McCain and the Virgen de Guadalupe (Our Lady of Guadalupe)

July 8, 2008

One of John McCain’s final activities on his recent trip to Latin America could earn him thousands of Latino votes, or at least a new affinity from Hispanics: He visited the Basilica of our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City.

The Basilica de Guadalupe is Mexico’s most important religious sanctuary, and it ranks among the most important worship places in all of Latin America. The Basilica houses the original apron that was given to Juan Diego, an indigenous peasant, when the Virgin appeared before him in the 16th Century.

The Virgin of Guadalupe is the patroness saint of Mexico and the Americas; she is also referred to as the “Virgen Morena” (browned-skinned Virgin) and as the “Mother of all Mexicans.” Her image is worshiped with such devotion that almost every Catholic home in Mexico, or with Mexican roots in the U.S., has a picture, an altar or icon of the Virgen.

As Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes (as cited on Wikipedia) observed, “One may no longer consider himself a Christian, but you cannot truly be considered a Mexican unless you believe in the Virgin of Guadalupe.” Echoing that sentiment, Nobel laureate Octavio Paz (as cited on Wikipedia) said, “The Mexican people, after more than two centuries of experiments, have faith only in the Virgin of Guadalupe and the National Lottery.”

When in trouble, Mexican Catholics pray for la Virgen to intercede on their behalf, and when a miracle or “favor” is granted, the recipient offers a sacrifice or a gift to thank her. A common gesture to thank the Virgen is to make a pilgrimage to the Basilica, particularly around December 12, the day her feast is celebrated.

For Latino immigrants, the Virgen de Guadalupe represents an icon that gives them hope and helps them maintain their faith while facing problems. In fact, it is common to see the image of the Virgen carried by faithful participants during immigration reform rallies and events.

Historical Significance

The image of the Virgen de Guadalupe has been present during critical events in Mexican history. During Mexico’s Independence War from Spain in 1810, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, known as the “Father of the Nation,” initiated and fought with a flag of la Virgen in his hand. During Mexico’s civil war a century later, Emiliano Zapata and his peasant army fought the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz using a banner of the Virgen as their flag.

In the modern era, then-candidate Vicente Fox began his presidential bid carrying a flag of the Virgen de Guadalupe that was given to him by his children; his victory ended the PRI’s more than 70-year political reign in Mexico.

McCain

For candidate John McCain, visiting the Basilica and getting a picture taken next to the Virgen could be a powerful tool to attract the votes of Latinos, especially those older immigrants and those with low-literacy levels as they would perceive him as a candidate who relates to them and pays respect to one of the most sacred elements in their lives. As far as political icons go, this one could work miracles.

                                       Picture Source: EFE

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Book review: Talk Dirty Spanish

May 26, 2008

There are three books that I regularly recommend (in no particular order) to those who wish to sell to or communicate with Hispanics, and Mexicans specifically: Distant Neighbors by Alan Riding, The Labyrinth of Solitude by Octavio Paz, and The Children of Sanchez by Oscar Lewis.  But I now have an addition to the list: Talk Dirty Spanish by Laura Martinez and Alexis Murnier.

Talk Dirty Spanish offers a non-official guide to the slang, lingo and dirty words of the Spanish language. Through sixteen chapters, each one addressing different social and individual situations, the book presents words and phrases with literal and contextual explanations as well as examples of use within the context of a conversation.  For example, the chapter devoted to drinking alcohol includes the phrase “estar hasta las manitas,” which, according to the authors, means to be drunk while the literal translation is “to be up to the little hands.”  The authors then provide the following use of the phrase:  “El portero de la escuela siempre esta hasta las manitas,” with the accompanying translation:  “The doorman of the school is always very drunk.”

Although Talk Dirty Spanish encompasses slang and lingo from most Latin American countries and Spain, the book has a clear Mexican emphasis, and even among the Mexican slang contained in the book, the majority of words and expressions are more common in the Mexico City region.  This is understandable since one of the authors, Laura Martinez, was born and raised in Mexico’s capital.

Talk Dirty Spanish provides a valuable source of information (and entertainment) to both English-language and Spanish-language readers.  For the former, the book provides a guide beyond the textbook to understand not only Latinos’ way of speaking but also idiosyncrasies, and the book can be a couch-side reference book while watching Univision or Telemundo.  For the latter, it gives Latinos pause to appreciate the way we communicate and think.

