Intipuqueños celebrate … someone … or something

Among the anonymous sources floating administration trial balloons and salacious dirt came a nice front-page story in today’s Washington Post about Salvadorans living in Washington who return to their home town of Intipucá in the “state” of La Unión, and the changes in the town and the emigrants. It’s a pretty good story, with a lot of cultural sensitivity and human interest in both El Salvador and Metro Washington. But the narrative hook the reporter chose was the event that drew back the former residents, referred to as a “patron saint festival” apparently honors some saint whose name must not be mentioned. It’s really the celebration of the immaculate conception of Mary, which is rather more of an event than a “patron saint,” unless you’re going to claim that Mary was a different person at each of the celebrated eras of her life.

South America may be the last place outside of Vatican City where the Catholic calendar of saints is still the defining latticework partitioning out the year. Cities and towns traditionally celebrate one (or more) of the festivals much like American ones do everything from oatmeal to pickles to pumpkin chunkin’ on any given weekend, in addition to the major feasts that everyone celebrates like Carnivale, Christmas and Easter (or New Year’s Day, Easter, Independence Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas for the states). Referring to the festival in this way may be intended to preserve its relationship to festivals honoring saints’ entire lives, but it doesn’t make grammatical sense nor does it tell that the city is honoring not only Mary, but what is perhaps one of the most agreed-upon celebrations in Catholicism, and it is only one of several festivals in the calendario de fiestas patronales that honor something other than a single saint, from the divine face of Jesus to the black Christ of Esquipulas, a statue of Jesus in dark wood housed in a nearby Guatemala town that is now the most significant pilgrimage site on the continent. Mary herself is celebrated in many different ways, both as symbol and as person.

Why would a story sensitive enough to use the correct name for a town native, intipuqueño and intipuqueña, including the tilde (though it omits the accent from the town’s name and capitalizes the nouns despite proper Spanish usage, both common occurrences in American newspapers; the presence of the tilde in so many may be due to the difference in meaning between ano and año and the popularity of a telenovela rendered in many listings as “Los Anos Perdidos,” babelfish.altavista.com translation: The Lost Anuses) gloss over the question of what the focus of the festival actually is? After all, this isn’t just a festival of Mary, it’s a festival of the immaculate conception, an event signifying Mary’s lack of original sin, probably the most important reason she is held in adoration by Catholics comparably to Jesus, the only woman of comparable importance among prominent religions and certainly of the Abrahamic strains. It’s probably too much to ask that the writer note that the immaculate conception celebrates Mary’s conception (and existence thereafter) in a state of grace and is set on a date (Dec. 8, though Intipucá starts two days earlier) nine months in advance of Mary’s birth, a parallel to the celebration of the incarnation of Christ on March 25, nine months before Christmas, and not the virgin birth. But in a story about a significant minority in a geographic area with a sizable Catholic population (both Salvadoran and other nationalities), naming the festival wasn’t important?

Pierce Presley is a graduate student in journalism at the University of Memphis and a freelance writer living in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. He received his B.A. from Loyola University New Orleans, a Jesuit Catholic university.

Note: edited to correct babelfish link.