Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Reality of Santa Muerte, On The Border - And Beyond

A warrior named peace discusses his awakening to Aztlan

"We didn't cross the border; the border crossed us." - a
Chicano saying

A disquisition on El Dia de los Muertos - "the day of the
dead," or, "All Saints' Day," November 2

By "Bacsi," Lewis T. Pace, Jr.

Mr. Pace lives in the Texas Rio Grande Valley and in a home
in the moutains of el norte in Mexico. He is perfecting his
application for Mexican citizenship. When he served in the
Special Forces, he was a medic, or "Bacsi," Vietnamese for
. - Ed.

One of the things that has absolutely fascinated me during
my 44 years of being "married to Mexico" is the Mexican
fascination with death.

Halloween for us is a chance to dress funny, go "trick or
treat" and have fun with the kids.

The Day of the Dead is a very important part of Mexican
culture. Mexicans on both sides of the border clean the
cemeteries, party and honor the dead on November 2, All
Saints' Day.

What we Anglos call bull fights are no such thing. The highest ranking toreador, or bull man, is the matador, the killer. The whole purpose of the thing is to see a man demonstrate style and skill in the presence of death.

That animal goes into the ring to die.

There is a convenience store and gas station about 100 yards from my place in Mission, Texas. I drop in any time of night for a couple of jalapeño hot dogs and a Coke.

I stand around and chat with the kids behind the counter. They're impressed that an old gringo can speak better Spanish than they can and actually lives in Mexico.

I noticed the other night that one of the young girls who had been talking to me about wanting to study nursing didn't seem to be around anymore.

The older girl there said she had gone back to Mexico with her boyfriend.

As we talked, some things came out. She was legal, a native-
born U.S. citizen; her boyfriend was an illegal. He had
just gotten out of jail. He is a guardia for the Zetas,
big time drug enforcers led by ex-Mexican Special Forces

She had willingly walked away from home, family and school
to go with him.

I nearly choked. To me, that was the height of insanity. I asked why would someone do something so stupid.

The answer was very simple. The boyfriend had made a vow to her on "La Santa Muerte." I had never heard of any such thing.

The girl I was talking to told me that la Santa Muerte is a religion, a religious practice similar to being a Catholic, and that any such vow is the most potent thing in this

She told me that she and her novio, her live-in boyfriend, are also faithful followers and that he had just gotten a
tattoo of La Santa on his thigh.

When he came in, he hiked up his shorts and showed it to me.
She was going to get one on her shoulder come payday.

We talked it over and I learned the similarities in this
belief and the one followed by black folks in my native
Georgia, "Juju," in which Baron Samedi rules the underworld
and Babalú drums and dances through the night, then escapes
into the day before sunrise. He is in pursuit of his lover.

She is as revered as La Santa.

Anthropoligists call La Santa Muerte a syncretism between
Mesoamerican and Catholic beliefs, though the "cult" is
condemned by the Catholic Church in Mexico.

The Aztecs inherited from their ancestors the gods
Mictlantecuhtli and Mictecacihuatl, the lord and lady of
Mictlan, the realm of the dead.

One often sees them depicted on glossy calendars distributed
by las panaderias in barrios from San Francisco to
Brownsville, and all points south.

Skeletons symbolize to European Catholics the need for a
muerte santa, a good death, fully confessed of sins. Often
in latin countries of Europe, the skeletons are dressed in
royal vestments, given crowns and scepters and paraded in
the streets. The practice was most popular in times of

In Chiapas, there is a wooden skeleton believed to be a
replica of the remains of San Pascualito, who comes to
people after they die. This belief is from the times prior
to the 19th century, when Santa Muerte was practiced in

Later, José Guadalupe Posada created a non-religious, but
similar, figure by the name of Catrina, a skeleton dressed
in fancy clothing of the time.

She is also known as La Señora de las Sombras, or lady of
the shadows and as Señora Blanca, the white lady, or Santa
, the black lady. Similarly, she is referred to as Niña
, the holy girl, or as La Flaca, the skinny one.

She is always robed because the Mexican cult of death
recognizes flesh as something that falls away, as does a
robe. Posed with a scythe in her right hand and a globe in
her left, in depiction she closely resembles La Virgen
de Guadalupe
, patron saint of Mexico.

In her crown, adherents insert pictures of loved ones and
tokens of their passing. Altars, called ofrendas, are lit
by candles, filled with bread, beans and tobacco, as in the
West African cults present throughout the Caribbean, Miami,
and America's truly third world city, New Orleans.

Many knowledgeable social scientists view this trend among
youthful chicanos and chicanas as part of a gradual
"occupation" of the mythic land of good health in el norte,
the land of Aztlan, so named for seven caves in a mystic
mountain occupied by the seven tribes of the Aztec nation so
revered by Moctezuma, King of the Valley of Mexico.

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