by Patrisia Gonzales and Roberto Rodriguez


(EDITOR'S NOTE: This week's column is by Patrisia Gonzales)

In the name of the Virgencita de Guadalupe ... I confess that I am a Guadalupana and a Buddhist. Bless me Guadalupe-Tonantzin, for I do not pray to you the way my mother does. I see you as the female face of sacred life, Grandmother Earth; the feminine presence of God, of Life, of Creation itself.

When Buddhist teachers asked me to relinquish you years ago, it was violating. I returned you, La Lupita, to my home. I could not break my mother's rosary. And when I invoke your counterpart, Tonantzin -- Guadalupe appeared with roses on Tonantzin's sacred hill in the 1500s -- I return to you as did my ancestors. My prayers -- whether they are Buddhist chants or offered with tobacco -- connect with all my mother's rosaries and all my foremothers' prayers to Grandmother Earth when they prayed the "Indian way."

Tonantzin (Our Most Venerable Mother) was known among indigenous peoples in Mexico as embodying a feminine energy with many expressions, representing the earth's regenerative powers, fertility and nature's ability to destroy or create. For the survivors of the 1997 Acteal, Chiapas, mass killings, you became the Virgin of the Massacre, your broken image pieced back together as their shrine.

But for many, what is sacred cannot have a body. In Santa Fe, N.M., people mounted an unholy inquisition against Chicana artist Alma Lopez, who shows "Our Lady" (Raquel Salinas) embodied in a two-piece bathing suit of roses. Lopez was denounced as being lesbian, and Salinas of being of unholy body.

A committee on "sensitive materials" for the Museum of New Mexico is set to make recommendations, but the exhibit's fate is tenuous. Lawsuits from all sides are threatened.

We wrote about the recent "Our Lady" controversy and the tale of Salinas, who posed for the image to heal herself as a rape survivor. One reader responded that her 83-year-old grandmother, given the context, found a new meaning in the art: "Now I understand. The artwork should stay in the museum."

Sacred images can separate or unite. Sometimes they become "false," fall out of favor, are destroyed, or inspire inquisitions and censorship.

But freedom of expression has prevailed in San Antonio, Texas. In a historic decision May 15, a federal judge ruled that the city violated the constitutional right to free speech and equal protection when it defunded arts at Esperanza Peace and Justice Center because of its inclusive politics. Esperanza used the lawsuit as an organizing tool to educate its community that suppression of art and voice is the same slaying of the soul as "English Only" or condemning a community to undrinkable water.

Sometimes de-colonization creates a divide between younger Chicanas and many elders. In Chicanas' efforts to understand Her, to challenge colonization and the social construction of meaning, to "re vision" the sacred and woman, they've made Her more physical, ironing clothes, sewing, as a grandmother. It is also our elders' traditional faith in that Indian Virgin of the forgotten red-brown folk that has kept us alive as peoples of the Americas (or spiritually subjugated, in some people's eyes).

Is it our longing for the sacred feminine that creates these icons, that puts a body to the sacred or incites moral outrage, or is it that She appears to us because She pulses through our spirits, calling for us to know Her? As I followed the Taliban destruction of Buddhist images as false gods, I wondered what makes people fear icons that largely have become art, and when does faith turn inquisitory?

Sometimes people confuse images with faith.

Buddhist elders say that images have only the power we give to them. Like many Buddhists, I do not worship images of Buddha or even pray to him. We seek to fuse our spirit with Life itself, what others call God, and to bring out our "Buddhahood," an enlightened state inherent in the universe at all times, even in moments of anger, to respect all of life.

My ancient soul yearns for the sacred feminine energies inside the earth, the moon, the universe, and I pray "the Indian way" of my ancestors for all these things. By honoring the feminine energies, I honor myself as woman.

Sometimes I wonder how all these teachings can live inside of me. But then I remember a Kanaka Maoli woman of Hawaii, a Buddhist and peacemaker, who told me: "These teachings are separate, but they become one within me."

The Esperanza case reaffirms that government must be open to all viewpoints "in a society of difference," lest we return to inquisitions against the likes of me.

* The Esperanza Center can be reached at:
* Raquel Salinas can be reached at
* Alma Lopez, can be contacted at