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Did you know that La Santa Muerte (“Saint Death”) is worshipped by some residents of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands?  Likewise Santa Olguita, a feminist saint associated with border women’s experience of sexual violence? These and other emerging folk saints are the subject of Undocumented Saints: The Politics of Migrating Devotions (Oxford University Press), a book just published by William A. Calvo-Quirós, SAR’s 2018-2019 Mellon Foundation Latino Studies Fellow.

Santa Muerte figure, photographed near Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, 2007. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Mexico’s folk saints are not recognized by the Catholic Church. Indeed, church officials deplore veneration of these figures, some of which are associated with Mexico’s narco-traffickers.  Based on extensive oral history and documentary research, Calvo-Quirós explains why these figures have arisen from the popular imagination and how their veneration speaks to the economic and political struggles of communities on both sides of the border.  In a message to Paul Ryer, SAR’s director of scholar programs, Calvo-Quirós called the book “truly a fruit of SAR.”

In a comment on Undocumented Saints, Norma E. Cantú (Trinity University, San Antonio) writes:  “Spanning a historical period of over a hundred years, this study demonstrates how crucial religiosity is for cross cultural identity and cultural practices. Weaving a discussion of folk Catholic religious practices with themes of sexuality, gender, and violence, Undocumented Saints does what good folklore always does, reflect on the folk and folk practices with respect and serious attention to the myriad realities found in the community.”

The research of William Calvo-Quirós and other Mellon Foundation Fellows reflects SAR’s embrace of Latinx Studies as an important element of our academic support and public programming.  We look forward to other significant books and articles as the work of our Mellon Fellows bears fruit in scholarly publications and public media.  Scholars interested in applying for Mellon Foundation Fellowships at SAR will find relevant information here.