Mary Menger - Journal of San Antonio

Review of La Madre del Maíz (2012), by Gilbert R. Cruz

--by Rosa Lee Espericueta

In La Madre del Maíz, Gilbert R. Cruz, a former professor of American Studies and a Senior Fulbright Lecture Scholar, tells the history of not only the apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe, but also the history of Juan Diego’s land and people. The book’s creative structure will engage readers as it begins with the story of the cultivation of maíz, which was a highpoint of Pre-Columbian culture. As the staple crop, it served as the bond between the people and the supernatural world. Their religious traditions, many centuries old, held that maíz was an endowment from the gods, and so by the peak of the Aztec Empire, it served as manna. Cruz shows how various tribes of Meso-America began to learn about cultivation of corn through inter-tribal transactions since survival and nourishment formed the heart of community life. The concept of nutrition links to Motherhood and comprises essential components of the history. Ultimately, corn, Juan Diego, and the miracle of Our Lady of Guadalupe smoothed the bonds of the faith of Native Americans with Catholicism.

Cruz describes various belief systems of the world and how they relate and illustrates the conquest of the Mayan Empire by Spain’s conquistadores. As the Natives’ homeland fell to the Spaniards, their culture was changed as well. Alarmed about real and potential mistreatment of the Native Indians, Pope Paul III declared that the people of the New World were rational beings and should be treated as humans who should never face enslavement. Cruz says this set the stage for the history of Juan Diego’s people and also how the Mother of God spoke through the Pope to the Mayan decedents. They were proclaimed sons and daughters of the Mother of this “one god deity,” who would care for them and assure them that maíz would nourish them forever. Cruz goes further to explain how New Spain changed into Mexico, New Mexico, California and Texas. These vignettes show the web of influences that created values, cultures, and societies across the Southwest and Mexico.

Along with the migration of people comes the migration of religion. The traditions spread via reason, science and faith until the understanding of the apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe were linked into one historical drama. Across the world, people acknowledge the legend. Cruz explains the story in three parts, how life was lived before, during and after the apparition of the Virgin of Guadalupe. In addition to a complete and fascinating list of notes and bibliography, a bonus that Cruz offers his readership is the helpful glossary of the lexicon of Spanish, Catholic and anthropology terminology. I would recommend this book to anyone wanting to learn about the ways of the Mayan Empire and Our Lady of Guadalupe.

La Madre del Maíz: A Botanical and Historical Perspective on Our Lady of Guadalupe, 1531—1810, by Gilbert R. Cruz, (Xlibris Corporation), 2012; 100 pp.; ISBN 978-1-4777-1329 soft cover, 978-1-4771-1329 hardcover.