I just came across this 3 year old article by John Nova Lomax while doing some research. It is interesting to me that such a deeply Catholic, deeply religious culture as Mexico’s can breed such notoriously vicious criminals as the narco-traficantes seem to be. Having spent a fair amount of time in Mexico, I find it quite puzzling and inconsistent with the Mexicans I know. Have these men lost their faith? Or has their faith and its focus of the black and white of good and evil and irredeemable sin actually contributed to the utter darkness of their deeds?
The Latino bad boys are still deeply religious, in their own way. I first noticed this when traveling in the American Southwest. There the low-riders and bikers cover their bodies and their vehicles with religious imagery. One tough with a tattoo of a crucified Jesus on his chest with a jagged scar running through the center of it said he told the heart surgeon that if he couldn’t knit the image back together again, to just let him die.
by Philip Greenspun, 1997
by Philip Greenspun, 1997
Lowrider car from Chimayo
Lowrider car from Chimayo
Tattoo by Elijah Pashby Holy Tattoo
Tattoo by Elijah Pashby Holy Tattoo
What follows is the article by John Lomax, I have added the photographs. 
Santa Muerte

Santa Muerte is not the only object of supernatural devotion in the drug trade. Far from it. In fact, she’s something of a Johnny-come-lately in Mexican folk religion, and for as long as there have been smugglers in the borderlands, people have prayed to a litany of saints, some authorized by the Catholic Church (even if the supplicant’s intentions are not) and others granted unearthly powers by the people themselves.

Divine Moon
Divine Moon

Some of these figures are true “Narco-Saints,” forthright patrons of illegal acts. Others are simply saints that narcos pray to, holy figures asked to intercede in unholy doings. Even Jesus and Mary are not considered beyond the pale.

Folk saint

Malverde was a legendary bandit-king from remote, mountainous Sinaloa state. If Kansas is “America’s Breadbasket,” Sinaloa is “Mexico’s Pot Sack,” so closely and for so long has it been associated with the drug trade and narcocultura. Malverde’s tale has Robin Hood-like qualities: It is said he stole only from the rich and gave to the poor. Legend has it that he was killed by the police on May 3, 1909, though stories vary on whether he was shot or hanged. Since then, he has become the non-approved patron saint of drug dealers, bandits and outlaws. A Mexican rapper performs under his name, and he has spawned a trilogy of drug-drenched action adventures with names like Jesús Malverde II: La Mafia de Sinaloa and Jesús Malverde III: Infierno en Los Angeles.

As with Santa Muerte, Malverde devotees petition him for miracles and many botánicas carry a full line of Malverde products: candles, statues, soaps, and prayer cards and the like. He, too, has made a cameo in Breaking Bad, and a Guadalajara brewery recently introduced Malverde beer to Sinaloa. “J.G.” Garza, a 20-year veteran of the Houston Police Department’s Narcotics Division, says this handsome, mustachioed old-school patron of the drug trade, usually depicted wearing a neckerchief and sporting a pistol charm on a gold necklace, is still hanging in there, despite the advent of Santa Muerte.

Earlier this year, a federal judge in New Mexico ruled that Malverde paraphernalia could be used as evidence for the prosecution in drug cases.

San Ramón Nonato

(Saint Raymond Nonnatus)

Official saint

Born in Catalonia in 1204, San Ramón headed the Mercederians, an order founded to ransom Christians kidnapped by the North African Moors. Near the end of his life, San Ramón himself was taken prisoner, and he continued preaching the gospel to his Muslim captors. This had dire consequences: According to tradition, the Moors drove hot spikes through his lips and then padlocked shut Ramón’s mouth. Only then was the priest rescued by his order, just in time for him to die a martyr, albeit among friends, in 1240.

And that was how San Ramón became the patron of the secrecy of the confessional, of priests keeping their mouths shut. In narco culture, that secrecy is extended to more secular arenas. Namely, police interview rooms and witness boxes at the courthouse. “If you get arrested, you’re gonna pray to this saint hoping that your witness or whoever is gonna testify against you will be silent and keep the secret of your dirty deed,” says Garza. Petitioners sometimes offer padlocks at San Ramón’s altar or place tape across his mouth.

