The “Virgin of Charity of Copper” is the Cuban patroness. She is so beloved by Cubans that I only have vague memories of maybe having heard of the Virgin of Guadalupe before I came to the United States (of America) as a child. Like the Virgin of Guadalupe, she is non-white. She is described as either being “mulatta” of of being of mixed white, black, Indian descent, as is the Christ child she is holding.
Popular tradition says that she was found by los tres Juanes, “the three Johns,” all of whom were of mixed descent. What makes the tradition interesting is that she was found on the ocean waters outside a town in which slavery was used to help mine the copper, and she obviously participated in the “races” of both the captor and the captive.
Her story is more mixed than the Virgin of Guadalupe in one respect. The Guadalupe Virgin becomes the emblem for Mexican independence. However, the Copper Virgin, in the 1730’s was used as the patroness for the first slave rebellion in Cuba, around 1730. In fact, that region of Cuba becomes a long-term hotbed of rebellion. When the Cubans revolt for the third or fourth time in 1895, the bulk of the Cuban independence armies are made up of Afro-Cubans. General Antonio Maceo, the great general of independence, was a mulatto. In fact by 1898, the Cuban forces were well on their way to victory. Unfortunately, the USA intervened and won a rather easy victory against a foe that had been demoralized and ground down by the Cuban patriots.
But the Copper Virgin’s history is mixed in more than one way. Whereas the Guadalupe Virgin becomes a shining symbol for the peaceful evangelization of the areas under Mexico, the Copper Virgin is partially absorbed by an Afro-Cuban religion called SanterÃa. Unfortunately, some (but not all) of the Afro-Cubans who look to her begin to identify her with one of the African goddesses. Nevertheless, for all Cubans la Virgencita de la Caridad del Cobre is a symbol of Cuban identity. She is so strong a symbol that a replica statue was made and is now to be found securely ensconced in its own “hermitage” in Miami, Florida, USA.