Reading Response Paper



TO THE BAfiBIO subverting imperial myths

David A. Sanchez



FROM PATMOS TO THE BARRIO The Subversion of Imperial Myths from the Book of Revelation to Today

Copyright © 2008 Fortress Press, an imprint of Augsburg Fortress. All rights reserved. Except for brief quotations in critical articles or reviews, no part of this book may be reproduced in any manner without prior written permission from the publisher. Visit or write to Permissions, Augsburg Fortress, Box 1209, Minneapolis, MN 55440.

Cover image: Copyright © 2008 CORBIS. Used by permission Cover design: Kevin van der Leek Design Book design: Eileen Z. Engebretson

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Sanchez, David Arthur, 1960- From Patmos to the barrio : the subversion of imperial myths from the

book of Revelation to the present / by David Arthur Sanchez. p. cm.

Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN-13: 978-0-8006-6260-8 (alk. paper) ISBN-13: 978-0-8006-6259-2 (alk. paper) 1. Bible. N.T. Revelation XII—Criticism, interpretation, etc. 2. Bible. N.T.

Revelation XII—Postcolonial criticism. 3. Hispanic American theology. I. Title. BS2825.52.S26 2008 228’.064—dc22 2007048214

The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of American National Standard for Information Sciences—Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI Z329.48-1984.

Manufactured in the U.S.A.

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demonstration agaiiM US^imnderar ‘^““dalupe during a 20O6. Copyright B AFP,Getty .n,a|es uX“rmX'



OF EAST LOS ANCELES To VENTURE INTO THE AREAS that composc the eastern periphery of Los Angeles is to enter a world where the collective sensibilities of a people are displayed in a very public fashion. Public art-more specifically, murals- gracefully invite both the serious and the casual onlooker to ponder the stories of a people who have not been privileged in mainstream venues such as the media, museums, the academy, or literature. Ihese public displays represent the sub-urban hopes, fears, despair, joy, and anger of a people who would call themselves Mexicans and Chicanas/os.‘ Therefore, the walls of the barrios of East Los Angeles play the functional role of a public repository for an alternative, counter history. They serve as the intellectual and physical canvas for a collective and subversive sociopolitical identity. As a result, they are organic sites of sociopolitical resistance primarily because they challenge traditional accounts of the European colonization of the southwest United States. Therefore, at their very core, these displays are challenges to the previously constructed histories of dominant groups

and, in the truest sense, postcolonial performances. One such example of this sub-urban and subversive posturing, which

is my point of departure, is the omnipresent figure of the Virgin o Guadalupe in East Los Angeles. To many on the outside, she represents a quirky symbol of a specifically Mexican brand of Roman Catholicism. To some insiders, her role is limited to the feminine representation of the divine that is so firmly embedded in ancient Mexican-and by extension, Chicana/o-religious sensibilities. But to those inclined toward a posture of resistance, the appeal to the iconography of the Virgin of Guadalupe


2 From Patmos to the Barrio

-^represents a subversive form of countercolonial and counterimperial resistance. Whether employed by Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers union as they stood against the powerful landowners in the Southwest United States, by Emiliano Zapata and his land movement as they confronted the powerful politicos of the Mexican government, or by Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, who initiated the revolution that would finally expel Spanish rule after almost three hundred years of occupation, the icon of the Virgin of Guadalupe and her evocative history serve as a symbol

>‘of resistance for the marginalized against the powerful. Accordingly, the Virgin of Guadalupe is ingrained in the collective psyches of Mexican and Chicana/o peoples today. One need look no further than to her public display at recent pro-immigration rallies across the United States.

The pressing question is, how did she become a locus of resistance? Or even more appropriately, how did we come to recognize her as such? To answer these questions, we need to assess two specific moments in history: (1) seventeenth-century Mexico, where the first literary depictions of the apparition of the Virgin of Guadalupe account are attested; and (2) first- century Asia Minor, specifically the island of Patmos, where John the Seer received his apocalypse and subsequently wrote the final entry of the New Testament, the book of Revelation. The first context, seventeenth­ century Mexico, is obvious; this period saw the genesis of the literary component of the myth in question. But what could first-century Patmos have to do with the Virgin of Guadalupe and contemporary Mexicans and Chicanas/os? What is this “touch of Patmos in East Los Angeles” to which I allude?