Juan el Soldado

(Soldier John)
Folk saint

A young Mexican army private convicted of raping and murdering an eight-year-old girl while stationed in Tijuana in 1938, Juan el Soldado was executed after a court-martial. (This sounds legendary, but it was true: The army used la ley fuga (the law of flight), wherein Juan was turned loose in a cemetery and told to flee while a firing squad took potshots at him. If he made it out of the graveyard, he was to be set free. That was not his good fortune.)

After his death, many of the poor in Tijuana began declaring Juan’s innocence. The cry went out that Juan’s commanding officer had actually committed the crime and pinned it on poor, ignorant Juan. People swore they saw blood seeping from Juan’s grave and heard his voice echoing around the cemetery on dark nights. A chapel soon went up, and his cult has only grown since, especially in western Mexico, California and Arizona. (Garza says he’s seen him here fairly frequently as well.) Juan el Soldado has become the unofficial patron of illegal aliens, the falsely accused and safe border crossings, some of which involve drug smuggling.

San Judas Tadeo


Photo: Joanne Bretzer

(Saint Jude Thaddeus, or Saint Jude the Apostle)

Official saint

The patron of lost causes is wildly popular among Mexico’s marginal youth, and of the official canonized saints, Jude likely has the most popularity in the drug trade. Many of those who engage in smuggling come from poor backgrounds and there are frequent catastrophes requiring urgent prayers to the patron of desperation. Earlier this year, ICE agents found 233 pounds of marijuana stuffed inside two plaster Saint Jude statues at the Reynosa-Hidalgo-McAllen international bridge. Devout Catholics were not amused, and the fact that many of Saint Jude’s followers pray to him for assistance in criminal enterprises is seen as even more of an outrage than asking the same thing of folk saints such as Jesús Malverde or Santa Muerte.

Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe

(Our Lady of Guadalupe)

Official saint

This Nahuatl-speaking Virgin Mary miraculously appeared to the peasant Juan Diego during the Feast of the Immaculate Conception in 1531. That miracle helped fuse Spanish and native Mexican beliefs, and her mestizo-looking icon is now one of Mexico’s national symbols. Garza says she is known as a patron of forgiveness, so he occasionally sees her altars in the homes of regretful suspects. Narcos know better than to ask her for criminal favors; for those, they turn most often to Santa Muerte or Jesús Malverde.

Santo Nino de Atoche


(Holy Child of Atocha)
Official saint

Like San Ramón, the Holy Child of Atocha’s roots Moorish Spain. There in the city of Atocha, all the adult men were held captive by the Moors, and only young children were allowed to bring them food and water. A mysterious child wearing what Garza describes as “Little Dutch boy” clothes appeared with a seemingly inexhaustible supply, and the faithful soon noticed that the shoes on a statue of the Christ child at the local church were dirty and tattered. They believed that mysterious boy was Christ Himself leaving his perch at the church nightly on his missions of mercy.

Centuries later, the Holy Child appeared in the Mexican state of Zacatecas, where he performed a similar miracle to aid trapped silver miners.

Today the Holy Child is the patron of prisoners and travelers, both of whom are plentiful in the drug trade.

Some of the Holy Child’s significance in narcocultura is geographical: He is also the patron of Zacatecas, a much-contested frontline between Mexico’s drug cartels, and Arellano points out that Chimayó, New Mexico, the site of the Holy Child’s most prominent North American shrine, is also known as the “Heroin Capital of the Southwest,” with much of the supply of the Mexican black tar variety.

The shrine was not created to aid this trade. Around 1940, the army stationed many New Mexicans in the Philippines because of their facility with Spanish, and hundreds were taken prisoner by the Japanese. While captive, many prayed to the Holy Child, and those who survived built the shrine on their return.

Hiraeth: Homesickness for a Place that Doesn’t Exist. ~ Jillian Locke

I came across this word the other day, and I think it describes my mood pretty well.

For years I’ve been nervous about returning to Seattle, a place where I lived the longest, went to school, and raised my children. The place resonates in my memory in a tangled web of emotions and attachments. My dreams of Seattle have architecture and geography, as well as a rotating cast. They are full of unfinished business – classes not taught, courses missed, incomplete work haunting me. Returning there meant giving waking memory to those taunting dreams. I even considered sabotaging my own trip, finding an excuse to not go.


