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 traffickers. 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.