This journey is best begun by simultaneously reading Revelation 12:1 while gazing at a photo of the Virgin of Guadalupe (see appendix, plate 2). Could it be that the woman described in Revelation 12 as one clothed in the sun, standing on the moon, and with a crown of twelve stars is the literary impetus for subsequent artistic representations of the Virgin of Guadalupe? If so, is there a specific motif of resistance in the book of Revelation or, more specifically, in Revelation 12 that would illuminate later appropriations of this text? I think the answer to both questions is a compelling yes.

Therefore, I take the reader back to where it all began. Surprisingly, the beginning is not colonial Mexico, where the apparition of the Virgin

Introduction 3

presumably took place on a hill just north of Mexico City in 1531. Instead, the beginning can be traced to a most unlikely location and time: a rocky, desolate island in the Aegean Sea, known in the first century c.e. as Patmos. What will emerge is a powerful relationship between an ancient Christian prophet and the subsequent literary and artistic manifestations of the Queen of Heaven in the form of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

THESIS AND ASSUMPTIONS Throughout the course of human history, dominating peoples have used imperial myths to justify their claims to power and to subjugate those under their jurisdiction. These myths come in a variety of forms. Some claim a special relationship between a deity or deities and a people, while others draw a direct genealogical line between the gods and a monarch or a prophetic figure of the ruling class. Regardless of the form, these myths serve the ruling class as justification for the construction of a social hierarchy. In contrast, those who have been marginalized by these myths have persistently reconfigured and manipulated them. In moments of resistance, those living on the margins of power claim these imperial myths on their own interpretive terms, creating alternative categories of power in which they construct themselves as the primary beneficiaries of

newly reformulated social hierarchies. Literary and artistic representations of these complex cultural

encounters and their subsequent relationships are generally obscured because it is usually those with power who document such encounters, thereby relegating strategies of the marginalized to the fringes of our collective recollections and leaving us a one-sided, unbalanced history. As recipients of these unbalanced histories, we must redirect our historical gaze to the shadows of empire, to those interstitial and hybrid spaces where marginalized peoples are actively and continually producing offstage countermythologies. Here, according to political scientist James C. Scott, the subliminal “weapons of the weak” are most palpable.^ And as I shall demonstrate in the following chapters, the creation of these countermythologies is a perduring human phenomenon that transcends both time and culture. Whenever and wherever power is exerted, power

is deflected.

4 From Patmos to the Barrio

It should also be emphasized that the marginalized persons’ subversions of imperial mythologies are constructed in such a manner as to give the illusion of acquiescence to power, when in reality they facilitate the undermining of the very myths drawn on in their subjugation. This performance of misrepresentations is the real genius of the subversion of imperial mythologies. It is an offstage performance “that represents a critique of power spoken behind the back of the dominant,”’ or it is encoded in such a way that even when the dominant become aware of its presence (public performance), they fail to recognize the agenda of its implicit social critique and resultant ideological reordering of power relationships.

With these assumptions in place, my thesis is that people living on the margins of power—specifically in imperial, colonial, and neocolonial contexts—will challenge the centers of power in patterned ways over time and culture. The primary premise in support of this thesis is that, as one strategy of domination, dominating groups employ and perpetuate imperial myths that configure and establish social order and cultural hierarchy in their favor (insider/outsider, powerful/powerless, clean/ unclean, chosen people. Manifest Destiny, and so on). The second, reciprocal premise is that dominated peoples respond to this ordering by adopting and subverting the very myths used to dominate them. This is especially true of the Bible and biblical interpretation.^

A conflation of these premises, then, contends that imperial myths can be used both to justify and deconstruct claims to power. On this matter, Robert Schreiter notes that

forms are often borrowed from the ruling class, but are given different meanings and roles within the subaltern system.... The subaltern approach highlights an important aspect of popular religion often overlooked, namely, that the symbolic world of a popular religion can provide one of the few resources of identity over which an oppressed people can exercise some control over their own.’

A close examination of this wielding of and response to power will highlight what James Scott has so eloquently called “domination and the arts of resistance. What is most fascinating about his examination

Introduction 5

of negotiations of power is that these claims to power are exactly what serve as the impetus for counterdiscourses. On this didactic relationship, Vincent Wimbush notes that

if power is really power insofar as it is comprehensive, sedimented, or profoundly, deeply embedded within every aspect of social order, with the purpose of holding all

5 constitutive elements in place, then there must first always be resistance to it.’

