In Borderlands/La Frontera Gloria Anzaldúa proclaims December 2 el día de la Chicana. The day when she cleaned her altar, burned copal, prepared for transformation. A year ago today, I was seven days from taking a flight to Madrid to begin my journey on El Camino. Amidst all the preparations and the end of the semester frenetic activity, I had little time to set up my altar. I thought of how I would be walking on the 12th and not be at home in Laredo walking in the procession with the danzantes, los Matachines in La Ladrillera, or as the barrio is now known, La Santa Cruz. In the past 20 years or so, I have rarely missed it or the May 3 celebration of la Santa Cruz.
As I am doing today, last year, I cleaned the altar, removing the items from the Day of the Dead ofrenda and making it an altar for Tonantzin, La Virgen de Guadalupe. This year, I am preparing to honor Our Lady with a novena from December 3 to December 12. A year ago, I asked Tonantzin to come with me across the Atlantic, to stay with me while I walked. This year, I pray the novena as thanksgiving because she stayed by my side the whole time; Mary or Guadalupe? Isn’t it the same feminine energy in the universe, the mother, the energy of the universe that guides me and protects me? Perhaps. Quizas.
I keep my maternal grandmother’s image of La Virgen in my home altar; it is not a fancy framed image; In fact, it is fairly dark and nondescript image on cartonicllo. But, it has been with my family for almost 100 years! It came with Bueli when she and my parents came across from Nuevo Laredo to live in Laredo in the late 40s. The image came to me when my parents were remodeling the house and I took it for safekeeping. Since then, and through my moves to Washington DC and to Santa Barbara, the image has been there to remind me of my connection to La Virgen, to my grandmother, to my ancestors.
My preparations for the Camino were getting serious and I was walking wearing the backpack and the boots every morning for my walk. I had bought almost everything that Becky had listed for me. One day, Becky came to see me; she wore a long-sleeved black t-shirt with the towns of the Camino in bold white letters separated by bright yellow arrows. I knew that I wanted one just like it. I could see myself wearing it! Becky brought her backpack and taught me how to pack the various items, how to roll the sleeping bag and place it at the very bottom so that it would lend support to the lower back. I was so grateful for her expertise and her sharing; my excitement grew talking to her. Yet, I was apprehensive not sure that I was doing enough with my daily walks, not sure that I was entirely ready for the Camino.
Yes, I knew that I would finish the walk, that I would wear that black t-shirt as a sign of my accomplishment, and that a year later, I would pray the novena to La Virgen de Guadalupe as a prayer of thanksgiving.