Religious Symbolism in the Elian Gonzalez Case

Cuban Catholic Miami can be a place of deep adoration and veneration for religious matters. It was not surprising that shortly after the arrival of Elian Gonzalez that all sorts of miracles were reported in conjunction with him. After all, was it not a miracle in itself that a child would survive at sea for several days, in a small inner tube, and be rescued?


Elian and the Blessed Virgin Mary

It was reported by several media sources, including the Miami Herald, that a miraculous apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared in a TotalBanc window, not too far from the Gonzalez home in Little Havana, several months after his arrival. I went to go investigate and found several people gathered around the image. It would seem that the Virgin seems to favor Florida banks, because one of more her more recent visitations was also to a bank window in a town outside of Tampa a few years ago. Much like that other image, this one appears to have been formed by chemical emulsions causing multicolored streaking of the window.

Several people were gathered in front of the window when I arrived, debating amongst themselves as to what features they could make out. I looked closely; I couldn't see any myself. It looked to me like a "shmear". Perhaps, with some imagination, one might see a cowl or hood of some kind.

Perhaps I just don't believe - but look at the image above and tell me if you see the face of a Judaean woman who lived 2000 years ago. Not far from the TotalBanc was a botanica selling several images and icons of saints, including the Virgin herself.

In the vicinity of the bank image, and at the Gonzalez home itself, people left images of the Virgin, especially in her aspect as Stella Maris, the Star of the Sea who guides lost mariners to the shore.

Also widely reported was that a statue of the Virgin Mary at a Miami church also displayed a miraculous event in his presence. Details of the manifestation were unclear, but some say the Virgin cried tears when he was in the room. An image of Elian with this statue was widely reproduced, and I saw it at several demonstrations concerning the boy's presence. Many people seem to think he was specially favored by the Virgin. Others compared the sacrifice his mother made for him to the sacrifices Mary made for hers in the Gospels.

Elian as Miraculous Christ Child

Rumors began in the Miami community early on that Elian was a "special" or miraculous child. After his mother's boat sank, it was said that a group of dolphins followed around his inner tube and protected him from harm until two fishermen plucked him out of the sea. (None were named Dan Marino.) The painting on the left is a large mural on a church next door to the old Gonzalez house.

For many people, the metaphor became obvious. The Virgin watched over this child like her own... having arrived from the sea like Moses, turning up in Miami on the eve of the Millennium, it was clear to some that Elian was in some way kind of a Christ Child himself. Various images at the Gonzalez home made this explicit, comparing his travails to the suffering of Christ himself.

Fidel Castro as the Satanic Tempter

In this religious mystery play, how can there be Christ and the Virgin without the Devil? For many people, Fidel Castro became like the Devil incarnate, determined to steal away the Christ child Elian. A rumor spread among some of the local Miami santeros that Fidel wanted the child because a local Santeria priestess told him the child would cause his downfall, unless he could capture him and perform some occult ritual on him.

Pray for Deliverance!

Many signs in the area urged prayer for Elian, to save him from the Devil (Castro). Many people were especially outraged over the fact that INS agents invaded the Gonzalez home during Holy Saturday, in the middle of the Easter weekend. It was taken as a sign of the "ungodliness" of the raid.