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Their Manchester parish hall flooded. But churchgoers still celebrated Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Editor’s note: We strongly recommend listening to this story. 

For Manchester community members from different generations, with roots across Latin America, the Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe is a day to come together, in faith.

But this year’s celebration, one of the most important of the year, almost didn’t happen, after the St. Anne- St. Augustine parish hall flooded a few weeks ago. For decades, that parish has been the focal point of Our Lady of Guadalupe celebrations. A house of worship on the west side of town, Transfiguration Church, offered their space for parishioners to hold their Mass, and the fiesta that came later.

Para leer esta historia en español, haz clic aquí.

A replica of Our Lady Guadalupe image traveled from the east to the west side of Manchester. Next to it were the flags of different Latin American countries.
Gaby Lozada
/
NHPR
Parishioners moved a replica of Our Lady Guadalupe's image from their church on Manchester's east to the west. Next to it were the flags of different Latin American countries.

Around 400 Catholic Latinos gathered last Sunday at the Transfiguration Church in Manchester's west side to honor Mexico’s patron saint.

According to church tradition in 1531, when the dark-skinned Virgin Mary appeared to a humble Aztec, Mexican peasant, Juan Diego. The virgin is also known as “La Morenita” a term of affection that connotes the virgin’s racial identity as a mestiza, a mix of Spanish and Indigenous heritage.

Standing in front of a large replica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the priest started the Mass, reading passages of scripture in English and Spanish.

Moments later, around 15 Latino high school students wearing traditional red Aztec skirts with belts entered, dancing and thumping.

Aron Silvestre says the piece of clothing from southern Mexico he uses is more than 30 years old. He says next year he will add more colorful beads and feathers to it, hoping to merge the old tradition with the freshness of a new generation.
Gaby Lozada
/
NHPR
Aron Silvestre says the piece of clothing from southern Mexico he uses is more than 30 years old. He says next year he will add more colorful beads and feathers to it, hoping to merge the old tradition with the freshness of a new generation.

Aron Silvestre is a college student who led the dance company. He wore a peacock feather head and colorful Aztec clothing made of beads. He was in charge of blowing a horn symbolizing a surrender of the congregation to the Virgin Mary.

“The bells are there to say ‘We are calling, we are ready for you’,” he said.

Silvestre appreciates the symbolism behind the Our Lady Guadalupe image, as she stands on top of the moon and behind the sun and stars, almost defiant. He tries to explain that to his American friends. A few years ago, he says would have been difficult to do because he grew up not knowing he was Mexican.

“It wasn't until I got into high school when I realized I do speak another language, I do eat another food,” he said.

He was one of the few kids of color at his high school, and in some ways that made him feel special. But he said he also had to grapple with the fact that for years family and teachers had suppressed his Mexican heritage.

Silvestre says the experience of being a U.S.-born Latino is filled with constant change.

Glory and Marcos Caraballo say the Guadalupe virgin celebration is a time to be happy and have open arms, but also to celebrate the beautiful differences that make each country special.
Gaby Lozada
/
NHPR
Siblings Glory and Marcos Caraballo say the Our Lady of Guadalupe celebration is a time to be happy and have open arms, but also to celebrate the beautiful differences that make each Latin American country special.

For Glory and Marcos Caraballo, who are third-generation Puerto Ricans, celebrating their heritage has been easy.

The siblings, who are in their twenties, say Puerto Ricans don’t honor Our Lady Guadalupe as much as Mexicans do. Like most Latin Americans, not everyone descended from the Aztecs, and each country has its own Indigenous past and celebrations. But the Caraballo siblings say they welcome their brothers and sisters' traditions because they grew up attending a multicultural church.

Glory says the most diversity she has found in New Hampshire is in her church. People from Africa, Vietnam, the United States and Latin America celebrate Mass there. Marcos says sometimes he reads the gospel in different languages, or at least he tries to pronounce or read the words.

Sombra wears a traditional Mexican flower headband. “I have friends who are not religious but they still come to be with me,” she said.
Gaby Lozada
/
NHPR
Sombra wears a traditional Mexican flower headband. “I have friends who are not religious but they still come to be with me,” she said.

“I can’t tell what they are saying, but it’s cool to even relate to people on the other side of the world,” he said. “You can have a deeper connection with them just by speaking the language.”

Their mother Wanda Caraballo was born in New Jersey. She says her parish prefers to not separate people by countries and just considers each other as brothers and sisters.

Juana Alvarez, also known as Sombra, was one of the 17 singers who placed themselves in front of an old pipe organ at Transfiguration Church.

Sombra, who joins the chorus on special occasions, moved a decade ago from Illinois to New Hampshire. Her bond with the Guadalupe Virgin is so powerful that years ago, just one day after giving birth to her first son, she left the hospital to attend a special presentation honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe with her chorus.

This year the logistics for the chorus were particularly challenging because of the flood at St Augustine Church. They had to move their equipment from church to church, from one side of the city to the opposite one. This is not the first time the chorus had to move suddenly.

Trinidad Tellez is the chorus coordinator. She says the chorus started in a little room at St. Anne church in Manchester but when the ceiling fell they merged with St. Augustine. The group has been accompanying the Sunday service for around 30 years, intonating Catholic songs that some Latin American countries share in common.

“[This] is really the highlight of the year,” she said about the Our Lady Guadalupe celebration.

Gabriela Lozada is a Report for America corps member. Her focus is on Latinx community with original reporting done in Spanish for ¿Qué hay de Nuevo NH?.
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