Of Mothers And Sons

Of Mothers & Sons

I would put my money on it.

If Hillary were not a Clinton, she would be an absolute shoo-in for POTUS.

On the other hand, If Hillary were not a Clinton, she would not be where she is now, with a good shot at being POTUS.

A classic case of damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.

If Bill had not already declared, years ago, that he was in effect the first Black POTUS, Obama would have more of a milestone to strive for. As it is, he has to settle for a shot at being the first POTUS with a real brother’s street-cred, with as much stretching as the definition of street-cred can take in his case.

Both camps have expressed, frequently, that theirs is not a racial election. Bill, having staked his claim to Blackness a long time ago, has passed along the Mantle of Blackness to Hillary, which she fully embraced, becoming one smiling, laughing, clapping and ponting sistah. Obama is, well… I can’t help but notice, seemingly BBB (Black By Birth), giving him, again, more of a street-cred edge. But his mama is a NBP (Not Black Person), which complicates the issue and frequently brings up the old saw of: How Black You Really Be Brother? Additionally, he plays poker, not blackjack. And even though Daddy Obama is of darker skin, he is Kenyan, which technically is not really a Brother. Cousin maybe, but not Brother.

Since it seems a given that both Donkey camps, fielding ostensibly Black candidates of mixed race, realize that running a campaign based only on race would be counterproductive, they are left with playing the third side of the racial card (In the multi-dimensional, parallel universe realm of US Politics, there are three sides to every card these days: White, Black, and Brown; the Asians not yet of large enough numbers and not prone to lamenting much), which begs the question: Which brand of mixed-race Blackness is going to appeal to the Hispanic voter?

Blacks obviously have the upper hand in this coming election. Obama is already one with his people. Bill never declared that he was the first Latino candidate, and Hillary is already running down the stretch with the torch of Bill’s Blackness blazing in her hand. The Black community is very well represented in 2008.

It’s the Hispanics, pouty and slighted, who want, nay, demand all the courting they can get: Flores, serenatas y barbacoas, and all that… And oh yes, a few serious discussions addressing la pinche migra if you please. But make sure there’s free beer afterwards. Too much political discussion makes Juan thirsty.

If as they say, Obama’s weak spot is his tenuous appeal to the Hispanic community (it’s not because of any real, deep-rooted animosity per-se between Blacks and Hispanics, although there is definitely a good amount of racial slurring between the barrio and the hood), it goes without saying that Hillary’s brand of Blackness is not her main source of appeal to the Latino voters either.

The truth of the matter boils down to a more significant, meta-mytho-religious strand of cultural curio.

It’s all about Virgins and Saints.

Before you go all pitchfork and bonfire on me, let’s consider this.

As much as the Virgin of Guadalupe is in fact brown skinned (a convenient appropriation by early monks who saw fit to mold the mother deity into a figure of adoration; more palatable to the indigenous population of the Americas) her antecedent Christian and pre-Christian prototypes are, for the most part white. This browning of the gods is but one example of the impressively ecumenical, adaptive officiousness of the Roman Catholic Church.

Theologically speaking, Man, we are told, is made in the image of God. But if the pervasive iconography of the reigning deity is reflective only of the limited cultural dominance of light skinned folks, and your task at hand is to expediently convert to Catholicism several million dark skinned folks in a far away hostile continent, you have a problem, an image problem. In advertising parlance, you have a misplaced aspirational paradigm.

The genius of the Roman Church –its marketing genius– was in switching the paradigm: Instead of strictly adhering to the canon that ordinary man (the created creature) reflected the attributes of the deity (the creator), the deity was re-cast to better reflect the visages of the American Continent’s original folks, who, in this case, were brown. Old style rebranding for the Global Village.

An interesting corollary, another example of Rome’s ingenious stratagems for institutional survival and dogmatic propagation throughout the centuries is Spain’s La Virgen Morena, which facilitated/enticed the conversion of the Moors, just as they were being forcefully divested of their territorial gains in Spain and Southern Europe.

Thus, thanks to the Moors, canonically, theologically, and historically, there was already in place a successful, working precedent for darkening the skin tone of holy figures to accommodate and welcome the worshipful aspirations of the conquered masses in the New World

Among the general populace of Hispanic origin or descent (I do not use the word Hispanic as an indication of race, rather it is more of a catch-all for a generally similar set of cultural preferences), there is no quarrel whatsoever with the worship of a white virgin mother. She is after all, the mother of God, the mother of Jesus to be precise. Her presence is the ultimate affirmation of an inexorable, universal mother-son bond, built into the archetype of adoration that is the cult of the Virgin Mary. By inverse extrapolation, as confirmation of this archetypal bond, the worst possible offense for a man of Hispanic descent is for anyone to even passingly question his mother’s virtue and honor.

