It’s 7:45 am at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School. The onslaught of students crossing over into the main building from the cafeteria has begun. They hustle to their lockers, swapping out textbooks and jamming class binders into their swollen book bags. Some retie their ties. Some stare intently into the doors of their lockers, presumably doing one last mirror-check before heading to class. Some relish every last second with their earbuds in. God forbid they get their phones confiscated when the clock strikes 8:00!
The students that are slightly more awake chit-chat. The roar of head-tilting laughs jolt me as I open my classroom from the inside and flip down the door stand with my foot.
“Yo, Mr. Hanson – were we supposed to turn in our uniforms?” Carlos asks.
I’ve been barraging my student-athletes non-stop about turning in their soccer uniforms for days. Carlos isn’t the only one on my list. “Yeeees!!!! Last week!” I say exasperatedly, sweeping by him on a mission to the faculty printers.
“Yeah, well what if I don’t wanna turn it in?” he says softly, sheepish about the truth but desiring to express it. I turn around and shake my head, walking backwards for a couple of steps. Inside, though, I’m grateful that my suspicion about the number of missing uniforms has been confirmed: they love their school and everything it represents.
It’s the 22nd year of the original school of the Cristo Rey Network – the “OG school,” some call it. Spanish proficiency is an admission requirement, and the students weave in and out of the language as they weave through the hallways. In November, the school is filled with altars for Dia de los Muertos. School masses are bilingual and the daily announcements have elements of Spanglish in them. Signs on bulletin boards encourage events like the “Traditional México” Homecoming Dance, where students will dance to cumbia, banda, tamborazo, bachata, and more. Real fútbol dominates our sports scene, and championship banners hang proudly in the gym. Everything at this school celebrates who they are.
But nothing as much as the Our Lady of Guadalupe Mass.
La Virgencita embodies them. She shares their skin color. She shares their roots. Devotion to her has migrated all over the world, enriching the lives of all who draw near to her, much like these students’ ancestors. And nobody can articulate what she means to them quite like my students and their immediate relatives.
Her gaze is a mix of tenderness, peace, love, consolation, and understanding. You sincerely think that you are, above all, her favorite child. And she’s with you, right there with you, by your side. You close your eyes and feel her powerful presence, her essence.
-Mother of I.M.
My mom deposited all her trust and love in her after losing my dad. She was her strength and consolation. My mother, a widow with eleven children and without a source of income never lost her faith.
-Mother of A.V.
When I crossed the border, she miraculously covered me with her cloak when Immigration (officers) were in front of me.
Mother of P.P.
“She is my guide and helps my faith remain firm and solid.” My aunt, who says this, says it with such passion, such love, that it even lights up her eyes!
[When he woke up from a dream in which Guadalupe appeared to him] he was soaked in sweat. He saw his drugs on the table and wanted to grab them, but he heard a voice that told him to remember what he had promised in his dream…he never consumed them again.
[While migrating] my grandmother was sick. She wouldn’t eat or drink and was very weak because she was pregnant with my mother…She arrived at the Basilica [in Mexico City] on her knees. With much faith she prayed not to lose her baby. La Virgen was very generous and granted her prayer, and she crossed [the border] safely.
“Are you crying, Mr. Hanson?!” A few students look over as we sit on the bleachers during a dramatic recreation of the Juan Diego – Guadalupe story.
“Of course!” I say shamelessly.
“I have many messengers, Juan Dieguito, but I have chosen you. You, my poor, little, helpless one,” La Virgencita says to her hijo as he struggles to convince the ones in power of the divine message.
After the Mass, the whole community devours tamales and conchas, chasing them down with champurrado. We listen to the mariachi band play and chit-chat with one another. Large gestures and head-tilting laughs abound.
“So…what’d you think?” a fellow faculty member asks.
“As we approach final exams and teachers and students get restless for the break, nothing quite reminds us of why we’re here like this story.”
Indeed. They are still chosen today, like Juan Diego all those years ago. Their identity is embodied in the story, and their mission is clear: to bring a message that the powerful of the world are afraid to hear. God will do great things in them, and La Virgencita is their strength and consolation.