Our Lady of Guadalupe, who rides a mosaic wave on a railway bridge in Encinitas, is not just a religious icon or symbol, nor a Catholic Saint.
The first shrine to Our Lady was erected in 1531 at Tepeyac, in Mexico City, on the site of the razed Temple of Tonantzin, the Aztec Earth Goddess, mother of the gods and protector of humanity.
The indigenous people of Mexico, still reeling from Cortez’ conquest and destruction of their culture and religion only a few years earlier, were slow to embrace the new Spanish king and his religion. The bishop of Mexico seized on a beautifully executed indigenous artist’s portrait of Our Lady, with a dark face, clothed in Aztec colors and cultural symbolism, to employ as a potentially unifying icon representing mutual acceptance of both peoples and their religious and cultural traditions.
The shrine, built of stone from Tonantzin’s Temple, would be Christian and Catholic, but the portrait that was enshrined was of a native woman, painted by Marcos the Indian, incorporating Nahuatl language, symbols and clothing.
To the Aztecs, Our Lady of Guadalupe was Tonantzin, in a new image and language, church and religion, still fulfilling her traditional role as mother of all Mexicans.
The multi-cultural portrait of Our Lady of Guadalupe converted thousands and then hundreds of thousands of Mexicans. She would eventually become the patroness of the Americas, symbol of a unified Mexican identity, history and culture. Her image would fly on the flag of the revolution with Zapata, and the first secular president, Guadalupe Victoria, changed his name to hers as a symbol of his own unification of the Mexican peoples — native, European, mixed, of all religions.
The mosaic portrait of Our Lady of Guadalupe surfing in Encinitas is also a unifying work of art, playfully and powerfully focusing the attention of residents and visitors, surfers, Mexicans, Chicanos, women, artists, teachers, environmentalists – everyone – on our responsibility for the fate of the ocean, and by extension on support of city, state and national initiatives to enhance and sustain the health and wealth of the oceans we so depend on.
This can only be a good thing.
Guadalupe is a benevolent that helps everyone and everything she touches. Art can be a powerful educational tool, in this case fostering a personal connection to the ocean that is difficult to teach. Human biological, chemical and physical interaction with the ocean is complex. A graphic, engaging depiction of that connection can make that personal leap of faith easy, effortlessly doing the work of years of education.
Encinitas may have great ocean ecology policies, but it requires the understanding cooperation of both residents and visitors to really make them effective. The surfing Madonna is a powerful reminder of our collective responsibility for the wealth of the ocean, ideally located at one of the main entrances to the city, in a place otherwise unused. It does not cause traffic problems that I have observed in almost daily drive-byes on my way to the Coast Highway. It beautifies and lights up a dark and dreary underpass. It causes no harm and does a lot of good — good that will last for a century, if the mosaic is cared for minimally.
It was intended as a gift to all of the people that visit, use and enjoy the ocean in Encinitas. This gift should be gracefully accepted by the city, residents and public servants alike, and left exactly where it is.
For the city council to unilaterally reject and remove this free, thoughtful and valuable gift would be an unconscionable waste of a beautiful and effective educational tool that enhances the intrinsic value of the city and unites the disparate communities of Encinitas in a worthy cause. There is nothing to be gained by removing the mosaic portrait and lots to lose, including the civic trust of the community in their elected leaders and employees.
Our city is an ocean-dependent entity. We count on a clean, healthy ocean full of fish — for our balmy climate, our health, recreation, nourishment, property values, tourism, economic security, inspiration and peace of mind. We need good public art that is a permanent reminder of the life, spirit and public services that the ocean provides, and of our personal and civic duty to respectfully and intelligently reciprocate.
Filed Under: Community Commentary