JANUARY 2003

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Mexican Immigrants Gather to Pray to the Virgin of Guadalupe
From Hoy
December 13, 2002

By Maria del Carmen Amado

Accompanied by Saint Juan Diego, the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe -- the patron saint of Mexico -- traveled to the Big Apple. She arrived on 51st Street, and crossed Fifth Avenue to enter St. Patrick’s Cathedral along with hundreds of Mexicans.

"I have the great honor of carrying the torch, with a message from thousands of Latino immigrants who are hoping and waiting for amnesty," said German Silva, winner of the New York Marathon in 1994 and 1995. Silva was chosen to walk the last leg of the march, which was initiated 45 days earlier in the Mexican capital.

Thousands of Mexicans left their homes in the early morning to arrive at the church, including Georgina Baez, who walked from Queens. She commemorated the date that the Virgin of Guadalupe appeared in 1531 to the Indian Juan Diego above the Tepeyac hill. With emotion, Baez said that "the virgin gave me an incredible miracle in 1985 and she saved me."

Vying for a place as close as possible to the virgin, thousands shouted, "Yes, we can!" while others asked, "Step aside so that the virgin can pass by!." There was no cold, nor fatigue. Various mariachi bands played, along with the indigenous band "Los Ticuanes," and many danced, wearing typical ponchos and bearing the Mexican flag. Phrases like "Long live the virgin!" and "Long live the Mexican race!" filled the air.

"Our virgin means everything to me and I have come here to sing "Las Mañanitas" to her," said Alejandra Vidal, 34 years old. Like dozens of Mexicans, the Brooklynite carried a small icon, blessed at the end of the service by the Bishop Josu Oriondo.

The special date was celebrated by Rocio Fernandez, from the Bronx. She got little sleep, staying up late cooking traditional dishes like tamales, mole and bread, but arrived early at the cathedral with her family. "I will ask the virgin to protect us and help us to get an amnesty or at least a work permit." This request was common among everyone present.

Others called for equal treatment with justice, jobs, and better salaries, a message supported by the church.

"The Virgin and Juan Diego tried to cross the border without papers and they succeeded," said Joel Magallan of the Asociación Tepeyac, the organizer of the march. "Besides commemorating our patron saint, our objective was to call international attention to end injustice towards undocumented immigrants."

According to the Mexican consulate general in New York, Salvador Beltrán del Rio, it was an emotional event. He said that he is hoping for a triumph in the fight for amnesty, and that the fight has the support of the president.

The Mexican community’s arrival at the New York cathedral, besides demonstrating the power of the third biggest Latino group in the city, had another significance: the group’s tacit acceptance into New York society.

The Mexican presence enriches New York’s Latino community, said Willie Colón, representing Mayor Bloomberg. "They are brothers who work hard, they are here and no one can change that," said the Puerto Rican musician and politician, who aids the mayor in Latino affairs.

The Bishop Oriondo said that the "power of Guadalupe will bring us sooner or later the amnesty so that all Latin Americans can walk freely throughout North America. I admire you for your struggles against injustice. The church is by your side, people of Mexico."

Translated from Spanish by Jonathan Charnay

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