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MEXICO: Anti-religious art - the future of religion in Mexico



Artists are desperate for applause and they will resort to any device to get attention. This explains many Paris phenomena: new dresses for women made by "la haute couture", whose practitioners. get international fame and fortune for their often grotesque novelties. All the artistic -isms which flourished in Paris before World War I were essentially attention-getting devices. The aim was to "épater la bourgeoisie", to shock the bourgeois. Unfortunately Spanish artists were caught in the craze. José María Sert, a great artist, was one of those who kept their sanity.

Shocking the bourgeois was too tame, so now the game is to shock the pious by making fun of the sacred. Some people think it was started by Jews. The notorious picture of Christ , let us say urinating, paved the way for the Brooklyn Museum's notorious showing of a picture of the Madonna in dung. Mayor Giuliani, a Catholic, threatened to cut off the city subsidy to the Museum, but the court decided that this would violate freedom of expression. The publicity boosted attendance at the Museum, which scheduled more of the same.

Probably this triggered the ridiculing of the Virgen de Guadalupe, sacred even to Mexican non-believers. She is traditionally depicted in a symbolic almond-shaped wreath. A painting showng her as a modern pop star received the expected notoriety.. How this started is not clear. It offended among others the pious of New Mexico and Arizona, who organized a protest, giving it more unwarranted publicity. Yesterday I searched for information on my emeritus colleague, Aurelio M. Espinosa, Jr., about whom I received an inquiry from a Spanish scholar familiar with his research. Aurelio was named after his father, a New Mexican from an obscure willage who rose to become chairmen of Stanford's Department of Romanic Languages. I recently proposed unsuccessfully that, in his honor, Stanford's Zapata House be given his name. The Espinosas are possibly the most deeply Catholic family I have ever known.

I consulted the section on the Department of Spanish and Portuguese in Stanford's Home Page. In it faculty members are listed under "Research". Being emeritus, Aurelio rated only a listing of him name, whereas assistant professors get a full biographical entry. Stanford claims to be on the cutting edge. Apparently this means cutting out the emeriti. My attention was called to the art at the top of the department's section. It shows the Virgen de Guadalupe dressed like a basball player throwing a ball, or perhaps a jai-alai player. From the Espinosas to that. It reminds me of a visit long ago to La Isleta Mission in New Mexico. It was Christmas The old Indians were celebrating it with their traditional solemn ceremonies. As the back of the Church stood the youg folk. drinking cokes and laughing.

This brings up the whole question of religion in Mexico. We posted a piece by Elias Castillo, a Mexican, attributing the misery of the Mexican people to the Catholic Church, but `praising priests who discourage the Mexican custom of throwing parties on their daughters' fifteenth birthday. Several messages were received disagreeing with his attack, some from non-practicing Mexicans. Tim Brown justified the parties given for 15-year old girls, describing with pride the one he gave for his own daughter. However, the objection is not to the parties but to their extravagance. A Mexican gangster has just been arrested for giving an expensive one for his daughter, the highlight being acts of prostitution. What does he think of the Virgen de Guadalupe, and what does she think of him?

What is the future of religion in Mexico?

Ronald Hilton - 4/29/01


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