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Borderlands Saints

Borderlands Saints: Secular Sanctity in Chicano/a and Mexican Culture

Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Borderlands Saints
    Book Description:

    InBorderlands Saints, Desirée A. Martín examines the rise and fall of popular saints and saint-like figures in the borderlands of the United States and Mexico. Focusing specifically on Teresa Urrea (La Santa de Cabora), Pancho Villa, César Chávez, Subcomandante Marcos, and Santa Muerte, she traces the intersections of these figures, their devotees, artistic representations, and dominant institutions with an eye for the ways in which such unofficial saints mirror traditional spiritual practices and serve specific cultural needs.

    Popular spirituality of this kind engages the use and exchange of relics, faith healing, pilgrimages, and spirit possession, exemplifying the contradictions between high and popular culture, human and divine, and secular and sacred. Martín focuses upon a wide range of Mexican and Chicano/a cultural works drawn from the nineteenth century to the present, covering such diverse genres as the novel, the communiqué, drama, the essay or crónica, film, and contemporary digital media. She argues that spiritual practice is often represented as narrative, while narrative-whether literary, historical, visual, or oral-may modify or even function as devotional practice.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-6235-3
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. INTRODUCTION: The Secular Sanctity of Borderlands Saints
    (pp. 1-31)

    To seek favor fromLa Santísima Muerte(Saint Death), folk saint and guardian of the dispossessed, devotees prepare candles and recite a novena, which may be repeated up to three times until the petition is answered. The novena consists of a prayer or invocation called asoneto(sonnet) followed by a short, fervent prayer or refrain called ajaculatoria, both of which are to be repeated daily for nine days. In addition, each of the nine days features a different prayer to recite after the sonnet. The refrain of the best-known novena to Santa Muerte reads: “Beloved Death of my...

  5. 1 SAINT OF CONTRADICTION: Teresa Urrea, La Santa de Cabora
    (pp. 32-65)

    In the novelLa insólita historia de la Santa de Cabora(1990;The Astonishing Story of the Saint of Cabora[1998]), Mexican writer Brianda Domecq portrays Teresa Urrea, “La Santa de Cabora” of Sonora, as she is demanding entrance at the heavenly gates shortly after her death. The ensuing scene reflects the ambiguity that surrounded Urrea during her life and after her death. The gatekeeper angel and God engage in a comical debate for they cannot find Cabora, her former home, on the registry of global place names, nor can they find her name on the official list of saints:...

    (pp. 66-104)

    As befits his tumultuous life, the earthly remains of General Francisco “Pancho” Villa, the “Centaur of the North” and leader of the División del Norte in the Mexican Revolution, did not rest in peace. In 1926, three years after his murder, Villa’s head was stolen from his grave in Parral, Chihuahua (Katz,Life789). As with all of Villa’s actions and attributes, speculation and myth took hold of the disembodied head. Groups ranging from the army of Mexican president Plutarco Elías Calles, American soldiers of fortune, and former Carrancista generals were rumored to have stolen Villa’s head. The head may...

    (pp. 105-141)

    Throughout his nearly forty years of labor and civil rights organizing, César Estrada Chávez, the co-founder of the United Farm Workers Union (UFW), civil rights leader, and Chicano icon, drew upon various modes of official and popular spirituality, investing his political project with a sense of justice rooted in religious morality and an aura of sacrifice. His spiritual practices included his famous fasts, pilgrimages, and prayer vigils, but they also encompass nonviolence, peaceful boycotts, vows of poverty, and the use of religious imagery such as the Virgin of Guadalupe (Griswold del Castillo and García 36).¹ Chávez is certainly a political,...

  8. 4 “TODOS SOMOS SANTOS”: Subcomandante Marcos and the EZLN
    (pp. 142-181)

    Subcomandante insurgente marcos, the spokesperson for the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN; the Zapatista Army of National Liberation), has been a revolutionary icon and the “champion of the anti-neoliberal-globalization movement” since January 1, 1994, the very day that NAFTA went into effect (Henck 1). On that day, the Zapatistas declared war on the supreme government of Mexico, occupied seven cities in the southeastern state of Chiapas, and announced “their struggle for democracy, liberty, and justice for all Mexicans” (Muñoz Ramírez 105). From the beginning of the revolution, Marcos has been the center of national and global attention—for his...

  9. 5 ILLEGAL MARGINALIZATIONS: La Santísima Muerte
    (pp. 182-209)

    “Santa muerte hears prayers from dark places. She was sent to rescue the lost, society’s rejects. ‘She understands us, because she is a cabrona like us…. We are hard people and we live hard lives. But she accepts us all, when we do good and bad,’” claims Haydé Solís Cárdenas, a resident of Mexico City’s infamous barrio Tepito and devotee of La Santísima Muerte or Saint Death (Thompson n.p.). Solís Cárdenas, a street vendor who sells smuggled tennis shoes for a living, feels an affinity with Santa Muerte not as a righteous, holy inspiration but as a tarnished outsider much...

  10. CONCLUSION: Narrative Devotion
    (pp. 210-220)

    The narratives of secular sanctity in the borderlands are as ambivalent as they are contradictory. Through participation in rituals of exchange, identification, and disidentification with their favored secular saints and santones, devotees shape autonomous forms of civil society, challenge the authority of church and state, and articulate diverse identities as individuals and as collective groups. In many cases, these devotees approach secular saints not exclusively through traditional spiritual rituals, whether official or popular, but through narrative. Such narratives are certainly reflected in cultural production, but they also rearticulate devotional ritual, that is, while the cultural representation of secular saints and...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 221-234)
    (pp. 235-244)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 245-254)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 255-256)