The Seattle of my dreams, with its memory-skewed architecture and geography, gone. Nothing resonated. To walk across the campus, through the rooms of my classes and the halls of my professors, even to see my old office, touched nothing. The real structures of my reality there had been eclipsed by my dreamscape – that was my Seattle. The grittiness of the city, once exemplified by the Pike Place Market, was now a sanitized marketable version of itself. This simulacrum steeped in the financial excesses of the 21st century relieved my anxiety – I could never muster nostalgia or longing for this place.


I wondered if my dreams of Seattle would end, but no. The unfinished business will still haunt me, but not in the same way, and not so much in my waking hours. It was a door closed, this part of my past.

Though the place has lost most of its hold on me, the important part, the people, hadn’t. I met up with friends I hadn’t seen for years, and found that they were even more precious to me. A four day weekend with a couple of my dearest friends was spent not in Seattle proper, but in a southern suburb, amidst an acre of garden crammed into a postage stamp yard. We slept and ate and drank, played with the dogs and argued philosophy and politics. Another evening was spent with two brothers and their wives. The guys had played at my wedding back 40 years ago, on a river in Alaska. Their wives were also long-time friends. We ate paella around a bonfire in their rural Alaskan back yard, in the heart of Seattle, overlooking the water and the Olympic mountains. I met my daughter’s new mate and his daughter and ate in their overcrowded newly merged kitchen, amidst cats and pots and pans. I ate tacos and drank beer in the embourgeoised fisherman’s neighborhood of  Ballard, and gossiped about other old friends.


The place of my homesick dreams, 1980-1990s Seattle, no longer is there. It doesn’t exist any longer in a way that resonates with me. The relationships that converge there do, even stronger than before for their winnowed numbers. I can now visit there without fear of stirring the painful mud of the past.

Source: Hiraeth: Homesickness for a Place that Doesn’t Exist. ~ Jillian Locke | elephant journal

Halloween In Australia Is Becoming Increasingly Popular


The commercialization of everything continues, as Australia adopts one of the quintessential northern hemisphere traditions.

Is there a great demand, in the midst of spring blossoms and the annual celebration of life epitomized in the north by May Day flowers, for a celebration of death? Aside from the obvious case of Easter, which embraces symbols of both death and springtime, spring is a reason to rejoice for having gotten through the winter and for packing away the skis and pulling out the bicycles.

Halloween is a dark holiday, with spooks and goblins and headless men riding horses. ‘Halloween originated as a “pagan festival celebrating the end of harvest” whereby “the idea of carving turnips was a practice to celebrate the end of season, but also to ward off the spirits that came with that.”‘ Evil spirits and things that jump out at you in the dark.

But days are getting longer and warmer in Australia. The spookiest thing that may jump at you is a shark, while you are enjoying late spring/early summer at the beach. A person has to interrupt their BBQ to greet trick or treaters at the door. Pumpkins are decidedly out of season.

So, Halloween should make no sense. Well, unless you are in the “Hallmark Card” school of marketing. Halloween is the ultimate market-created holiday here. It has been completely commercialized in the north, so now, in a global universe where all products are transferable, it has been brought to the sunny southern hemisphere. Where it makes as much sense as Christmas trees in the Australian equivalent of July, but that is yet another kvetch for another time, soon.

The Australian version of Safeway, Woolworths, reports “Halloween-themed produce is increasing in sales from year to year. We are seeing more and more of our customers embrace Halloween. Given the growing interest we’ve reviewed and extended our range of Halloween themed products to cater for the increasing demand,” Amanda Lunn, Woolworths merchandise manger, told HuffPost Australia.”

One suggestion: We will give you a break on Halloween, if you will replace Cup Day with it. “Melbourne Cup Day is Australia’s best known horse racing event held on the first Tuesday of November every year. It is an annual public holiday in the state of Victoria. This event is popularly dubbed as “the race that stops the nation”.” A day to celebrate the painful exploitation of horses replaced by one that celebrates a headless horseman may be a good trade. Deal?

The Dead Can Dance


Mariarchi bands, guitarists, and occasional lone singers, float joyful and doleful tunes across the field of high stacked graves, trays of steaming tamales and variously clad celebrants. A line of observers wends silently through, over a rough boardwalk recently erected, some dropping a tear or a flower, greeting an old friend, stopping the procession to linger at the final resting spot of their abuela or tia. Bordering the ancient burial grounds a festival has grown up, mushroom like, over the previous few days. Gifts, crafts, food and pulque, and even entertainment for children. This is a fiesta, a feast day, or days, it is Dia de los Muertes [Day of the Dead], in Tepoztlan, the 3500 year old birthplace of Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent god, and home of a grand cathedral and many churches.

