Los Colores de Dolores: My Relationship with Our Lady of Sorrows
By Neomi De Anda, Ph.D.
My middle name is Dolores. My first day of first grade, our social studies teacher gave us the assignment to find out “where our names came from.” Specifically, we needed to “find out who we were named after”.
Being an overachieving six-year-old, I asked my mom where my name came from as soon as she picked me up from school that day. I share how I remember that conversation.
Mom immediately responded, “I dreamt it.”
I said, “That doesn’t answer the question of the assignment.” So, I reframed the question, “But, who am I named after?”
“I dreamt it. You are not named after anyone.”
“But my assignment was to find out who I was named after.”
“The answer to your question is that I dreamt it.”
“I don’t think I can tell my teacher that because it does not answer the assignment.”
“Well, that is what you need to tell your teacher.”
The next day in social studies class, I was terrified for the follow-up on the assignment. I was hoping we would run out of time after the lesson because I knew that I did not have an answer for the question that was raised. Then, the teacher began class with the students responding to the assignment. I remember that scenario in the following way.
“Ok, everyone. It is time to respond to your assignment on who you were named after. I will call on each of you in random order. When I call on you, please stand-up, say your full name. Then tell us who you were named after.”
“Don’t call on me!” – I’m thinking “Please, God, don’t let her call on me!” I’m praying in my head.
Then I hear, “Neomi.”
First! Just my luck. I get called first! I stand-up, say “Neomi Dolores De Anda.” I take a giant breath, “My mom dreamt my name.” Then I sit down.
“You are lying! How could you come up with such a tall tale? You get an F for the assignment!” I did not tell my mom about the grade because I was ashamed by the failing grade as well as I thought it would break her heart that her method of naming me was not approved by my social studies teacher.
I hated social studies since that day until I started working on my dissertation. It would be years until I began to unpack the many assumptions around epistemologies and histories which were held in that assignment and which led to my first failing grade. I would not doubt that somehow that failing grade planted a seed for me to do professional work in these areas and tie them to the work of justice.
By the time I began working on my dissertation, I had learned that the name Dolores was a title for Mary and that the Catholic faith names seven sorrows of Mary. I had also chosen the name Marie for Confirmation. So, one could say that now my name is Neomi Maria de Dolores De Anda. Nuestra Señora de Dolores has then become important both in my personal life as well as my professional work.
A Little on the Devotions to Nuestra Señora de Dolores
I mentioned before that the Catholic Church has a devotion of Seven Sorrows of Mary. One of the Sorrows is the Flight to Egypt. It is in this sorrow where my research between María de la leche and Nuestra Señora de Dolores intersects. Briefly, one of the earliest devotions to María de la leche is found at the Milk Grotto just outside of Bethlehem where it is believed to be a spot where Mary nursed Jesus during the Flight to Egypt.
Between being a namesake of María de Dolores and doing professional research which has led me back to her, Nuestra Señora de Dolores has become very close to my own devotional life. As I have become more acquainted with what is known as el pesame de María, a devotion to accompanying Mary in her mourning on Good Friday, I have learned of the ways LatinoXa peoples not only see Mary as someone who accompanies us but that the relationship is very mutual. Through prayers and songs, I have found language that teaches that we must accompany Mary in her suffering and it is because of her suffering that she understands better how to accompany human suffering.
Why This Image?
I drew this image on Good Friday 2020. Some of the students from the Latina/Latino Religious Experiences course were struggling to find images for their projects, so I challenged them to create their own images. They were extremely reluctant.
Holy Week arrived as numbers of those who were ill and ramifications from social distancing started to make their mark. I did not know the overflow of injustices based on racism which had been simmering for years that was headed our way. I just needed a way to express the mix of small hope finding a small path with all of the injustices which were becoming so evident very quickly due to this global pandemic of coronavirus. I desperately searched the internet for an image that would speak to what I was feeling. When I found none. I remembered I had asked my students to create their own work.
As an educator, I hold the philosophy that – I must always be willing to do what I asked students to do. So, I took out my crayons and started to draw that day. I made an earlier version of this image on the first piece of paper I found. I am clearly not an artist but deeply believe in popular religious expressions and traditions. I changed from crayons to colored pencils to have the ability to show more definition and detail.
Description of the Image
This image of Nuestra Señora de Dolores draws on the traditional imagery of the seven sorrows of Mary with the daggers to the heart. Yet, I made the daggers arrows which fly throughout her body to show her entire body being impacted by the sorrows she carries. She has a more or less traditional mantel, but has a second outer yellow layer which is a cascarón because she possesses the hope of breaking open new realities.
I gave her a heart with a nipple to tie the image directly to Nuestra Señora de la Leche. Therefore, the droplets overlay tears, blood, and breastmilk to represent the tension and interplay between the fullness of life and the suffering brought by injustices. The populations listed around Mary were those in media headlines on that day. Others would be added if I made this today. The song “De Colores” played in my head as I drew this painting, so I also included some of the song lyrics. Listen to a recording of "De Colores" here.
For me this painting brought about just a little bit of a better relationship with myself to continue to accompany Mary and be accompanied by others in the struggles of life. It also helped me stay a little truer to what I was asking my students to do with this project.
I am beyond proud of the amount of effort the students gave to this project when their entire worlds had been turned up-side-down in the middle of the semester and some were living with family but missing some of their essential items which were left behind when asked to evacuate campus quickly. Others were living on campus because being near loved ones meant not being able to continue their studies. They were making difficult choices daily as so many have.