Dia de la Raza

October 12.

On this day in 1492 two worlds collided.

Mexican philosopher Jose Vasconcelos coined the term La Raza Cósmica, the Cosmic Race (for lack of a better word), to describe the people of Latin America, and what he considered the future of the human race. Vasconcelos theorized that:

“the different races of the world tend to mix ever more, until forming a new human type, composed of the selection of each of the existent peoples…”

…and that the Americans were a mixture of all races: the Asiatic tribes who crossed over the Bering Strait, and the Iberian colonizers and African slaves who crossed via the Atlantic. Vasconcelos’s theories were not without bias: “A religion like Christianity advanced the American indians, in a few centuries, from cannibalism to a relative civilization.” But you will hear echoes of Vasconcelos’s optimism on Dia de la Raza.

Raza means “race”, but not entirely in the English sense of the word. In the context of the holiday, raza refers to the birth of a new breed of humanity, the synthesis of cultures, races, religions, and ideologies that make up Hispanic America today.

Thus, Dia de la Raza, takes this day of tragedy and turns it into a celebration of life across Latin America.

Dia de la Raza & Columbus Day – Contradicting Cultures

Alasitas – Bolivia

January 24

Today is the annual Alasitas festival in Bolivia’s capital city of La Paz.

Alasitas isn’t a Spanish word but an Aymara one. It means something akin to “Buy me.” And if you thought El Norte held a monopoly on consumerism, don’t put your money on it.

Alasitas is all about prosperity in the coming year. People buy miniatures of whatever it is they hope to achieve. Actually it’s better luck if someone else buys it for you. And you can buy just about anything for what your heart desires: miniature houses, miniature cars, miniature diplomas. Even miniature barber shops for aspiring hair stylists.

It’s not all about materialism though. There are miniature symbols of love for those seeking their soulmate. And miniature divorce certificates for those on the other end of the spectrum.

But the most omnipresent celebrant of the festivities is a little chubby guy named Ekeko. Imagine a cross between a cherub and your cigar-chomping great uncle Luigi. (I don’t have a great uncle Luigi but if I did, I imagine that’s what he’d look like.)

Photo by ctln, Creative Commons license
Photo by Cltn, Creative Commons license

Ekeko is the Aymara god of abundance. Ekeko, like Alasitas itself, is one of those pagan traditions the Spanish never fully wiped out. Small Ekeko idols can be found at every shop and vendor’s stand.

They did manage to change the date of Alasitas however. It was originally a harvest festival celebrated in September. It was changed to January 25 in the early 19th century to commemorate the victory of a famous battle.

Your good luck wish isn’t complete until you have your miniatures blessed by one of the many priests wandering through the streets just for the occasion.

This year Alasitas precedes a momentous event in Bolivian history. Tomorrow Bolivians will vote on a new constitution. President Evo Morales calls it a milestone for indigenous peoples:

This fine land belongs to us: Aymaras, Quechuas, Guaranies, Chiquitanos … The rights of those that were born in this land are recognized in the new constitution. — Reuters

An Aymara Indian, Morales is the country’s first indigenous President, even though indigenous descendants make up over half Bolivia’s population. He’s also a controversial left-wing leader, whose nationalization policies have received criticism from the previously right-wing government. Politics is personal in Bolivia; clashes have led to violence over the past couple of years.

The Catholic Church has not taken an official stance in the political debate, but one group calling itself “Iglesias Re Unidas (Reunited Churches) opposes the new constitution with the slogan, “Choose God. Vote No.”

Either way, as the vote falls one day after the start of Alasitas, you can bet Ekeko will have his say.

Nativity of the Virgin Mary

September 8

Happy Birthday Madonna!

No, not that one.

On September 8, the Catholic world celebrates the birth of the Virgin Mary.

Nativity of Mary

Little is know of Mary’s birth from the Bible. The Gospel of James (which didn’t make the final cut) list her folks as Joachim and Anne (Hannah). The couple was childless until they were visited by an angel who informed them a child was forthcoming. Anne promised the child would be brought up to serve the Lord.

Mary would have been born “Mariam” or מרים

For two-thousand years, the Virgin Mary has been the symbol of feminine spirituality in Christian culture. While Eve was unfairly vilified as the bringer of original sin throughout the Middle Ages, Mary represented the opposite, the ultimate purity and the the bringer of God.

Pope John Paul ll in his 2000 millennium message elevates the status of both Eve and Mary. He describes Eve as the original symbol of Humanity, the mother who gave birth to Cain and Abel, and Mary, who gave birth to Jesus, as a symbol of the New Humanity; one in which All Humanity is One in Spirit with God. This statement changes the context which the Christian doctrine has relegated to women; that the Spirit of God resides equally in male and female.

Contemplation of Mary – St. Mary’s at Penn

Visions of the Virgin Mary have been spotted by worshippers throughout the Christian world. One of the most famous of these was witnessed initially by three children in Fatima, Portugal in 1917.

On the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, many Mediterranean and Latin-American villages carry her statue from local churches through the streets. Local Spanish processions are known as Virgin de la Pena, Virgin de la Fuesanta, and Virgin de la Cinta. Peru has the Virgin of Cocharcas, and in Bolivia it’s the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Virgin of Guadalupe procession in Bolivia (c) Reuters
Virgin of Guadalupe procession in Bolivia © Reuters

And it may not be Madonna (Madonna Louise “Like A Virgin” Ciccone)’s birthday, but singer-songwriter Aimee Mann turns 51 today…and rumor has it she’s still a Virginian.

Easter comes and goes
Maybe Jesus knows…

Aimee Mann, “Thirty One Today”

Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Birthday of Simón Bolivar

July 24

Today citizens of Venezuela, Colombia and Bolivia celebrate the birth of the Libertador of northern South America: Simón Bolivar. He was born on this day in 1783 in Caracas, Venezuela.

Simón Bolivar

Bolivar is one of the few people to have a country permanently named after him, and is the only person born in the New World to have been so honored.

Countries named directly after individuals

Belize – possibly from the Spanish pronunciation of “Wallace”. Captain Peter Wallace was a pirate commissioned by King James I to pillage Spanish ships in the region. He built his base at the mouth of what is now the Belize River. May also be from the Mayan “belix” meaning “muddy water”.

Bermuda – after explorer Juan de Bermudez, who arrived there in 1503.

Colombia – Christopher Columbus

Dominican Republic – after St. Domingo de Guzman, founder of the Dominican Order.

El Salvador – literally, “the Savior”, after Jesus of Nazareth.

Kiribati – from the Gilbert Islands, for Captain Thomas Gilbert.

Mozambique – possibly from sheik Mussa Ben Mbiki.

Philippines – King Philip II of Spain

San Marino – from St Marinus, an ancient stonemason who fled to the area to escape Roman persecution

Sao Tome and Principe – from St. Thomas. Portuguese explorers encountered the land on St. Thomas’s Day. (December 21)

Seychelles – for Jean Moreau de Sechelles, King Louis XV’s Finance Minister.

Amerigo Vespucci is the only person to have a continent named after him, and he got two! The explorer helped prove that the lands Christopher Columbus encountered were not in Asia, but were entirely new continents. In 1507 cartographer Martin Waldseemuller labeled the new continents after the Italian explorer when he printed 1000 copies of his famous globe of the world.

Waldseemuller's Wall Map of the World

Waldseemuller’s 1507 Globe Map

Waldseemuller’s 1507 Wall Map