Here is a place to witness the thousands of years of cultural collision that epitomizes the Americas.



DSC06440 (1)

Bangladeshi Chittigong Hilltribe Women

The following article was written by one of my former students. If this is what they are doing as undergraduates, I have a lot of confidence in their futures. Please share and help get this important story out:

Chittagong Hill Tracts: Indigenous Women Targets of Sexual Violence

-The human rights violation on indigenous women and girls in Bangladesh has turned into a matter of grave concern over the years. The indigenous women mainly include the ones living in Chittagong Hill Tracts area (CHT). According to a report by Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) on 31st January 2015, Bangladesh Indigenous Women’s Network (BIWN) organized a press conference to share the situation of violence against indigenous women in Bangladesh reported in 2014 at roundtable hall of Dhaka Reporters Unity. The press statement reads violence against indigenous women has increased in the recent years.

UNPO’s article also mentions that in 2013 the number of violence against indigenous women was 45 among which 32 were in Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) and 13 were in the plain land In 2014, it increased to 75. Among the total reported violence in 2014, most cases of women have been sexually and physically abused. They were the victim of rape, gang rape, harassment and also kidnapping. The tragedy is that mostly adolescent girls from ethnic minor groups, belonging to the age group of 12 to 19 become prey to violence. Moreover, most of the perpetrators of these incidents allegedly belong to Bengali settler community and were influential members of mainstream population.

According to the report of Kapaeeng Foundation, almost 12% victims of sexual violence in 2014 are among from indigenous peoples who possess around 2.0% population of total population of the country. On the contrary, 88% victims of sexual violence are among from mainstream Bengali people who possess 98.0% population of the country.Being in the ethnic minority groups of Bangladesh, people of CHT areas are also becoming the victim of statelessness.

One of the main objectives to commit sexual violence is to create tension among the indigenous people in order to uproot them from ancestral lands and grab their land illegally. Therefore, to improve the current situation of indigenous women, (BIWN) proposed some rules to take effective initiatives to stop violence against indigenous women and children. The rules include mainly the following:

  1. To punish the perpetrators of violence against indigenous women and children
  2. To provide adequate legal aid, medical support, counseling and compensation to the victim.
  1. To form a separate land commission for the indigenous peoples of the plains to recover the dispossessed ancestral lands of the indigenous peoples.
  1. To implement the UPR (Universal Periodic Review) recommendations – elimination of violence against women and end culture of impunity that was promised by the government of Bangladesh during the 2nd circle of UPR in 2013.

These recommendations by BIWN if gets approval by the government will play active role in minimizing sexual violence in Bangladesh. The punishment for the perpetrators can be useful to reduce such brutality and the counseling programs can help women to build up their confidence level. It is now in the hands of the government to take initiatives on the basis of these recommendations.

By: Marjan Akhter

Indigenous People’s Day: The Rarámuri Indians

These are the indigenous people of northern Mexico generally known by the Colonial name of Tarahumara. I’m traveling here now, and have wanted more information about them and how to respect their culture. 3 Amigos Tours has provided the following introduction:

The Rarámuri Indians of Copper Canyon, lead gentle lives in a chaotic world. Learn about their culture and history through The 3 Amigos.

The Raramuri (Ra-RA-mu-ree)are a gentle tribe of Indians that have lived in the Upper Sierra for over 10,000 years now.

We shall endeavor to give you some basic information here to help you understand and, hopefully,not misinterpret this culture of gentle and self-sufficient beings.

Tarahumara is not necessarily a correct term

It can be considered a derogatory word. The first mention of the “Tarahumara” term was by a Jesuit missionary named Juan Font in 1608 in a letter as Tarahomaros. Tourism offices all over the world have unfortunately picked up the word ‘Tarahumara’ and now use it to refer to the Raramuri Indians. However, we think it important to let you know that they prefer to call themselves the ‘Rarámuri’ and we like to encourage people to do the same out of respect.

Raramuri Indians

Many Rarámuri are so use to the word “Tarahumara” now that they might even use it themselves. The best way to explain this is by using an analogy with the word “Gringo”. This word is also derogatory in its origin and was once used to describe all people who were not from Mexico and who didn’t understand the culture of the area. It’s meaning was to imply stupidity or ignorance.

