The Church on the Hill

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Mexican-Chinese
Age: 37
Occupation: Student TA
Residence: Los Angeles, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: April 19th, 2013
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Spanish

The following are the informant’s exact words:

“This is a story that my grandmother tells. It’s a pretty popular story, umm… that involves that… Juan Diego, a young man’s name… a peasant and a Mexican. And when she tells it, it is that he is walking one day, uhh… and the Virgen di Guadalupe appeared to him and said, “I’d like you to build me a church, here.” It was a particular hill I believe. And uhh… and he was like, “Well okay, I guess”. And ummm…  then he goes to, I believe, the power that be, the kinda Catholic Church, the bishop. And he says, “Okay well we need to build this church because the Virgen di Guadalupe appeared to me and said she wants a church.” And, uhhh, the bishop, because of, you know,  the lowly statues of this peasant, Juan Diego, said, “Well you know, why should we believe you, you need to have some proof, you need to find some proof.” So he’s kinda turned away. And the next day, or I don’t know, a week later I suppose, he’s walking by the same place, but he actually tries to go a different way, he’s kind of trying to avoid her I think (laughs), but she appears again! And she’s like, “Hey, why are you trying to avoid me?” You know. And he proceeds to tell her, ummm, you know, “They don’t believe me, you know, there’s no proof.” And she says, “Well, climb up on this hill and uhhh pick some roses, and uhh pick these roses umm to bring to this bishop.” And umm so he does that, he picks these roses. And he carries them in his ‘thilma’, in his shirt, uhh kinda like this, like makes a kind of pouch with his shirt and carries them. And then goes to the bishop and says, “Okay, she appeared to me again.” And uhh the bishop’s like, “Well where’s your proof?”And so he, he drops the flowers from his shirt. And you know, he’s thinks like, here’s my proof, the flowers, the roses. But actually, the roses, being carried in the shirt, had stained his shirt, his ‘thilma’ and there was an image of the Virgen di Guadalupe. And then the bishops all got down on their knees, because this is a holy thing, you know, and imagine this miracle, ‘milagro’, and so he got down on his knees. And there’s a church there today, right this is a church, a famous church, and that’s the story of that church.”

The informant said that his grandmother told him the story when he was much younger. The informant is half Mexican, and he included several Spanish words in his retelling of the story. The story seems very personal to the informant, because he learned it from a cherished family member and it ties back to his heritage. However, he said that he could not remember the name of the church, though he knew it at one point. Thus, the story meant more to him as a tale in itself, tying back to his grandmother, his Mexican heritage, and his religion, than a tale about a specific church. When he was telling it to me, his voice became more excited towards the end of the tale, when Juan Diego’s proof succeeds in convincing the bishops to believe him and build the church. The informant believed in the tale and regarded it highly.

Many narratives have meanings beyond the literary plot. This narrative has ties to heritage and religion. The informant, living in Los Angeles, doesn’t often get to celebrate his unique heritage and religion, and narratives like this help to reaffirm some of his beliefs. The story venerates both the Virgin of Guadalupe, the new Catholic church, and the efforts of a poor peasant man following the will of God. Thus, it is held dearly by a religious common-man. I found the tale interesting, more so because of the informant’s enthusiasm and emotional connections to it. I don’t know if I believe that the roses stained the shirt in the form of the Virgin, but I believe that something similar could have happened, or that the stain could have looked similar to her form. In any case, the connotations of the story are more important that it’s actuality. I think this legend is a good example of the strength of Mexican heritage and familial ties, the prominence of Catholicism in Mexico and its emotional power, and the tendency of legends to connect with the common-man.

It should also be noted that I didn’t know how to spell some of the Spanish words, specifically “thilma”, and I couldn’t find it online. I spelled it phonetically.