Regarding my other recommendations, Octavio Paz’s Labyrinth of Solitude is a collection of essays that deconstruct the essence of Mexican society; Distant Neighbors is the view of modern Mexico by a longtime New York Times correspondent based in Mexico City; and The Children of Sanchez is a novel that resulted from a study in which anthropologist Oscar Lewis spent several months living with a low-income family in the Barrio de Tepito, one of Mexico City’s poorest neighborhoods. These three books provide a better understanding of the way Mexicans live and think; Talk Dirty Spanish addresses how they talk.


Hispanic Agencies: Don’t boycott Lorena Ochoa

May 2, 2008

While reading HispanicTips, a comprehensive Hispanic news aggregator run by Tomás Custer, I came across an interesting quote taken from an article published in the LA Times. The quote addresses the reasons why Mexican superstar, golfer Lorena Ochoa, has virtually no sponsorship deals in the United States.

“I had Hispanic agencies telling me that, ‘no, Mexicans like soccer, baseball and boxing,’ ” Hambric (Lorena Ochoa’s agent) said. “But this is a woman who is now the No. 1, best-regarded person in her country.”

To be honest, this troubles me very much, especially because the feedback that Hambric received was coming from so-called “experts in Hispanic Marketing”. To say that Mexicans only like soccer, baseball and boxing, is almost as absurd as saying that Mexicans only eat tacos!

Mexicans, as the rest of the world, enjoy watching all types of sports. For example, basketball (big fans of the NBA), car racing (NASCAR, Formula 1), and there is even a big fan base of the NFL, to the point that there is an official NFL Web site dedicated to the Mexican market (www.NFL.com.mx). Furthermore, the NFL’s American Bowl has been played five times in Mexico City.

Every four years, the Olympic Games draw the attention of Mexican fans in disciplines such as Tae Kwon Do, weightlifting, track and field and even equestrian sports, basically any competition in which a Mexican national has the possibility of winning an Olympic medal.

And, guess what? Mexicans are also big fans of “posh” sports like tennis and golf. In fact, the PGA (golf) and the ATP (tennis) hold international competitions in Mexico every year.

What the “experts” in Hispanic Marketing contacted by Lorena Ochoa’s agent do not understand is that Mexicans tend to admire, almost idolize, successful athletes, no matter what the discipline. A gold medalist, or champion from Mexico, gives all Mexicans a sense of pride, a reason to believe that success as a person and as a country is achievable.

Let me provide you with some examples (Information from Wikipedia):

Raúl Ramírez was a very successful tennis player during the 70s and early 80s. At the height of his career he was ranked as No. 4 player of the world. In singles he won 19 tournaments, including titles at the ATP Masters Series events in Rome (1975) and Monte Carlo (1978). He also won 59 doubles titles, including Wimbledon (1976), the French Open (1975 & ‘77), and at ATP Masters Series events in Cincinnati (1978), Canada (1976, ’77 & ’81), Monte Carlo (1979), Paris (1977), and Rome (1974, ’75, ’76 & ’77). A memorable moment of his career was when he led the Mexican Davis Cup team in a victory against the US team in 1975, which was led by the number one player of the world at the time: Jimmy Connors. This achievement gave Raúl a celebrity status in Mexico.

Ana Gabriela Guevara. Ana had a successful career in track and field, especially in the 400 meters. The highlights of her career are obtaining the silver medal in 400 meters at the 2004 Olympic Games held in Athens and the winning the 2003 World Championship in France. Ana’s achievements made her one of Mexico’s most influential celebrities.

Eduardo Nájera. Eduardo became the second Mexican to play for an NBA team, yet he became the most famous. Off the court, Nájera served in 2001 as the United Nations Drug Control Program Goodwill Ambassador for Sports Against Drugs. Also, in 2004, Najera established the Eduardo Najera Foundation for Latino Achievement, which provides college scholarships for outstanding Latino students facing barriers to their educations.

Clearly, the “professionals” that counseled Hambric (Lorena’s agent) need to do some more research on the audience they are trying to target. Lorena could be a great Hispanic spokesperson for products, services and organizations, ranging from beauty products to health-related services. She is young, she is successful, and she is Latina, what more can we ask for?