Ritual Traditions of Maria Lopez: From Mexico to Louisiana

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1. Special thanks go to Martha Brown and Barbara Chumley for their field work and translation in summer 2007. I am most grateful for the help the Lopez's children, Juanita and Alfredo "Freddy" who translated for me in my own field work with their family in subsequent years. I also want to thank Jessica Lopez and Natalie Turrubiartes who also provided assistance with translation. Most of the Mexican children in Bernice become bi-lingual, speaking English at school and with their friends and speaking Spanish at home with their parents, who may not learn much English. In fact, Freddy Lopez had translated mass for the Mexican-American community when there was no Spanish service. My former folklife program assistant Rachel Winchell translated some early interviews. I am indebted to Peter Jones for use of his photographs of the Passion of Christ, his help in adjusting my digital photographs, and his editorial suggestions.

2. Folk Catholicism, sometimes referred to by Catholics as "cultural Catholicism," includes regional variations of Roman Catholic practices. Actually, some folk practices may contradict official doctrine, while others are elaborations of it. Such practices are learned locally rather than through official church doctrine.

3. Lopez's altars differ from the single personal altar such as those described by Kay Turner in Beautiful Necessity, which shows more layered, embellished accumulations (95-111).

4. El Niño de Atocha is a child saint thought to be the boy Jesus. Though originally a Spanish saint, he has a Mexican shrine located in Plateros, Zacatecas. El Niño de Atocha is the most revered saint in Mexico after the Virgin of Guadalupe. Different Mexican saints are thought to be special protectors of specific groups of people. El Niño de Atocha is the saint for people in all kinds of difficulties, such as those serving time in prison or having difficulty with the I.N.S. Mrs. Lopez's special devotion to El Niño de Atocha could be a response to her obtaining her U. S. legal papers a few years ago. Immediately after her family received their permanent papers, they returned to Mexico and made a pilgrimage to shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe and also to the shrine of El Niño de Atocha.

5. The Virgin of Guadalupe, the most revered saint in Mexico, holds special significance for the Mexican people. The virgin appeared in Mexico in the 16th century to Juan Diego, a poor Mexican peasant, and left him a bouquet of roses and an image of herself on his mantle as proof of her appearance. Her image is found everywhere, including the homes of the Catholic Mexican residents of Bernice. Many Mexicans love and venerate the Virgin of Guadalupe as the mother of the Mexican people. The only verified apparition of the Virgin Mary in the Americas, she is a source of pride and encouragement for most Mexicans wherever they live. The feast day of the Virgin of Guadalupe is December 12, which is a major celebration for Mexican Catholics. (Chumley) In her discussion of nicho and gruta (niches and shrines) iconography, Cynthia Vidaurri tells us the "Virgin of Guadalupe is not only a symbol of Mexican Catholicism but also of their mexicanidad (Mexicaness)" (Graham 232).

6. The processions of Las Posadas begin December 16 and end on December 24. On each of these days in the evening, a procession of people carrying statues of Mary and Joseph stop in front of the door to the home of a family who is sponsoring that night's celebration. Members in the procession stand outside the front door of each home singing Spanish sacred songs until the host family opens the door to receive Mary and Joseph. Once everyone is inside, a party (fiesta) begins typically including singing, eating traditional foods, and breaking a star-shaped piñatas that is filled with fruit and/or candy. On the last night of Las Posadas, Christmas Eve, the celebration centers around the "Baby Jesus," a special doll-like statue, which in Spanish is called El Niño Jesus or El Niño de Dios. Not only in the host home, but in most Mexican Catholics' homes, "Baby Jesus" is laid in a home altar on Christmas Eve (Acostad) and raised on January 6, the Catholic feast of Epiphany (Levantad). In Bernice, most Mexican Catholic families have a "Baby Jesus," which they brought with them from Mexico. Each year "Baby Jesus" wears a new dress, many of which are crocheted by family or community members such as Mrs. Lopez. After the Baby Jesus is raised from the manger scene altar on January 6, He is often seated in a specially designed chair that fits his statuary-type body and then placed between a statue of Mary and Joseph. He remains in the chair until the next celebration of La Natividad (Chumley).

7. Graham discusses the Mexican American preference for artificial flowers, which are not regarded as "cheap or unattractive" and have an "immense practical value. . . and continue to provide pleasure and satisfaction long after fresh flowers have been discarded" (Graham 7).


Brown, Martha Perez. "XV Años Celebration." Based on unpublished fieldnotes. Collection of Louisiana Tech Folklife Program.

Cantú, Norma, "La Quiñceanara: Towards an Ethnographic Analysis of a Life-Cycle Ritual."

--- , and Olga Najera Ramírez, eds. Changing Chicana Traditions. Chicago: U of Illinois P. 2001

Chumley, Barbara. "Field Notes on Church Decorating." 15 June 2007. Unpublished fieldnotes. Collection of Louisiana Tech Folklife Program.

--- and Susan Roach. "Making Piñatas: Celebration Mexican-Style in North Louisiana." Louisiana Folklife Program, Louisiana's Living Traditions. n.d. Web. 9 Oct. 2010.

Gennep, Arnold Van. The Rites of Passage. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. 1960.

Graham, Joe S., ed. Hecho en Tejas: Texas-Mexican Folk Arts and Crafts. Denton, Tx,: U of North Texas P. 1991.

Lopez, Maria, with Juanita and Freddy Lopez. Personal Interview. 29 August 2010.

---. Personal Interview. 17 June 2010.

---. Personal Interview by Susan Roach and Barbara Chumley. 12 June 2007.

"Mis XV Años Juanita Lopez Por Antonia Miranda." Superpikera. YouTube, 30 May 2010. Web. 30 December 2010.

"Stations of the Cross." Catholic Online. n.d. Web. 30 Dec. 2010.

Turner, Kay. Beautiful Necessity: The Art and Meaning of Women's Altars. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1999.

Susan Roach is a folklorist at Louisiana Tech University in the English Department. This research was done while she served as the Regional Folklorist from 1998-2009 for the New Populations Project. In this project, Regional Folklorists were charged with documenting the surviving traditions of the major new ethic groups in their regions. Since the largest ethnic group in north central Louisiana was Hispanic, and Roach did not speak Spanish, she contracted with Martha Perez Brown and Barbara Chumley to assist her with research. Brown, a Mexican native, had been in the U. S. for over 30 years and was working in the Union Parish school system as a liaison with Hispanic students and their families. Chumley, then an English instructor, had experience teaching English as a second language to Spanish speakers. They formed a three-person team for their initial work with the Lopez family, whom Brown already knew and recommended to be interviewed. After the research with her during the summer of 2007, Roach continued to work with Lopez to document traditional events through summer 2010, thanks to translation help from the Lopez children, Freddy and Juanita. It was published as part of the New Populations Project in 2012.