Re-making the Self/Re-mapping the World

We arrived in Xelaju smack in the middle of the yearly celebration of the fiesta of Our Lady of the Rosary. At first we were confused—we knew about the fiesta of the Virgin of Guadalupe, in December, and this seemed to be the same…

But it wasn’t. Our Lady of the Rosary (who is always holding a baby) differs from Guadalupe (who is not); Guadalupe differs from the Virgin of the Conception, differs from the Pieta. Each is of course an aspect of Mary, the Mother of Jesus; and yet each is distinct (like each of us, different in each phase of our lives, yet all those phases—and phrase transitions—form something continuous that is a self…)

I’ve been amused that, in all the images I’ve seen of the Queen of the Rosary, the Child seems to be trying to free himself from her embrace. There is a popular tradition here that the Virgin Mary stayed here because, when she went traveling through America, the Child fell asleep when they reached Guatemala. In 1821 the leaders of the independence movement proclaimed her Patroness of the new nation; she was declared "Queen of Guatemala" in 1833.

She’s got a curious counterpart—San Simón or Maximon—an amalgam of Mayan and Christian forms, dismissed as “Judas” by the Catholic Church. When we visited the pueblo of Zunil this weekend, it was very striking to go from the huge church in the central square where Mary was worshipped, to the small dark space in an alley nearby, where San Simón sat similarly behind a bank of candles, and similarly received his worshippers, who performed similar rituals. Both sites were places of petition: for assistance, for a break, for grace, for hope…

For me, these places of worship formed very striking contrasts to the self-authorization –-the trust in the capacity of self to make a difference--that I’ve noticed in the conferences I’ve been attending here. Of course I’m used to attending conferences—what else constitutes the life of an academic? But the conferences @ our school here in Xela are something different entirely. I’ve been to half-a-dozen in the past two weeks. In none of them has a speaker used notes; all of them have spoken directly from their own experience, which carries an authority that it’s very hard to challenge: an authority of struggle and suffering and fear and resistance….

What interests me, of course, is how the change was made, from the pueblo to the conference room, from the campo to the organzing committee, from a position of obedience and expectation that those more powerful will care for oneself and one’s family, to the realization that one must act on one’s one. Some of the camposinos we’ve heard speak have spoken of the inspiration they got from the Bible: one organizer said that the day the people in her pueblo received ownership of their land, she felt like Moses, leading the slaves out of bondage. But how the move is made, from being a petitioner, to being an actor, I don’t quite see. Perhaps it’s sheer desperation….

N.B.: When I was complaining in class this morning (as usual) about verb forms--in this case about the reflexive verbs—-and trying to dismiss the need to memorize them by saying that their world was a small one—my very smart teacher said, “No, these are very important verbs: because they express the capacity of the self to act. They are far more significant than those verbs that describe the self being acted upon.”

This past summer I co-directed an institute for K-12 teachers called “Science and a Sense of Place.” We used as our logo an upside down map that quite graphically called into question our sense of ourselves existing, as Northamericans, @ the center of the universe. So it was a delight to me to see, displayed on the walls of our school here, both that map and the Peters' projection which is a more accurate representation of proportional area than is the Mecator map I grew up with.

I seem to be in the midst, here, not only of re-centering my own sense of self (making my own traumas less central to what’s going on in the world), but also of thinking about how the self learns to alter the self, to find a place that allows both self-authorization and a commitment to the needs of others.