Regardless of the non-Catholic Christian denominations that have slowly eroded the rock of Catholicism in Latin America, every mother’s instinctive entreaty for the protection of a loved one, more specifically the protection of a child, and even more specifically, the protection of a son, is made through plaintive invocations to the Virgin Mary.

The Big Guy, God himself is in charge of the big picture stuff, and Jesus’ domain is personal spirituality and the saving of the soul. But the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God (a later inclusion to the Holy Trinity) is the mother of all things alive. She is the one and only fixer, she provides and nurtures, she heeds and soothes.

The Virgin Mary is a throwback to the animistic worships of ancient peoples, and even the almighty Catholic Church had to come to grips with the power and sway the proverbial Earth’s Mother held over the pagan minds, lives, and allegiances of her faithful. In the fervently patristic hierarchy of Catholic dogma, there had to be an allowance for the age-old embodiment of the universal female energy, the ultimate creative force. Thus the Virgin Mary.

This is where Hillary fits in. For many Hispanic women –and men– she embodies, literally, the first ever facsimile of the Virginal Mother to come close to being elected POTUS. The power of this mythical figure is imbued with centuries of cultural references; references which, in their populist spread, have become akin to immutable universal laws. The metaphorical, spiritual and structural elements that form the backbone of these references are very hard notions to argue or dispel.

All this makes Hillary, the concept of Hillary, a very powerful, familiar icon within the Hispanic communities.

On the other hand, Obama’s metaphorical place in the proto-mythic pantheon of cultural Hispanicity is much more nuanced, and by consequence, more complicated. But not any less stronger.

A saint by the name of San Martin de Porres, a mulatto (black of mixed race) was born in Lima, Peru, in the late 1500’s. San Martín de Porres is the most important populist saint of Peru and Latin America (Santa Rosa de Lima is Peru’s official patron saint, but is considered to be more indicative of, and endearing to, the upper social classes), and the unofficial patron saint of all black Catholics in Latin America. San Martín was canonized in 1962 by John XXIII (still the most popular and cherished pope for most Catholics in Latin American countries, where you frequently see his portrait next to JFK’s).

Although merely a Saint –low on the totem pole when compared to the Mother Of God– San Martín de Porres is a very powerful figure. Inasmuch as the Virgin is called upon for protection, San Martín is called upon for intercession. Mary is to succor what Porres is to guidance. To wit, if the Virgin Mary is your travel insurance, San Martín is your Garmin.

His well-documented story, his legend, is loosely reminiscent of Saint Francis of Assisi: Humble, kindly, one with the beasts, a man of and with the people, and more importantly, a healer. San Martín is considered the number one healer in the pantheon of saints of all Spanish speaking Latin America (Spaniards have a hard time asking favors of black saints, and Brazil has a different tradition of Catholicism). He was considered saintly by his contemporaries and was accorded respect and an exalted condition within the Peruvian society of the 1600’s.

Of most relevance is that San Martín was embraced by folks of ALL stripes in colonial Peru, a society much more insular than the one in which we currently supersize our servings. He was claimed as a son by everyone. He was upheld by everyone as an exemplary figure. And more to the point, he indiscriminately ministered to everyone.

Prodigal son? Healer? Reconciler? These are a few of the deeply ingrained, intangible cultural references that the Latinos will draw from to make their electoral choice in favor or against Obama.

But once again, and as always seems to be the case, the campaign strategists, the pols, the pundits, are all making the same old one-dimensional assumptions about ethnic constituencies; the same old pot-boiler mistakes. The quandary is not race or language, or whether you prefer tortillas, panuchos, sopapillas, salsa verde or chimichurri, whether you tango, salsa or two-step. It is not a backyard brawl between luchadores, White Woman versus Black Man with the Masked Mexican acting as referee. The well is much deeper. It involves centuries of transformational archetypes that frequently bypass the prosaic formulations of political messages crafted by a simplistic interpretation of statistics.

For the Latino vote to count, for any one candidate to garner this vote, it has yet to be defined if the vote is intended for someone we want in office to save us and protect us, or if it is meant for someone who will show us the way and heal us. It is not WHO we want our POTUS to be, it is WHAT we want our POTUS to be. At the most profound level, where these two candidates are concerned, these are the questions that have to be asked, the premises that need to be addressed.

Which in the end leaves us with the most important question:

Is it the Holy Mother, or the Saintly Son?

It is still in the making. Make it Yours.

Michael Mehl

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