Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Bringing Sacred Power to Durham Neighborhoods

An important new film about life in Durham makes its world premiere at the Latin American Film Festival tonight:

The Virgin comes to La Maldita Vecindad documents Mexican immigrants in Durham who celebrate the Virgin of Guadalupe on her feast day, 12/12, as matachine dancers. They participate in outdoor religious processions that wind through an East Durham neighborhood, aka "La Maldita Vecindad," as well the area around the Immaculate Conception Church on Chapel Hill St., where the Antorcha Guadalupana makes an annual stop. The sacred flame is relayed by runners all the way from the basilica in Mexico City to New York as a pilgrimage of faith and a demonstration for immigrants' rights.

(click on photos to see more at my flickr stream)

young girl as Mary

I love these celebrations; I've been to several of these processions since Guadalupe became such a powerful presence in Durham, including the two torch relays shown in the film. The power they generate is palpable: hundreds of people peaceably taking to the streets, led by a Franciscan monk and ordinary people carrying their images of the Virgin, shutting down traffic with their songs for her, as curious residents come out of their homes to see what's going on. Kids dress up in a tableau of the Virgin and Juan Diego on a flatbed trailer float, youth dancers dress as Aztecs and demons with bells on and dance snake-like circles around the marchers, as if they were forming a spiritual membrane of protection around us.

Last year, in 2007, I didn't intend to go, but absentmindedly drove right into it. I had been preoccupied with a problem of some sort; this seemed like a sign. I pulled the car over and jumped out, just as the torch was approaching me, and as it passed, I fell in step with the crowd following behind and joined in the chorus: ser Guadalupana, ser Guadalupana, ser Guadalupana es algo esencial.


I'm not Catholic, but the Marian rituals and the people power they inspire, me hacen vibrar. I don't really need a doctrinal framework to feel comfortable with that, I just go. Marching through the dark streets of Durham, it's a like a spiritual power surge, a solidarity lightning bolt.

The filmmakers, Elva Bishop, Altha Cravey and Javier Garcia, and community dancers who are in the film, will be present at the screening, which happens tonight (11/11) at 7 pm at the ERC Auditorium at Durham Tech's main campus.

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