La Antorcha Guadalupana – Mexican Immigrants Celebrate a Cross-Border Tradition

Torch bearers Javier Santos and Areceli Almaguer outside of Saint Patrick's Cathedral in New York - Photo: Sarah Kramer

Torch bearers Javier Santos and Areceli Almaguer outside of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC. (Photo: Sarah Kramer)

The torch was carried all the way from Mexico City to New York, finally ending its 72 day journey on Sunday at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral amid hundreds of cheering families, folk dancers, and musicians.

“I just want to say thank you for everything, thanks for health, for love, everything,” said Alfredo Castillo, who came to New York from Mexico City a decade ago. Standing in the rain, clasping a statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe, he said he felt so emotional he couldn’t find the right words. “It’s coming from Mexico City, it’s like you have the faith, the power coming from there, we feel it. It’s a really long distance, miles, miles.” The torch’s odyssey made him think about his own journey. “Sometimes you feel like crying inside, like you’re leaving everything in Mexico.”

People started gathering before 10 AM to wait for La Antorcha Guadalupana, a torch relay organized by the Tepeyec Association to honor the Virgin of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico, whose feast day is celebrated each year on December 12.

The crowd was smiling despite the rainy weather, some eating tamales and making new friends, like Paola Campos, 21, who’s from Guanajuato, Mexico. “This makes you feel more close to your home,” said Campos, who is working as an au pair in the Washington, D.C. area. She was at the cathedral with her friend Gaby Fuentes, from Coahuila, Mexico, who said that she knew her friends back in Mexico would be watching the event on the news. “Every person in Mexico has a least one person who lives in the U.S.”

Alfredo Castillo waiting for La Antorcha Guadalupana - Photo: Sarah Kramer

Alfredo Castillo waiting for La Antorcha Guadalupana. (Photo: Sarah Kramer)

For Irma Perez, who lives Jackson Heights, Queens, La Antorcha is an intergenerational tradition. Her mother and grandmother carry a torch from Puebla to the basilica in Mexico City to celebrate the holiday, and now Perez brings her two daughters every year to the celebration at Saint Patrick’s, so they can know the tradition she grew up with. It seems to be working. “I love the celebration they make, I think it’s beautiful,” said her daughter, Gloria, who is 12, and was born here.

Araceli Almaguer was one of the two torch bearers who walked into the cathedral after a two-month journey, trailed by hundreds of supporters carrying portraits and tapestries of the Virgin of Guadalupe. A young woman who lives in Texas, Almaguer picked up La Antorcha in October, making her first run with the torch in the state of Puebla in Mexico. She continued all the way to New York, crossing four Mexican states and 13 in the U.S. She said she ran both for her faith, and as a way to unify thousands of families who are separated by the border. “A family in Mexico touched it and then their daddy touched it over here, so that’s really amazing, for me, because I’m bringing that light all the way across,” said Almaguer.

26 year old Javier Santos met up with Almaguer in Corpos Christi, Texas. He was born in Mexico City and came to New York when he was eight years old. Santos said the DREAM Act—a bill that would allow young undocumented immigrants who meet certain criteria to apply for U.S. citizenship—was on his mind throughout this journey. “We’re trying to unite two nations and take away the borders,” he said. If the DREAM Act passes, Javier says he’d be able to work legally.

After La Antorcha arrived, the crowd entered the cathedral for a mass conducted in Spanish. The pews were completely full with worshippers, and the priest, Josu Iriondo, gave a rousing sermon, in which he sympathized with families who came to the U.S. to “give bread to their families,” and are now suffering. He called on legislators to pass the DREAM Act, saying that the young children in the audience will be the leaders of tomorrow.

Mexican immigrants carried portraits of the Virgin of Guadalupe across 51st Street - Photo: Sarah Kramer

Mexican immigrants carried portraits of the Virgin of Guadalupe across 51st Street. (Photo: Sarah Kramer)

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AboutSarah Kate Kramer
Sarah Kate Kramer first got hooked on collecting stories as a StoryCorps facilitator, then traveled the world with a microphone for a few years before settling down in her hometown of New York City. From 2010-2012 she was the editor of Feet in 2 Worlds and a freelance reporter for WNYC Radio, where she created “Niche Market,” a weekly segment that profiled specialty stores in New York. Sarah is now a producer at Radio Diaries, a non-profit that produces documentaries for NPR and other public radio outlets.