The author of “Guadalupe in New York,” Alyshia Galvez, is a cultural anthropologist and professor at New York University (NYU.edu). Through this book, she reveals both her research and opinions on Mexican migration and the strong role that religion plays in the process. The focus of her discussion is based on the strength and commitment of Mexican immigrants to the Roman-Catholic religious figure, The Virgin of Guadalupe. Through her book, Galvez helps her reader understand the history and cultural context of The Virgin of Guadalupe. According to the story, The Virgin of Guadalupe is an image of the Virgin Mary in a cloak surrounded by roses. This image has become a cultural phenomenon and a prominent symbol of faith for Mexican and Latino Roman Catholics. This image is supposed to have dated back to the 16th century. Nate Schweber of the New York Times says that the Virgin of Guadlupe “has long been a powerful religious and cultural symbol that resonates among immigrants and children of immigrants in the United States” (Schweber).
Galvez wants to make it clear to readers that Mexican immigrants use their faith and devotion as a way to stay connected to the life and culture they had in Mexico. It serves as a symbol of comfort and strength, and is a way for them to feel connected to the Mexican culture even while they are physically separated. The cultural significance of the Lady of Guadalupe has not only come to light through Galvez’s writings, but has also been noticed by the media, as well as the Catholic Church. According to the New York Times, “Pope John Paul II declared the Virgin of Guadalupe ‘Queen of the Americas’” because of her “evangelical significance” (Espinoza). The devotion of these people towards the Virgin may be interesting and surprising to the American reader, and can provide great insight to a culture living within their own country.
An interesting point that a Galvez shows the readers is how Mexican immigrants’ religion may become even stronger as they journey from Mexico to America. This transition from Mexican life to urban American life is difficult for many people who were accustomed to living life in the Mexican culture. The migration to American actually strengthens their religion because they feel connected to Jesus Christ because of the struggles they endure. One way that Galvez demonstrates this connection to Jesus Christ is by describing the ceremony of “El Viacrucis Inmigrante” where Mexican immigrants act out the stages of the cross on the public streets of New York. Galvez does a nice job of convincing the reader that the struggles and ostracization of Jesus is paralleled by the struggles and hardships of Mexican immigrants who are acting out these brutal scenes.
Through her book, Galvez advocates for the rights of Mexican immigrants who are struggling to live the American dream. She convinces the reader that immigrants are working hard every day and struggling to fit into a society in which they are ostracized and ignored. She suggests that, as an alternative to legal citizenship, these people look at themselves as citizens under their religion. She does this by showing how Mexican immigrants see themselves as citizens under God, because all people are equal in God’s eyes. Her suggestions show readers that some Mexican immigrants believe that they are moral citizens, and that this is a more important status to have than being a legal citizen. Yet, Galvez contradicts herself through showing how many Mexican immigrants live in fear that their undocumented status will send them back to their homeland, ultimately showing how their legal status holds the prominent position. Galvez walks a fragile line between politics and religion in regards to immigration, touching on subjects which are very prevalent in media today.
Galvez’s work could benefit from additional examples of migrant culture’s use of religious symbols. While she does mention the religious symbols of Italian immigrants into Harlem, demonstrating other cultural examples of religious idolatry would help the reader to better understand the relationship between migration and religion. Galvez’s work could also benefit from a more in depth discussion regarding the Catholic Church’s response to the seeming idolatry occurring with the Virgin of Guadalupe.
Overall, Galvez’s book “Guadalupe of New York” allows readers to gain appealing insight into the world of Mexican-American immigrants. Galvez shows the reader the hardships that Mexicans face as they try to adjust to life in the hustle and bustle of New York City. She introduces American readers to the reality of Mexican-American immigrants within their own country. Immigration is a topic that is often debated within the media and government, and Galvez does a great job showing the perspective of Mexican-American immigrants and giving insight into their religious lives.
Espinoza, Adam. (2008 Dec 12) Revering a Symbol of Mexican Faith and Identity. New York Times.
NYU.edu. Department of Anthropology. Faculty Pages: Alyshia Galvez. Retried from http://anthropology.as.nyu.edu/object/anthroalumni.alyshiagalvez
Schweber, Nate. (2012 July 22) In New Jersey, a Knot in a Tree Trunk Draws the Faithful and
the Skeptical. New York Times.