing up there as the Virgen and overhearing people saying how beautiful I was BECAUSE I was brown did SO much for me at a time when I really needed to hear that.
I started to believe that brown was beautiful and now I know it for a fact and try to repeat it to any young morenitas (and older ones who still need to hear it) I come in contact with. It was truly a priceless gift that I like to think La Virgen herself found a way to bless me with.