Wimbush also proposes that the general dynamics of the power play and reaction to it are fairly stable over time. The phenomenon is cross- cultural and cross-temporal. This observation is especially valuable with respect to the following chapters, which compare three historical moments separated by over nineteen centuries.®

I test my thesis over three distinct historical periods and geographical locations, surveying specific literary and artistic productions: (1) first- century Asia Minor, reading Revelation 12 against the Greco-Roman Dragon Slayer myth;’ (2) seventeenth-century Mexico City, reading Creole priest Miguel Sanchez’s Imogen de la Virgen Maria (1648) against the Spanish Virgin of Guadalupe myth, and Creole priest Luis Laso de

§ la Vega’s Huei tlamahuicoltica (1649) against both the Spanish Virgin of Guadalupe myth and Sanchez’s Imogen; and (3) twentieth-century East Los Angeles, reading El Plan Espiritual de Aztldn (1969)’" and Chicana/o

i public art against the U.S. mythology of Manifest Destiny I have selected ) these three moments for study because there is a direct genealogical j relationship amongst the three counterdiscourses of Revelation 12, ! Sanchez’s Imogen and Laso de la Vega’s Huei tlamahuicoltica, and • Chicana/o public art. That is, the later texts are direct rereadings and

reappropriations of Revelation 12.

THE BECINNINC: REVELATION 12 The book of Revelation is deeply embedded in imperial ideology. A postcolonial approach to chapter 12 will demonstrate that, at least on one level, this chapter is a retelling, reconfiguration, and subversion of the Greco-Roman Dragon Slayer myth that was important to Roman imperial

6 From Patmos to the Barrio

ideology in Asia Minor in the first century of the Common Era." I further demonstrate that seventeenth-century Mexico and twentieth-century East Los Angeles exhibit similar patterns of power (re)negotiation.

The subsequent connection between Revelation 12 and its New World (Mexican and Chicana/o) counterparts is made explicitly by a Creole priest, Miguel Sanchez, who records in his Imagen de la Virgen Maria (1648) that the Mexican Virgin was a faithful copy of the image of Mary seen by John the Evangelist and described in chapter 12 of the book of Revelation.'^ This relationship is also established by the Spanish artist Francisco Pacheco, who in 1649 served as inspector of painting for the Inquisition at Seville. In a text entitled El arte de la pintura: Su antigiiedad y grandeza, Pacheco specifically directed Spanish painters to employ the woman of Revelation 12 as their guide to painting the Virgin Mary as part of the Counter-Reformation.'’ Extrapolating from Sanchez in 1649, another Creole priest, Luis Laso de la Vega, composed his Huei tlamahuifoltica to promote an indigenous agenda in New Spain. Laso de la Vegas literary depiction of Mary ultimately served as guide to subsequent Marian representations in New Spain and was transformed in Creole and indigenous sensibilities into the Mexican Virgin of Guadalupe.

This act of subversion with respect to both the Spanish and the emerging Creole class serves as the model for twentieth-century artistic depictions of the Virgin of Guadalupe in East Los Angeles. And as in first- century Asia Minor, these subsequent depictions of Mary are examples of the periphery signifying back at and in defiance of the imperialistic ideologies of the center. I therefore establish a cross-temporal and cross- cultural dialogue amongst all three moments in the hope that ancient history will illuminate modern history and, conversely, that modern

history will illuminate ancient history.

POSTCOLONIAL BIBLICAL CRITICISM One main purpose of this book is to challenge previously constructed histories that do not recognize the socially located and hermeneutic realities of the marginalized. My choice of interpretive methodology is of paramount importance for constructing this ideological challenge. Likewise, the situation also calls for the reader to be suspicious of any

Introduction 7

interpretive method developed during the apex of European colonialism— in short, any method that favors the dominant society. Enrique Dussel comments, “Modernity appears when Europe affirms itself as the ‘center’ of a World History that it inaugurates; the ‘periphery’ that surrounds this center is consequently part of its self-definition.”'"'

What, if any, methodologies challenge those that emerged with the rise of modernity or appeared during the decline of European colonialism— counterdiscourses that might be relevant for a study such as this? A survey of the interpretive landscape of contemporary biblical studies suggests that postcolonial biblical criticism is most suited to the task. According to R. S. Sugirtharajah,

the greatest single aim of postcolonial biblical criticism is to situate colonialism at the centre of the Bible and biblical interpretation. What we find in both the historical and the hermeneutical literature of biblical scholarship over the last four hundred years is the impact of the Reformation or the Counter-reformation, or the effects of the Enlightenment in defining and shaping the discipline by rationalistic thinking or its offshoot, historical criticism. But there has been a remarkable unwillingness to mention imperialism as shaping the contours of biblical scholarship. What postcolonial biblical criticism does is to focus on the whole issue of expansion, domination, and imperialism as central forces in defining both biblical narratives and biblical interpretation.'’

