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

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

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

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

Synopsis

In Borderlands Saints, Desiree A. Martin 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, Caesar Chavez, 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. Martin 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 communique, drama, the essay or cronica, 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.

Excerpt

To seek favor from La 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 a soneto (sonnet) followed by a short, fervent prayer or refrain called a jaculatoria, 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 heart, do not abandon me, protect me, and do not allow [name] a single moment of peace, bother him constantly, torment him, worry him, worry him, so that he will think of me always. Amen” (Gil Olmos 183). This novena requests luck, happiness, and money as well as freedom from evil spells, danger, and sickness, but its primary desire is for the return of a lost or wayward lover (Gil Olmos 186).

The intimacy of the novena is remarkable. Given Santa Muerte’s role as a “specialist in affairs of the heart,” personal appeals to the saint to restore or initiate love affairs are expected (Chesnut 121). However, the novena is more than a simple request or a promise to worship the saint from a passive devotee. Instead, the novena appeals not just for the lover’s return, but for total domination over him, imploring: “I want him to fall before me prostrate, surrendered at my feet, to fulfill all of his promises,” and “I want you to make him beg me to forgive him, as docile as a lamb, faithful to his promises, that he may be loving and submissive for the rest of his life” (Gil Olmos 184, 186). in a sense, the female supplicant asks Santa Muerte to transfer some of her formidable power onto her. the enduring control over the lover requested by the devotee (“that he may be loving and submissive for the rest of his life”) reflects the power she exercises as a result of her relationship of devotion and exchange with Santa Muerte.

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