by Lizeth Gutierrez, Maria Saucedo, Silvia Garcia, Kayla Potts
When my colleagues and I were thinking about powerful images that represented today’s young Chicana we were very inspired by both Alma López  and Yolanda M. López’s  work with La Virgen de Guadalupe. Both artists redefined Chicana sexuality in powerful ways by reframing La Virgen; a significant cultural and religious iconography in the Chicana/o community, as a woman who is interpreted and experienced in various ways. Along with them we were also drawn to Sandra Cisneros’ essay “Guadalupe the Sex Goddess.”  In her writing, Cisneros offers us a revolutionary understanding of our own sexual power as women. Through their work we were encouraged to think critically about our own unique relationship with La Virgen de Guadalupe.
Our individual relationships with La Virgen inspired this collective project because we realized we had a lot more similarities than differences in how we relate to her and each other. For instance, Lizeth is not very religious, but La Virgen holds symbolic value to how she has come to understand her femininity as a site of empowerment. She had to distance herself from her mother and grandmother’s conceptions of a “good” woman to make sense of her own sexuality. Similarly, Silvia and Maria grew up viewing La Virgen as a symbol of appropriate women behavior. Women are supposed to be docile and pure, especially in the eyes of Catholicism and Mexican culture. Both Maria and Silvia, however, have reclaimed La Virgen by challenging the typical portrayals of womanhood as submissive and passive. They embraced her as a strong figure that is not afraid to claim public space and speak her mind. Kayla sees La Virgen as a symbol of female empowerment because women’s bodies are sacred and sexual. We refuse to have vergüenza of our bodies, our sexualities, and our womanhood; we are beautiful women inside and out.
This project brings together two significant images of womanhood in our community; La Virgen de Guadalupe and the chola. Cholas are often perceived as a threat in our communities because of their political gender performances that re-signify sexuality. In bringing these two symbols of womanhood together we wanted to name ourselves within our communities. We wanted to contest the boundaries of femininity that are imposed on us each and every day. Women have been relegated to the domestic sphere in order to ensure that their role as mothers and wives in patriarchal culture function to affirm narratives of hyper-masculinity and heteronormative values of the heterosexual family. “The Cholita de Guadalupe” is our sitio that has allowed us to create a lengua that speaks about Chicana womanhood in empowering ways. Her attitude of toughness is a fundamental mechanism of survival. Our survival. And it is through our toughness that we reclaim our femininity, our relationship with La Virgen, and our survival in academia.
While many may be curious as to why we have decided to use specific symbols in our work, we believe it is more powerful to leave our art open to interpretation. We do not feel it is necessary to unpack all the elements of the image because every symbol can mean different things for different people. The beauty of art is that it can speak to people in various ways, and it is precisely that ambiguity that we believe allows for a more inclusive conversation about religious identity, womanhood, and sexuality.
Some background information about this project: We worked on a beautiful painting together as part of our final group project for our Comparative Ethnic Studies course: “La Chicana in U.S. Society.” We wanted to draw attention to the ways family, religion (Marianismo), gender performances, and machismo (to name a few), shape and discipline constructions of womanhood in Chicana/o culture. Our image reclaims the Virgin Mary as a chola; she is our “La Cholita de Guadalupe.” Inspired by a number of Chicana scholars and Chicana artists, we wanted to explore political identity from a Chicana feminist perspective in order to complicate the ways culture, religion, patriarchy, and the heteronormative Mexican family influence Chicana sexuality, as both a site of systematic oppression and a political space of discovery and resistance. Our work aims to incite a critical discussion on sexuality as both a political site and a politicized choice, especially for first generation Chicanas in higher education. The materials used were tempura paint, fabric paint, and bandana fabric. We, who worked really hard on this project, are all Chicanas, and are committed to our communities, especially on our campus.
 Alma Lopez, “Our Lady,” 1999 (Special thanks to Raquel Salinas & Raquel Gutierrez).
 Yolanda Lopez, Portrait of the Artist as the Virgen of Guadalupe, 1978.
 Sandra Cisneros, “Guadalupe the Sex Goddess,” 1996.
 Emma Pérez, “Sexuality and Discourse: Notes From a Chicana Survivor,” 1991.
 Cherrie Moraga, “From a Long Line of Vendidas: Chicanas and Feminism,” 1983.
Lizeth Gutierrez is a Ph.D. student in the American Studies program at Washington State University. She researches representations in popular culture of gendered and raced Latinidades and is particularly interested in the commercialization of mainstream Latinidad in relation to U.S. discourses on second-class citizenship.
Silvia Garcia is a senior at Washington State University and is currently majoring in general studies, but hopes to finish her mechanical engineering degree.
Maria Saucedo is a spring 2014 graduate from Washington State University. She completed her Bachelors of Arts in Comparative Ethnic Studies and was the Chair/Coalition for Women Students at the Women’s Resource Center.
Kayla Potts is a junior at Washington State University and is majoring in Women Studies with a minor in Psychology.