Message #311:
From: AzTeC SW Archaeology SIG
To:   "'Matthias Giessler'" 
Subject: Folklorico Popular de Frontera
Date: Sun, 10 Aug 1997 11:41:24 -0700

Mexicans mix folklore, faith to create populist Saints

By Anne-Marie O'Connor
Los Angeles Times

TIJUANA - Juan Castillo Morales' ascension to popular saint hood began when
he faced a firing squad on a dusty hilltop in February 1938.  The volley
that ended his earthly life began his resurrection as Juan Soldado, or John
Soldier, the unofficial patron saint and protector of illegal immigrants.

Martyrdom may seem a bizarre fate for a penniless soldier accuse of the
rape and murder of a 8-year-old girl.  Castillo said he was framed by a
superior who actually committed the crime.

For the modern pilgrims wh Venerate him, however, Juan Soldado is a
reigning Everyman, an unjustly victimized underdog who's destiny was a
living illustration of the Latin	American saying, "The law is a	snake that
bites the barefoot."

As Tijuana became a main gate way for illegal immigrants, Juan Soldado was
somehow immortalize as their guardian angel, their guide through
treacherous border badland and the bewildering maze of American officialdom.

Juan Soldado is one of countless Latin American folk saints who's cults
flourish without the benefit of Catholic Church recognition or approval.
He shares the borderlands with a populist pantheon whose checkered careers
blur distinctions between sinner and saint. There is the Santa de Cabora,
who inspired Indian uprisings before the Mexican Revolution.  And Jesus
Malverde, a Robin Hood-style outlaw known as the patron saint of drug

Their followings tap deeply into faith, folklore and sociology.
Throngs of Southern California immigrant families flocked to Juan Soldado's
shrine for his recent annual celebration.  As strolling musicians filled
the air with mariachi and banda, supplicants - some on their knees - made
their way down the stony cemetery path to his crypt, three blocks south of
the U.S.Mexico border.

They wound through the forest of tombstones to his cavelike sacred grotto,
built into the hillside on his supposed execution site.

'A false gospel'

Demetrio Ochoa, an Anaheim factory worker and a devout Catholic, came
bearing coolers of refreshments.  In 1965, he said, when he was working
illegally in California, he called on Juan Soldado as he bolted from two
Border Patrol agents.  Hiding under a pile of garbage, Ochoa prayed
silently. Later, when he filed for amnesty, he asked "Juanito" for divine
intervention.  His request was approved.

"I found a better life, and I owe it all to Juan Soldado," Ochoa said.

Clergy members are clearly irritated by the unauthorized hagiography, but
they try to be diplomatic.

"The church does not have a very high opinion of the cult of Juan Soldado,"
said the Rev. Salvador Cisneros, the soft-spoken rector of the Sacred Heart
Seminary in downtown Tijuana.  "The Church views it as something closer to
a superstition, or a false gospel, than an authentic religious movement." 

Cisneros finds Juan Soldado's beatification unthinkable. Candidates must
demonstrate exemplary, saintly lives.  Their miracles must be
well-documented.  Cisneros sighed.

"This is a saint whose main miracle is helping people cross into the United
States without papers," he said.  "The church also doubts his innocence,
though there is no real evidence either way."

But faith, by its very nature, is stubborn.  Official disdain does little
to dampen the adoration of people such as 57-year-old Rosario de Baron.
She endured 24 hours on the bus from La Paz, in Baja California Sur, to
thank Juan Soldado for helping her son kick cocaine.

Pablo Ochoa, 75, credits Juan Soldado with bringing 10 undocumented Ochoas
to Anaheim and getting them all amnesty.
"These saints are sent to help us," he said, leaning against a tombstone to
catch his breath.  "We are faithful Catholics and we are devoted to him.
How can the church oppose someone who has done so much for us?"

The 'narcosanto'

Sociologists say many new-wave Mexican immortals arose during the turbulent
years after the 1910-17 revolution, a time when Catholic leaders - viewed
as allies of the wealthy upper classes - were exiled, persecuted and bound
by restrictive laws.  Folk saints were cast as protagonists of highly
secular existential dramas and were often anti-establishment.

Jesus Malverde, the narcosanto, is a good compromise for those who find
sinners more interesting than saints.  Originally a turn-of-the century
outlaw named Jesus Mazo, he supposedly robbed from the rich and gave to the
poor.  Today, he has a shrine in the notorious drug-traffick ing capital of
Culiacan, Sinaloa.  His effigy adorns the small-town Sinaloa family chapel
of Mexico's most powerful drug lord, Amado Carrillo Fuentes, who died
earlier this month.

There is a more modest Jesus Malverde highway shrine a few miles from
Tijuana.  And downtown, outside of the city's cathedral, vendors sell
braided leather necklaces bearing Malverde's stern visage along with images
of Christ.

"People say he is the patron of narcotics traffickers," Benito Avila, the
vendor, said sheepishly.  "But they want him, so I stock him."

Martyr or molester?

As for Juan Soldado, what he symbolizes is far easier to pinpoint than the
sketchy facts of his demise in 1938.

When the bloody body of Olga Consuela Camacho was dumped near Tijuana's
military base in mid-February, news of the heinous crime ignited the tense
city. How the young soldier from Jalisco was blamed is unclear.  Some
accounts say Juan Soldado was ordered to recover the body by an officer who
then pinned the crime on him.  Juan Soldado's wife supposedly testified
against him.

A lynch mob grew.  Authorities organized a hasty court-martial and firing
squad.  Modern lore has it that he was given a chance to run, and was shot
trying to scramble out of Panteon No. 1, Tijuana's first cemetery.  Some
say his dying words were salty curses for his executioners.

Defenders of Juan Soldado say the real killer was transferred to a
Chihuahua base, where a number of child molestation cases soon were
reported.  The little girl's grave, down the street in Panteon No. 2, is
seldom visited cemetery workers say.