He continues by noting that the specific usefulness of postcolonial biblical criticism “lies in its capacity to detect oppression, expose misrepresentation, and to promote a fairer world rather than in its sophistry, precision, and its erudite qualities as a critical tool.”'’

My use of postcolonial biblical criticism, therefore, involves a twofold agenda. First, postcolonial biblical criticism is the most capable ofbringing to light the colonial entanglements of the Bible and biblical interpretation, thereby facilitating the examination of power relations in the three historical periods proposed. Second, postcolonial biblical criticism, as a criticism in contrast to a theory, can be framed as “life-enhancing and constitutively opposed to every form of tyranny, domination, and

8 From Patmos to the Barrio

abuse,” with “social goals [that] are noncoercive knowledge produced in the interest of human freedom.”'’ As a result, my further intention is to lay the groundwork for opposition that will explicitly challenge ideologies that are oppressive and harmful to people. The value of this methodological approach is its practical nature—the movement away from a strictly theoretical approach to a praxis-centered, liberative form of sociocultural criticism.

To apply Sugirtharajahs theoretical positions on postcolonial biblical criticism, I have juxtaposed them with the following key postcolonial concepts: hybridity, mimicry, and ambivalence. Employment of these terms will make Sugirtharajahs ideological ruminations more tangible. The following quotation is a succinct summation of the concept of


One of the most widely employed and most disputed terms in post-colonial theory, hybridity commonly refers to the creation of new transcultural forms within the contact zone produced by colonization. As used in horticulture, the term refers to the cross-breeding of two species by grafting or cross­ pollination to form a third, “hybrid” species. Hybridization takes many forms: linguistic, cultural, political, racial, etc.'®

The concept of mimicry is summarized as follows:

Mimicry is an increasingly important term in post-colonial theory, because it has come to describe the ambivalent relationship between colonizer and colonized. When colonial discourse encourages the colonized subject to mimic the colonizer, by adopting the colonizers cultural habits, assumptions, institutions and values, the result is never simple reproduction of those traits. Rather, the result is a “blurred copy” of the colonizer that can be quite threatening. This is because mimicry is never far from mockery, since it can appear to parody [distort, ridicule, satirize] whatever it mimics. Mimicry therefore locates a crack in the certainty of colonial dominance, an uncertainty in its control of the behaviour of the colonized.'’

Introduction 9

Perhaps the most important and relevant concept for this book is ambivalence:

[Ambivalence] describes the complex mix of attraction and repulsion that characterizes the relationship between colonizer and colonized. The relationship is ambivalent because the colonized subject is never simply and completely opposed to the colonizer. Rather than assuming that some colonized subjects are “complicit” and some “resistant,” ambivalence suggests that complicity and resistance exists in a fluctuating relation with the colonial subject.^"

These concepts force us to think more accurately about the simple dualities of “center” and “margin/periphery,” and they make us a party to the actual multi-texturedness of cultural contacts. This multi- texturedness provides insight into those in-between spaces where power is generally brokered and negotiated, a window into those “transcultural forms within the contact zone”’' where both benign and acute forms of mimicry play out.

In addition to adopting a postcolonial biblical approach, I also draw on the work of political scientist James Scott, who teases out the hidden dimensions of power-laden colonial encounters. He argues that

every subordinate group creates out of its ordeal, a “hidden transcript” that represents a critique of power spoken behind the back of the dominant ... it is a discourse that cannot be spoken in the face of power. . . . [However,] “public transcript” is a shorthand way of describing the open interaction between subordinates and those who dominate. The public transcript, where it is not positively misleading, is unlikely to tell the whole story about power relations. It is frequently in the interest of both parties to tacitly conspire in misrepresentations ... the more menacing the power, the thicker the mask.”

Scott’s work is challenging in that it forces the critic away from overliteral interpretations of texts and textual performances. Therefore, to analyze how a peripheral group negotiates and critiques the power

10 From Patmos to the Barrio

of the dominant, the critic must, when possible, go “backstage,” where subversive discourse can be safely promoted. Any analysis of public discourse without the nuance encouraged by Scott might then take diversion and misrepresentation as an actual reaction to power. Because of the unequal power dynamic between center and periphery, Scott proposes that explicit defiance on the part of the periphery is extremely rare. He therefore suggests that we look to other avenues to see demonstrations of how the periphery acts defiantly:

Most forms of this struggle stop well short of outright collective defiance. Here I have in mind the ordinary weapons of relatively powerless groups: foot-dragging, dissimulation, desertion, false compliance [subversion], pilfering, feigned ignorance, slander, arson, sabotage, and so on.^’

