On December 12, 1531 A Brown Skinned Madonna appeared to Juan Diego, and was the catalyst for converting scores of Mexicans to Roman Catholicism. What many people don’t know however, is that Our Lady of Guadalupe for many who worship the Orishas (West African Deities akin to Saints), the Virgin Maria is on manifestation of the Mother Goddess Yemaya. For many Native American and African people in the Americas, adopting Catholicism was a way for them to covertly stay tied to the gods and goddesses of Africa and Native Americas. The Orishas, in the Yoruba religion are not unlike saints in the way West Africans use them to relate to and to petition a monotheistic God or Olorun.
For Mexican Americans, Our Lady of Guadalupe represents a great mother, who champions the under dog, and is a symbol of hope for oppressed people. Yemaya has also been associated with Social Justice, prophesy, and fertility. Our ancestral religions go hand in hand with activism and visions of the future. Whether you believe the vision of a Brown Madonna by Juan Diego was meant to encourage Mexicans to convert to Catholicism is up to you. However, what is undeniable, is that in associating the Orishas with Catholic Saints, Africanand Native religious ancestry was able to subversively stay relevant and is making a comeback today, outside of the shadows.
Young people and popular artists are embracing West African Mysticism like never before. Even Beyonce, the ultimate pop culture diva paid homage to the goddess Oshun in her video for “Sorry”. It’s a new day, and those who practice ancient forms of religion no longer have to be afraid. Although there are elements of Santeria that I am sure will always remain private, acknowledging the power of West African Religious Tradition is something we should continue to be proud about and not ashamed of, despite the negative or humorous representations often see in pop culture.