"She is dark," I whispered when I first saw our Lady of Guadalupe at the Ponce Cathedral.
"Yes, she is morena and small. This is why she is called La Morenita (little dark skinned female)." Abuela continued: "Most of the Virgins are blond, blue eyed, and white. But La Morenita is all-powerful."
I still remember that moment as if it was yesterday. I was nine years old when I first encountered La Guadalupe. I traveled with Abuela from my hometown Yabucoa, a small town on the southeast coast of Puerto Rico, to Ponce, the island's second major city. We were going to visit Abuela's relatives.
"First things first, " Abuela announced when we arrived. "We will go the Ponce Cathedral to pay our respects to the Virgin of Guadalupe."
"I have a surprise for you," my paternal Abuela Petra said with a broad smile. She pulled a set of cards out of her purse and placed it in my hands....
Huracán was the supreme Taíno god, said Mr. Colón, my history teacher.
As a ten-year-old student, I did not control my enthusiasm:
No, I replied, it was Atabeyra.
What! Mr. Colón shouted, as he hit his desk with a ruler.
Silence crept into the room like a mouse during siesta time.
Every child in class seemed to stop breathing. Suddenly, I felt my face turning red.
Ruler in hand, Mr. Colón slowly walked toward my seat: What, he repeated as he reached me.
"You don't know what Día de los Muertos really is until you witness it in Mexico," my friend Nelly said. "Day of the Dead is a celebration of life, not a mourning of death," she added....
"A goddess!" I exclaimed, as I approached a large rounded feminine figure in the National Museum of Ethiopia.
"No!" A man's voice echoed throughout the room.
When he noticed people's glances upon him, the museum guide lowered his voice: "That piece is a very, very old", he said hesitantly. "It is pagan. She comes from the Oromo people, the largest ethnic group here in Ethiopia."
I could not peel my eyes off the figure. The unexpected discovery piqued my interest.
"Does she have a name?" I asked hopefully.
Instead of answering my question, the guide told me about Ethiopia's most famous woman:
I want to be La Llorona for Halloween, I told my grandmother after watching a Mexican movie.
Sacrilege, Abuela said, she is a murderess!
At eight, I was used to my grandmother's threats when I misbehaved: La Llorona will take you away.
The myth of La Llorona conjures up strange effects on Latinos. Most children scream after hearing her name. Many women cross themselves, saying "Ave Purisima," after mentioning her name. And yet, some women—like my grandmother—smile after summoning La Llorona. The Weeping Woman did not scare me; instead, she fascinated me. I suspected that La Llorona had a secret. Perhaps, if I dressed like her I could uncover her mystery.
Who is she, I asked Maria. My husband Fred and I were at Maria's studio during our visit to Belize. We had made a special trip to see her work. Maria gazed into my eyes and asked: You don't recognize her?
Not answering, I carefully studied the statue--an old woman with a serpent headdress, wearing a skirt decorated with crossbones, and carrying an upside-down water vessel
She spoke to me, I finally said.
You're a healer, Maria said.
I'm a psychologist who sees herself as a seeker.
Healer and seeker are the same. Both want to heal themselves, Maria replied. Both want to heal the world.
Can I hold her? In response, Maria placed the statue in my hands. As I caressed the figure, Maria looked lovingly: She is IxChel, the Maya goddess of healing, medicine, and midwifery. She is our Mother.
I had gone to Maria's place to see her sculptures. But I found much more than art.