Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

American -- Miracles on the Border: Retablos of Mexican Migrants to the United States by Jorge Durand and Douglas S. Massey

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

American -- Miracles on the Border: Retablos of Mexican Migrants to the United States by Jorge Durand and Douglas S. Massey

Article excerpt

Miracles on the Border: Retablos of Mexican Migrants to the United States. By Jorge Durand and Douglas S. Massey. (Tucson: University of Arizona Press. 1995. Pp. xviii, 216. $50.00 clothbound; $24.95 paperback.)

In September, 1988, the two authors visited the sanctuary of Our Lady of San Juan de los Lagos and saw the innumerable oil paintings on tin that were Left as votive offerings for favors received after persons had prayed for her intercession. Some of these retablos visually depicted and verbally described favors granted to Mexican migrants to the United States, and within an hour the two had located a dozen such. Being trained sociologists who specialized in Mexican immigration, they were able to make of their find the genesis of the present book and, indeed, of a new field of knowledge.

The typical ex voto (or retablo) of the sort showed the trouble some person or group fell into, narrated in a legend of some fifty or seventy-five hand-painted words the fear and dismay and the consequent appeal to the heavenly patron, depicted the patron watching over the earthly event, and stated the donor's gratitude for the favor--the "miracle-received. Devout rural people commissioned untrained artists of limited talent to sketch and inscribe these testimonials to be left at the patrons' shrine as a lasting record of their trills and their heaven-assisted triumph of survival. Hence they are not only of interest as art; they are also primary documents in sociology.

Retablos, each with its unique human story and divine rescue, offer the artist much more variety than do laminas, pictures of saints which repeat the same iconography over and over. The various patrons' standard iconographies recur, of course, but the narrative images and verbalizing texts are ever different. …

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