Scott’s work challenges the reader to use caution when evaluating the performance that I am calling the “subversion of imperial myths.”^^ Do we categorize these subversions as public or private performances? The relevance of this categorization is that it then determines the degree of literalness we can employ in approaching these texts. If the subversive performance is meant for general public consumption, a greater degree of caution is necessary (as in the case with the murals of East Los Angeles). If these are indeed private performances, we would expect a greater degree of an unveiled critique of power. However, we must also consider that since we will also be analyzing literary productions, what may have been written as private transcript would incorporate a dimension of illusion and code. In other words, offstage spoken discourse can be much more explicit in its critique of power because it has not been committed to writing and theoretically leaves no trace of existence. Writing, in contrast, is not afforded the luxury of this sublimity but, instead, intends a level of permanence by its very transcription.

Finally, I seek also to challenge the manner in which postcolonial discourse has been framed. Historically, postcolonial criticism has focused on European encounters whose genesis was eighteenth- and nineteenth-century exploration—namely, those incited by non-Iberian colonizers (England, Denmark, France, and so on). This exclusion has disregarded the role that Spain and Portugal played in modeling colonial

Introduction 11

aspirations. As a result, postcolonial conversations concerning Latin America have been at best limited in the arena of modern postcolonial critique. Enrique Dussel contends thus:

I have said that the concept of modernity occludes the role of Europe’s own Iberian periphery, and in particular Spain, in its formation. At the end of the fifteenth century, Spain was the only European power with the capacity of external territorial conquest.... Lfnderstanding this, I believe, allows Latin America to also rediscover its “place” in the history of modernity. We were the first periphery of modern Europe; that is, we suffered globally from our moment of origin on a constitutive process of modernization.^’

The recognition that European modernity begins not in the eighteenth or nineteenth century but in 1492 invites excluded continents—the Americas—into formal discourse and critique with our Asian, African, and European counterparts.

PLAN OF THE BOOK The focus of chapter 1 is to establish the Greco-Roman Dragon Slayer myth as prior to and one impetus for the Christian composition of Revelation 12. Therefore, the establishment of this myth is the first order of business of chapter 1. Once the contents of the myth are established, I will argue for the Roman privileging of the Dragon Slayer myth in early imperial propaganda. I then attempt to delineate the Sitz im Leben (situation in life) that gave rise to a Christian appropriation and subversion of the Dragon Slayer myth in the first century of the Common Era. Finally, chapter 1 will demonstrate that the twelfth chapter of the book of Revelation was written in part as a direct response to the imperial employment of the Dragon Slayer myth.

Chapter 2 begins by establishing Revelation 12 as the literary model for subsequent artistic representations of the Virgin of Guadalupe in New Spain. It also focuses on the Spanish devotion to the Virgin of Guadalupe prior to the Spaniards, coming to New Spain, thereby establishing that Guadalupan devotion in Spain preceded any such worship in the Americas.

12 From Patmos to the Barrio

Once this fact is established, it is then possible to construct how and why Creoles of the New World found the Virgin of Guadalupe’s subversion to be of value to them. This discussion focuses on the Americanized accounts of the apparition, Imagen de la Virgen Maria, written by Miguel Sanchez in 1648, and the Huei tlamahuigoltica, the almost immediate response to it, written by Luis Laso de la Vega in 1649.

Chapter 3 begins the analysis of the final site of resistance for this project: East Los Angeles in the 1960s and ’70s. This chapter takes an in-depth look at the production of the document El Plan Espiritual de Aztldn as a countermythology to the U.S. notion of “Manifest Destiny.” It also assesses the employment of the iconography of the Virgin of Guadalupe in public art as a symbol of resistance. These murals, although polyvalent in meaning today, were initially representative of shrouded acts of resistance in the face of oppression. I therefore attempt to excavate the earliest meaning(s) of Guadalupe’s artistic representations in East Los Angeles. I then relate these public art forms to the epoch of Mexican muralism of the early twentieth century in order to establish this genre of art as highly political and defiant.

The final chapter summarizes and compares the three historical moments discussed in the previous chapters through the lens of postcolonial biblical criticism, thereby highlighting the colonial entanglements of biblical texts and their interpretations. It primarily establishes seventeenth-century Mexico and twentieth-century East Los Angeles as moments of subversion in their responses to colonial or neocolonial power. Finally, I discuss this overall project as a moment of liberation in the ever-present reality of contemporary Empire.