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Borderlands Saints

Secular Sanctity in Chicano/a and Mexican Culture

by Desirée A. Martín

Publication Year: 2013

In Borderlands 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.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Title Page, About the Series, Other Works in the Series, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

This book has been many years in the making. Over that time I have incurred many debts to family, friends, teachers, mentors, students, and colleagues. These relationships are formative, and I am humbled by the generosity that so many people have shown me. Before I acknowledge these debts, however, I want to express gratitude for the privilege of research and writing itself. While the process...

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Introduction: The Secular Sanctity of Borderlands Saints

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pp. 1-31

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...

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1. Saint of Contradiction: Teresa Urrea, La Santa de Cabora

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pp. 32-65

In the novel La 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...

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2. The Remains of Pancho Villa

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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, Life 789). As with all of Villa’s actions and attributes, speculation...

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3. Canonizing César Chávez

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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...

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4. “Todos Somos Santos”: Subcomandante Marcos and the EZLN

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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...

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5. Illegal Marginalizations: La Santísima Muerte

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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...

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Conclusion: Narrative Devotion

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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...


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pp. 221-234

Works Cited

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pp. 235-244


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pp. 245-254

About the Author

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E-ISBN-13: 9780813562353
E-ISBN-10: 081356235X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813562346
Print-ISBN-10: 0813562341

Page Count: 296
Illustrations: 5 illustrations
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 865184583
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Borderlands Saints

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Secularism in literature.
  • Mexican literature -- History and criticism.
  • Mexican-American Border Region -- Civilization.
  • Mexican American literature (Spanish) -- History and criticism
  • American literature -- Mexican American authors -- History and criticism.
  • Holy, The, in literature.
  • Heroes in literature.
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