“Santísima Muerte, Vístete de Negro, Santísima Muerte, Vístete de Blanco”: La Santa Muerte’s Illegal Marginalizations
Author(s)Desirée A. Martín
religious cultural practices
popular religion in Mexico
Religions. Mythology. Rationalism
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AbstractLa Santísima Muerte, the death saint patron of the marginalized and dispossessed in Mexico, the United States, and beyond, is especially favored by devotees who identify with her duality between dark and light, and good and evil. Most of Santa Muerte’s devotees understand that good and evil coexist in her, and they often simultaneously appeal to both. At the same time, illegality and marginalization, which are generally associated with the saint’s “dark” or “evil” sides, take on multiple, diverse forms, encompassing criminalized activity such as narcotrafficking, religious transgressions that reflect unorthodox spiritual practices such as witchcraft, and most contentiously of all, the very conditions of poverty and racialization in Mexico. Nevertheless, cultural representations of Santa Muerte often resist such diversity and persist in opposing her dark and light sides. Films such as Eva Aridjis’s La Santa Muerte and Pável Valenzuela Arámburo’s La Santísima Muerte aim to represent all Santa Muerte in all of her multiplicity and to correct stereotypical representations of the death saint in general. But perhaps inadvertently, Aridjis’s film reinforces the contrast, rather than the intersections, between “light” and “dark”. However, in La Santísima Muerte, Valenzuela Arámburo deliberately embraces the saint’s contradictory duality to provide a different perspective on illegality and criminality, simultaneously accepting such illegality as a dark menace in the vein of Santa Muerte’s typical detractors, and rearticulating it as a necessary aspect of the saint’s holy works. Valenzuela Arámburo’s film not only emphasizes that the very same devotees invoke Santa Muerte for her powers of “good” as well as for those of “evil”, it demonstrates that these devotees incorporate the saint’s dark side as they see fit not as a consequence of their marginalized status, but as a means to resist it. Thus, while both films underscore that marginalized populations are just as nuanced and contradictory as their patroness of death is, Valenzuela Arámburo’s film grounds itself in Santa Muerte’s duality in order to demonstrate how her seemingly contradictory aspects construct and shape each other. As such, the film combats the representation of marginalization and criminality in Mexico and beyond, highlighting the extent to which her devotees appeal to both her dark and light sides precisely because they are simultaneously victims of marginalization and agents of resistance.