Favorite Things: Jesse Gonzales and his Virgen de Guadalupe collection

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Jesse Gonzales is a photographer who graduated from Michigan State University in 1971 and worked at the university until his retirement. Together with his wife, Juana, he amassed a grand collection of Virgen De Guadalupe statues, figurines and ephemera. 

I started this collection sometime after 1976. I probably couldn’t point out the first one, but it probably came from one of my trips to Mexico. I’d buy one or two there and take pictures of all the murals and artwork around the cities. I got more every time my wife, Juana, and I visited a different city or different locale, including Mexico City, Oaxaca and all along the Southwest border and Pacific side of Mexico. We were collecting things that were different than what we’d normally find in Michigan. 

I’ve purchased them all over the U.S. — Ann Arbor, Chicago, Texas, all over the Southwest — the Virgen de Guadalupe is the patron saint of the Americas. Every time I went somewhere new, I found something different. I probably didn’t see it as a collection early on, but when I’d put them all together, I started to notice what I had. I said, “This is a really nice collection!” To see the artistry in some of these things is just astounding. 

We can look at these and say, “Where did this come from?” Then it brings memories of where we went. It’s like when you take a snapshot of somewhere you traveled, which I also do. These just add to those memories. I never thought of them in total until I got all of them on the mantlepiece. It’s not too far off from my collection of Homies vending machine toys and several other collections of Hispanic-related materials — Mexican in particular, or what you would consider Chicano. 

I’ve amassed quite a few books and other types of items — photographs, magazines and newspapers. The first collection I had of that type of material, I donated it to the Michigan State University Library’s Cesar E. Chavez Collection. 

I feel an immediate personal connection to the Virgen de Guadalupe because my father’s name is Lupe — people in the city where I grew up would call him Don Lupito. My older brother, who is also named Lupe, was a large part of me growing up. I also grew up Catholic, and everybody where we grew up had a picture of John F. Kennedy and the Virgen de Guadalupe in their house. 

The Virgen de Guadalupe is part of my upbringing. Even now, images of the Virgen De Guadalupe are still so prevalent, particularly with the United Farm Workers. That’s always going to be with me, and I hope to enlarge my collection a little bit more. I will likely donate it when I’m done collecting. I’ll hand it over to a museum or something like that. 

Interview edited and condensed by Skyler Ashley. If you have a suggestion for Favorite Things, please email Skyler@Lansingcitypulse.com

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