September 24, 2001

Subject: Our Lady
Date: Mon, 24 Sep 2001 10:57:08 -0400
From: "Peter C. Skye" <>
To: <>

What an outstanding image of Our Lady of Guadalupe! 
I don't know how to say more than ask how one may obtain a copy!
Peter C. Skye
Lexington, KY


Subject: Alma Lopez
Date: Mon, 24 Sep 2001 11:03:54 -0400
From: "Peter C. Skye" <>
To: <>

I just wanted to add my voice to those supporting Alma Lopez' artwork.  Her representation of Our Lady of Guadalupe is stunning visually and spiritually quite inspiring. I feel drawn to the work as no other image of La Guadalupe has ever drawn me.
I understand why people would regard this image as heresy.  But if Our Lady of Guadalupe is indeed a living presence among the communion of saints and not just an idol, she must be accorded her sacred right to appear to and inspire artists to bring her to life ever new.
Besides, there is nothing obscene or irreverent about the image at all. 
Peter C. Skye
Lexington, KY


Subject: Re: <no subject>
Date: Mon, 24 Sep 2001 10:16:05 -0600
From: gloria nieto <>
To: <>

Local media coverage of the Our Lady controversy did more to fan the flames of local discontent than it did to shed light on the underlying issues and problems, a cross section of community members told The New Mexican at a recent roundtable discussion. As one of them more colorfully put it: "We are already aware of our dirty little secrets. You didn't reveal any undercurrents; you just reminded us of them."

That's hard criticism, but given the spirit in which it was offered, judicious and well received. And we did, after all, ask for it.

The comment was made at a community forum on media credibility, officially part of the National Credibility Roundtables, a project of The Associated Press Managing Editors to promote understanding and trust between newspapers and readers. New Mexican Managing Editor Rob Dean identified coverage of the emotionally charged Our Lady debate as the perfect vehicle for study. APME agreed, sending two representatives to observe the roundtable.

It wasn't an easy sell, however, in a city divided by six months of bitter, often hurtful disagreement. Neither the newspaper staff nor the general public seemed anxious to rekindle a fire that appeared finally to be dying down.

The New Mexican invited 40 people to take part in the discussion, and 25 accepted. However, it took work to convince some people that the topic would be limited to credibility of the coverage and avoid the controversy itself.

We then enlisted the help of Rosalie Otero, director of The University of New Mexico honors program. She agreed to act as moderator and facilitator to help us keep the contract.

The controversy, you'll recall, began last February, when the state-run Museum of International Folk Art mounted an exhibition of computer-generated art that included a digital interpretation of Our Lady of Guadalupe by Los Angeles-bred Latina artist Alma López. A small but fervent group protested placement of the image in a public museum, saying it offended local cultural and religious sensibilities.

The escalating debate erupted into a full-scale power struggle for turf in a city overwhelmed by change. López's Our Lady had became the poster child for Santa Fe's most divisive issues, those "dirty little secrets."

Many Santa Feans, we would learn in the course of the discussion, were caught in the crossfire, with loyalties to more than one camp. And they were being alternately hurt, angered or disheartened by the prevailing rhetoric, dutifully reported on a sometimes-daily basis by the local press.

But hadn't the press provided more information, more guidance, than that?

Hadn't we explored collateral issues, covered community meetings, encouraged letters to the editor? How could the press have done a better job of addressing the needs of the majority of our readers, the ones who fall between the extremes?

Before the meeting, roundtable participants received a packet of stories The New Mexican had published on the controversy in the last six months. Several panelists commented that after reading the entire packet, "the coverage had been much better" than they thought.

Still, once the conversation with our readers began, several voices for positive change emerged loudly and clearly:

"Once reported, stay away from the sources at both ends of the pole," they told us.

"Avoid the 'he said, she said' style of journalism."

"Provide opportunities for many, many more voices to be heard."


"Provide historical background."

"Predict and prescribe."

"Give us an in-depth look at the issues in a not-so-local context."

"I missed the analysis," lamented one member of the group, who, to underscore the point, held up a copy of The New York Times that carried an article about museums and their changing role in America. By exploring challenges to museums at a national level (including a reference to our own beleaguered MOIFA), the out-of-state newspaper had contributed more to her understanding of what was happening in Santa Fe than her hometown newspaper had. "Where was our museum piece?" she asked.

Thankfully, the panelists had realistic expectations about how much a small newspaper could devote, in terms of time, talent and money, to a single story over a long period of time. Call in experts, people who can inform us about different sides of an issue, and allow people to express their views and concerns through surveys, Internet and telephone polls, and by printing all letters to the editor on a Web site, were some suggestions.

There also was an admonition to make better use of Internet sources for background information - this from someone who visited Alma López's Web site and had been stunned by the volume of threatening e-mail generated by the controversy that the artist had received and displayed there.

Rather than quote people in the midst of angry exchanges, suggested another panelist, you could have told us their personal stories, followed main players for a week to document what they were going through.

Exciting stuff. But I admit to wondering whether in the excitement of discourse the group could possibly have forgotten the chilling effect the controversy had on the free exchange of ideas in Santa Fe. I recalled all the letters, e-mails and phone messages from people desperate to have their say but too fearful to see their names published.

The fear factor affected coverage, too. Many great, related story ideas - about gender preference, the role of women in the Catholic Church, Santa Fe's divided Hispanic community and further exploration of the takeover of the local protest by an international, fascist organization - went begging for fear that our readership would take offense. And when several efforts to cover new ground met with silence, even from those readers who led us there in the first place, we returned to business as usual.

We would learn only from comments at the roundtable just how important those stories had been to at least some of our readers. I personally appreciated one participant's comment that "the media responds to support and needs to know when it's going in the right direction. Sometimes it takes guts to do that, but it's our responsibility."

Another concern of many at the roundtable was the media's penchant for putting labels on people and for repeating catchy, descriptive phrases in story after story. We do that to condense ideas and background and to qualify sources and information for our readers. This group didn't buy that.

One man had actually gone through every story in the packet, circling words that stereotype or color something negatively. (Examples: traditional Hispanic Catholics; rose-covered bikini). And he'd counted the number of times the words had appeared in our stories.

Referring to the traditional Hispanic Catholic label, one woman said, "I don't know where I fit in all of this." A journalist whose career is based on First Amendment freedoms, the woman is also a Catholic and Hispanic from Northern New Mexico. Her words throughout the discussion carried the weight of one who had been deeply torn by the contention of the last few months.

"What exactly does traditional Hispanic Catholic mean anyway?" asked another. "I'd like you to tell me what a nontraditional Hispanic Catholic looks like." To which someone answered: "I think they are taller."

Though the subject was serious, the group approached it with this kind of self effacing humor, intelligence and openness to new ideas, qualities sadly lacking in Santa Fe in the worst of the controversy. I took from the meeting a renewed hope in their power.

But what about those "dirty little secrets"? Now that they're seeing the light of day, what will we do about them? Celebrate our diversity with positive stories throughout the year "and not through a prism of emotion and anger," one woman suggested.

"We do that," I thought.

"We try. We'll try harder - we're listening." Want to use this article? Click here for options!

Copyright 2001 Santa Fe New Mexican

Reader Opinions

Name: D. Howley
An excellent idea; excellent coverage of the discussion!

Name: Albert Gerney
Good article. I recommend that in the future you explicitly ask your readers if they subscribe to the extreme statements of a few who declare they speak for the majority of Catholics (and God). They do not, any more than Jerry Falwell spoke for the majority of Protestants (and God) when he said on 9/13 the United States got "probably what we deserved" in the WTC tragedy.