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Reviewed by:
  • Horizons of the Sacred: Mexican Traditions in U.S. Catholicism
  • Miguel A. Segovia (bio)
Horizons of the Sacred: Mexican Traditions in U.S. Catholicism. Edited by Timothy Matovina and Gary Riebe-Estrella. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 2002. 189 pp. $19.95.

Horizons of the Sacred: Mexican Traditions in U.S. Catholicism is an important volume, with essays that consider a range of Mexican American religious practices, written by leading Latina and Latino scholars. Together, the six essays by Timothy Matovina, Karen Mary Davalos, Lara Medina and Gilbert R. Cadena, Luis D. León, Roberto S. Goizueta, and Orlando O. Espín offer a compelling narrative for understanding the individual and collective dimensions of Mexican American spirituality, worship, and identity in the United States. They focus on Mexican American devotions in the Southwest and Midwest, and provide an excellent exposition of the social, political, cultural, and religious scope of several communities' pursuit of social justice in various sectors of life, especially as they are informed by Catholicism.

The authors narrate and recount various forms of religious expression in different contexts, the multiple ways and the various levels through which persons give meaning to religious events and practices that not only express their beliefs, history, and culture, but also, in other salient respects, their various ethno-racial identities and gender dynamics. Each of the authors considers practices within a specific community of worship, and locates these customs within the parameters and systems of belief, healing, and understanding that are particular to a given group's practice. While all of the studies engage different forms of Mexican American religious traditions, there is a particular focus on healing and devotion as kinds of activism in the United States. The space of the Church and the public sphere are thus construed as places where oppressed communities can develop bonds that allow them to express their spirituality, faith, and politics.

By exploring several forms of religious devotion, the authors attempt to capture the complexity of Mexican American history, culture, and identity in this country. In light of their different methodologies, the authors share several characteristics: [End Page 250] they investigate religious traditions as practical forms of survival through religious organizations and groups; they look at private and public rituals as forms of community activism; and they probe various practices such as Guadalupan devotion, Day of the Dead celebrations, and the performances of the Way of the Cross, as powerful aspects of "resistance" to oppressions such as racism and individual and collective manifestations of discrimination, social inequality, and poverty. But more specifically, they illustrate how worship among Mexican Americans works not simply as "performance" of past occurrences and sacred events, but as lived cultural and political expressions that bear sacred significance for these communities in the present. A key dimension of these religious practices is that through participation in private and public forms of worship, marginalized Mexican American individuals and communities can affirm their sacred traditions, their faith, their multifaceted beliefs and forms of ritual and history, and their national and cultural pride.

All of the authors chronicle and give voice to the manifold ways that Mexican, Chicana and Chicano lives are conditioned, but not altogether effaced by the complex social, cultural, racial, and political landscape of Mexico and the United States. The space of the local neighborhood parish, the authors argue, like the space of the local neighborhood botanica with its Catholic healer and psychic, allow recent immigrants and residents alike the opportunity to bond as a community, to express their ethnic solidarity, resistance to racism, patriotism, cultural pride, and spirituality. For instance, Matovina demonstrates how racism and discrimination drove Mexicans to a predominantly Mexican American parish in San Antonio, Texas during the early decades of the twentieth century. "Parishioners," he says, "exerted their strongest leadership and influence at San Fernando through the numerous pious societies that they established and developed," allowing men and women to work in solidarity, and to become leaders at a time when they could not do so in the wider segregated landscape or when women, for example, were not only oppressed in the public sphere, but were confined by strict gender roles in the home (28, 31...


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pp. 250-254
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