STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
In Mexico, this day - the 12th of December - is the day to celebrate the country's most revered religious icon, the Virgin of Guadalupe. As many as 6 million pilgrims have made their way to the Mexican capital, to pay homage to the country's patron saint. And as NPR's Carrie Kahn reports, one woman has taken her devotion of the Virgin and turned it into a multimillion-dollar company.
CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: It's customary on the 12th of December to ask the Virgin of Guadalupe for something. The requests usually fall in the health or wealth categories, but artist Amparo Serrano likes to lighten the religious mood and ask the Virgin for other things.
AMPARO SERRANO: (Spanish spoken) Si, I swear to God. Este...
KAHN: Switching easily between English and Spanish - or her favorite, Spanglish - Serrano says, why not ask the Virgin to help you get rid of your cellulite or find a new boyfriend? Or...
SERRANO: Este - please tell my mother-in-law to go away a little bit - for a week.
KAHN: Those are the kinds of messages she prints on dozens of products with her sparkling cartoon depictions of the Virgin, all with a "please" at the end. She spells it P-L-I-S as you would phonetically read it, in Spanish. You can find her chubby-cheeked Virgencita Plis now on pens, notebooks, pajamas, plates, picture frames - the list seems endless - all packaged at Serrano's warehouse, tucked away in the hills of southern Mexico City.
Is there anything you haven't put your designs on?
SERRANO: You know what I would love to have? Un refresco - a soda.
KAHN: And a movie and a TV sitcom, she shouts back as she dashes over to a pile of Converse shoe boxes on the warehouse floor. Last year, Serrano's company, Distroller, signed a deal with the shoe giant. She says she is very careful about what she puts the Virgencita on; shoes didn't seem appropriate. Instead, she decorated them with her line of doll characters; the same she puts on sanitary napkins, too - definitely not Virgin appropriate.
This year, Distroller sales will top $5 million. Wal-Mart picked up her doll line, and she penned a deal with Cartoon Network. Licensing fees will bring in another $45 million. That's quite a feat since she says she started out 10 years ago with nothing, and even less confidence.
SERRANO: It was not meant to be a business, really, because I'm very passionate about what I do. So I never thought that somebody was going to pay for a thing that I did. Really.
KAHN: Serrano comes from a very prominent and religious Mexican family. She says her animated products make religion fun, and accessible to young people.
SERRANO: Since I'm a very really - believer, and I'm not making fun. Why should people think that I'm making fun?
KAHN: The Church agrees.
THE REV. PABLO PEDRAZI: (Spanish spoken)
KAHN: Father Pablo Pedrazi says Serrano's products are positive, and don't appear to be in bad taste at all. He did add that if she has any concerns, she could consult her local priest.
(SOUNDBITE OF BAND MUSIC)
KAHN: However, for the devotees and their bands outside the Grand Basilica de Guadalupe, reactions are mixed. One mother says she loves that her kids want purses and notebooks with the Virgencita. But not this mom of three - Angelica Espinoza.
ANGELICA ESPINOZA: (Spanish spoken)
KAHN: It's all just a fad, she says. She teaches her children about the Virgin using only the real image. Serrano shrugs off the criticism. Business is booming. The Virgencita, I see that's the Hello Kitty of Mexico. Has anybody ever said that to you?
SERRANO: No, but that's a flatter - that's a compliment. Yes, I hope.
KAHN: She hopes her childlike Virgencita goes way beyond Mexico. Serrano has stores in Spain, Colombia, Ecuador - and hopefully, soon in the United States.
Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City.
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