COLUMN OF THE AMERICAS
THE BODY OF THE SACRED FEMININE
FROM UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE
FOR RELEASE: WEEK OF APRIL 20, 2001
COLUMN OF THE AMERICAS by Patrisia Gonzales and Roberto Rodriguez
THE BODY OF THE SACRED FEMININE
Her body is beautiful, brown and strong like the earth. Yet, you can't get Raquel Salinas to say much about herself without causing her to choke up with emotion. For nearly half her life, she was ashamed of her body -- burdened with guilt for having been raped.
Today, her body is the subject of a raging controversy
in Northern New Mexico because Los Angeles artist Alma Lopez depicted her
as "Our Lady" -- a rose-covered woman personifying pre-Columbian
moon and earth entities and vestiges of the Virgen de Guadalupe. She is one
body of the sacred feminine as redefined in recent Chicana art.
While the controversy continues over whether
the virgin should be embodied in such a way, the woman of the body in question
has become almost disembodied from the debate. Much like feminist critique
of the objectivication of women in mass culture, she has remained a body with
no voice. "It's my body, yet nobody's asked me anything about how I feel."
Erroneously described as bikini-clad, Salinas
wears a two-piece bathing suit, covered with roses. She stands on a bare-chested
woman, which opponents see as an offensive reference to the Virgin standing
on an angel. Lopez was inspired to depict Salinas in such a manner, partly
through the writings of Sandra Cisneros -- who in one of her stories wonders
what Our Lady of Guadalupe wears underneath her mantle. "Roses,"
The image Salinas depicts is that of "a
heroine, of a strong woman. ... That's who I believe Guadalupe is ... a symbol
of struggle," said Salinas. The image symbolically refers to women's
"moon cycles," how women connect each month to life through menstruation.
To those opposed to the image, Salinas' body
offends. It is violating and sacrilegious. On the surface, the controversy
is about sacredness vs. the freedom of expression. When these ideals clash,
there can be no winners. Yet look through the eyes of Salinas and you see
something else raging: a desire for justice in a world that hungers for it
and a desire to honor the sacred feminine in a world that daily dishonors
It is unsettling to Salinas that her body has
become ground zero for this controversy. She adheres to an indigenous spirituality
that views Our Lady of Guadalupe as Tonantzin -- her common name in Nahuatl
meaning "Our Most Venerable Mother." "I see her as Tonantzin.
I respect her. I would never do anything to disrespect her," said Salinas.
"I'm a very spiritual person. I live my life as a Christian -- that is, respecting others and respecting the earth.
Her life's work has sought to heal herself and
her community. She was raped at age 18. Rather than offering compassion, those
close to her made her feel shame and told her it was God's punishment. Guilt-ridden,
she was made to believe it was she who had precipitated her own rape. This
is one reason that led her to drink. And it was the same reason that caused
her to cover herself up -- to hide her body, her curves ... her femininity.
In a sense, she led a double life. Fiercely
proud of her heritage, she became politically active at a young age. She witnessed
the raw brutality of police officers against protestors at the East L.A. Chicano
Moratorium in 1970. "When I saw that brutality, I committed my life toward
fighting injustice." Yet, through all the political movements she participated
in, she was always silent about her rape.
Twelve years after being raped, she met a woman,
Alba Moreno, who told her: "It wasn't your fault. You didn't ask to be
raped." To hear those words was liberating, Salinas explains. No one
had ever told her this. At Moreno's prompting, she became involved with the
East L.A. Rape Hotline. During her training, she watched a depiction of a
rape scene in the back of a car -- very similar to hers -- which brought back
After years of support groups, one-on-one therapy
and Alcoholics Anonymous (nine years of being sober) -- she began her long
process about feeling good again about her body. To rid herself of her shame
of her own body, she began to do nude modeling at UCLA. Then she allowed herself
to be artistically photographed in the nude.
Part of the controversial image was an effort
by her to complete her healing from "the shame and the guilt." And
the dialogue that has ensued "is part of the healing process," she
noted. "I feel good about my body. I carry no shame anymore. It's part
of what happened to me."
Salinas today is an artist in residence at the
Catholic-sponsored Proyecto Pastoral in East L.A. She has employed Our Lady
of Guadalupe in her own work as a performance artist. Several years ago, she
wrote a piece called "Heat Your Own." In it, Our Lady of Gudalupe-Tonantzin
appears in the 1500s to stop the bloodshed of the indigenous peoples of Mexico.
Additionally, other strong women personages appear, including women who fight
with the Zapatistas for farmworker rights and garment workers. The piece also
addresses the realities that teens face, of survival, street and domestic
violence, and AIDS. "It's mainly about hearing the voice of strong women."
People should be outraged when women's bodies
are exploited to sell products, she said. "That's what we should be ashamed
of. Yet nobody says anything about that."
At the center of the battle over freedom of
speech and a sacred symbol is a woman who when asked if she has ever doubted
her own beauty breaks down in tears. "I've never seen myself as beautiful."
COPYRIGHT 2001 UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE
* Raquel Salinas can be reached at 213-368-8831 or at firstname.lastname@example.org or PO BOX 50626 L.A. CA. 90050
**The image can be seen at: http://www.almalopez.net Comments regarding the exhibit should be directed to Dr. Joyce Ice, Director of the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, NM at: email@example.com or to Dr. Tey Marianna Nunn, Curator of Contemporary Hispano/Latino Collections at TMNunn@moifa.org The artist, Alma Lopez, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or Tongues/VIVA1125 N. McCadden Place Suite 148, Los Angeles, CA 90038.
Gonzales is the author of the forthcoming "The Mud People: Anonymous Heroes of Mexico" and co-author of "Gonzales/Rodriguez: Uncut & Uncensored" (ISBN: 0-918520-22-3 -- Ethnic Studies Library Publications Unit, UC Berkeley. Rodriguez is the author of Justice: A Question of Race (Cloth- ISBN 0-927534-69-X paper ISBN 0-927534-68-1 -- Bilingual Review Press). We can be reached at PO BOX 100726, San Antonio, TX 78201-8726, or by phone at 210-734-3050 or XColumn@aol.com Our "Column of the Americas" is archived under "Opinion" at www.uexpress.com