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Mexican and Philadelphian

On Dec. 11, the Mexican community of Philadelphia gathered on the streets of South Philadelphia, and North Philadelphia. They carried with them individual…

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     It is time to celebrate in community — and with it

On 2nd street, members of St. Joan of Arc, Visitation B.V.M.. St. Michael and St. Peter the Apostle parishes walked from North Philadelphia to 18th and the Parkway on Dec. 11 in celebration of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
 

It's a story of faith.

And by faith we mean more than religion. 

On Dec. 11, the Mexican community of Philadelphia gathered on the streets of South Philadelphia, and North Philadelphia. They carried with them individual images of the Virgin of Guadalupe (the mestiza version of Mary who is said to have appeared to a poor and humble Mexican, Juan Diego, on the hill of Tepeyac in Mexico more than 400 years ago) and large statues or paintings framed by hundreds of roses set on heavy palanquins. Then, accompanied by musicians and arms full of more roses, they set out to walk through their neighborhood streets to wind up, hours later, at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul in Center City.

It was, by-and-large, a hardworking and humble immigrant community. And yet the celebration gave witness to the fact that hardship and difficulties are no match for talent, resourcefulness, love and devotion. The rose frames spelling out Guadalupe and Philadelphia were made by them. The roses that bedecked shrines and altars of the Cathedral, the banners, even the food handed out after the Mass were all theirs. The Mariachi bands that processed from North and South and filled the Center City basilica with music were all paid out of the pockets of immigrants and the parishes that serve them.

It is a testimony of belief — as much about community as doctrine — and a celebration of perseverance. Some of those gathered came to Philadelphia without documents and have since regularized their status, others have not. Many know of community members who have been deported; for others it is family members who have been detained or deported. Long, patient journeys based on nothing but hope and faith are very familiar to them.

Amid the celebration there were traces of the hard realities the Latino community in Philadelphia faces. The banner of La Milagrosa — the mother church of Latino Catholics in Philadelphia — preceded a palanquin bearing the chapel's statue of Guadalupe. All of the decorated paintings and statues borne on the shoulders of parishioners garnered applause, but La Milagrosa's was bittersweet — the site is set to be shuttered and sold sometime in the near future. There were no tamales after Mass this year — proof of how hard hit Latinos have been during this economic downturn  — instead hot atole was handed hand to hand. And the mini marketplace of Guadalupe-related items which in past years entrepreneurial members of the community set up outside the church and in the park across the street, was reduced to a table with a few items and one small bucket of roses.

Still, according to the woman who had walked from St. Peter the Apostle Church on 5th and Girard, and stood selling her small bundles of roses on 18th and the Parkway, there is delight in simply being part of something that celebrates the vitality, family-centered conviviality, and rootedness of the Mexican community in Philadelphia. 

Thirty-three years old and a grandmother of two, she left San Mateo de Ozolco in Puebla to come to Philadelphia and said, no matter the difficulties she has experienced, she values the opportunity to work hard here and to give back to the city she thinks of as home. Luz Jimenez, the owner and chef of Los Gallos, who comes from the same town in Puebla, echoed a similar sentiment from his restaurant kitchen in South Philadelphia in an Al Día interview with Ana Gamboa this week. 

Meanwhile in the cathedral, the permanent shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe — installed a few years ago at the behest of the parishioners of South Philadelphia's St. Thomas Aquinas and Annunciation parishes and acknowledging the rapidly growing Mexican community in the city — was, on Dec. 11, flanked by flowers and illuminated by a full bank of candles. We're told that members of the Mexican community go to the cathedral daily to make sure there are always fresh roses and at least one candle lit before this symbol of Mexican and Mexican-American faith and identity. 

Like the iconic Lady of Guadalupe, permanently adhered to the cathedral walls with encaustic, the Mexican community in Philadelphia is here to stay — and it's time to celebrate.

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