Monday, May 31, 2010

Santa Cruzan

The kids on the mobile public works stage, Jersey City’s local harbinger that the Summer Street Fair season is beginning, rocked out. I liked the melody, it was catchy.

I was walking away from the block of second street that had been cordoned off. The lyrics were in Filipino. A young dude behind sang along. He responded to my surprise: “Oh that was a hit in the Philippines in the 90s. The band was the Eraser Heads, but they broke up.”

“I wonder if they were named after the David Lynch movie.”

“Who’s David Lynch.”

“What’s the name of the song.”

“I think the translation is the Great Proxy.”

You know, I knew that Jersey City was privileged to have a sizable Filipino population, and I know Manila is in the Philippines, but I had never put two and two together to realize that indeed, Manila Avenue is indeed the geographical nucleus of that community. It all makes sense now!

Saturday was the Santa Cruzan festival, which is translated as Holy Cross, which is a major celebration of this community. The Philippines are a fascinating culture with its unique blend of Asia and Hispania. My experience is that they are friendly and good natured and take a true joy in their religion. More than joy, a sincere and genuine pleasure, which when it comes to the complex subject of religion, is more uncommon than it should be. Catholicism and culture seem especially interwoven among the ex-pat Philippine community here in Downtown, which has been setting for this celebration for more than three decades.

On Second Street, besides the familiar portable stage were the familiar stands selling souvenirs, t-shirts, religious items and jewelry. A smattering of food vendors were present. The sun poured forth or is that down? I had gotten there around the time of the 2:30 mass, which was starting very late. Many of the women, young and old, were in resplendent evening gowns. There is a pageant connected to Santa Cruzan, where girls and women are crowned “reynas” or queens. What we saw on Sunday was just the tip of the ice-berg for Santa Cruzan, in addition to the pageant there was a “novena,” nine-days or prayers, mass attendance and communion receiving before Sunday.

Tradition holds that the novena is held to pray for good weather for Santa Cruzan. Who can resist the appeal of ye-ole customs?

Santa Cruzan celebrates the discovery of the One True Cross by Helena, mother of Emperor of Constantine, in the second century AD. Although controversial, Constantine spread Christianity and some scholars claim that it is because of him (and his mother) the cross is the universal symbol of Christianity. It could have been a fish, seriously. I digress.

The reason many of the women in attendance were accompanies by a young boy was that it symbol sized Queen Helena and her son., Emperor Constantine. It is believed she converted him from paganism. It also echoes Mary and her son Jesus. The various Reynas and other participants in the procession have additional symbolism associated with them. For example, one “queen” For example, Reyna Esther - the old testament matriarch who saved the Israelites, carries a scepter. Do some googling to find out all these symbols, there are many.

Thus they processed, north on Erie to 9th then back to 2nd Street via Manila Ave. A marching band with snare drum, tuba, trombone and trumpet led them. Many of the men wore the shiny white barongs, traditional shirts made from pineapple skins. I could imagine the same processions taking place in the rural and semi-rural regions of the archpelligio nation. But it wasn’t just a Fillipinio party. Behind the traditional Santa Cruzan procession were groups from other countries with their own icon of the Blessed Mother. More than a dozen at least. These icons are on view at St. Mary’s Church on 2nd street and they range from well known images, such as Our Lady of Guadelupe, popular throughout Central and South America to Our Lady of La Vang, which commemorates an apparation of Mary that appeared in Vietnam in 1798.

Devotions to Mary from across the globe were represented in this procession. May is the Month of Mary and the Santa Cruzan became a reason for everybody to come out and when I say everybody, not just a United Nations of ethnic groups but multi-generational too. all age groups had something to do with this event. You didn’t have to be Catholic, or have any particular religious belief, or identify yourself as a member of the groups here to appreciate the tradition and the inclusivity.

Maybe it’s like St. Patricks Day, everybody is Filipino on Santa Cruzan day. It’s more than that though.This procession didn’t just traverse a few blocks in a certain neighborhood in New Jersey, it reached back centuries and traversed the globe and will be processing every May long after we’re gone. Want to transcend time and space? All we need is some faith and each other.

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