This word has certainly evolved over the years to mean mostly “American” now, for reasons unknown, but it was never meant to describe people from any one country. Many people around the world now use this term to refer to themselves, without knowing that the word is not the nicest word to use. The word “Tarahumara” is the same. It is not meant to be derogatory now-a-days either and is used even by many Tourism Departments to describe the Sierra Madre area, as well as many Rarámuri themselves who have grown accustomed to the word, however, it must be noted that it is still incorrect and we want to encourage our visitors to call the indigenous people of the area by their correct name.

Understanding the Rarámuri

The Rarámuri are believed to be the purest and best preserved ethnic group on the entire American continent. Their culture and spiritual values are a result of thousands of years of struggle, which has filled them with an intensity for life and a sense of harmony in human relations and in their relationship with nature, the likes of which our modern society, with all of its technological advancement, has been unable to understand or attain.

Raramuri Indians during Semana Santa

Many of the current Rarámuri traditions are based on their application of what they learned from Jesuit missionaries during 150 years of colonial rule. Expelled from the order in 1776, the Rarámuri reinterpreted Christianity and cast the symbols and rites in their own molds, disregarding that which held no meaning for them and preserving and adapting the rest in accord with their own cultural symbols.

Among the most deeply rooted traditions is that of living in dispersed communities and sowing seasonal crops, especially corn. The corn is essential to life to the Raramuri. There is nothing without it. The corn is harvested to make tesguino, their ceremonial drink of choice. The tesguino is ingested in celebration to bring the rains which grow the corn. The corn grows because the tesguino was used to bring the rains…it is their circle of life.


Indian runner feet

The Rarámuri produce an ample selection of handicrafts in various different areas of the Sierra. They are famous for being long distance runners, due to the fact that some of their most important games are the ball race among the men, or Rarajipari, and the game in which the women hurl hoops or rings, known as Rowema. These races are run by teams and cover distances of more than 100 kilometers. The longest race in contemporary memory was one that went on for 750 kilometers.

In keeping with their vision of the cosmos, the Rarámuri consider themselves an integral part of the earth on which they live, of nature, and of the universe. For them, the earth is life itself. They value people more than things and respect for human beings is essential in their culture. Sharing is the basis of their social life and much of their work is done communally. According to their philosophy, God is the Onoruame, both father and mother. The spiritual guides and doctors are the Owuruames, who possess a high degree of authority and influence. For the Rarámuri, the dance is the prayer and it is in this way that they communicate with God.

Indian hands making tortillas

The Rarámuri are the conscience of the Sierra. They are not objects for tourists to observe as they travel through the mountains, but a people that seek to live in accord with it’s own traditions and concepts. Get to know them directly. Respect them and learn about all the positive aspects of their culture, which will surely enrich us all.

Best way to help the Rarámuri:

We must caution those who wish to “help” the Rarámuri, that these people are not in dire need of anything. They are self sufficient, proudly independent and completely capable of taking care of themselves without the interference offered by those who would like to see them progressing in a way that isn’t in line with their own culture or traditions.

If you feel you must help them in some way, please do so with the understanding that you should help them in a way that THEY need, not in the ways that you THINK they need.

By this we mean;

1.) Don’t bring second hand American clothing to them. This only helps to obliterate their own culture. Instead, come to Creel and buy them the beautiful colored cloth that they prefer in 10 meter lengths so that they can sew their own traditional clothing from it. Shoes and socks that they prefer to wear can also be purchased here and used for donations and this will help the economy of Creel as well.

2.) School supplies are lovely but not all Rarámuri attend schools or wish to. There are also HUNDREDS of organizations that visit many of the closest communities yearly to bring them these things. Instead, why not visit a particular area where Rarámuri gather and ask them what they would benefit from most? “Dispensas”, or Care Packages are invaluable to them and you can buy all you need for these in Creel as well.

Matachines Dancing

A great Dispensa will include: Dried beans, dried rice, cornmeal, flour, lard, salt, coffee, tea, sugar and perhaps some cookies for the kids.

3.) Don’t assume that all Rarámuri need or want your help. Instead, go to outlying Rarámuri ejidos rather than the ones near the main towns (these get so much “help” that they can’t seem to remember how to take care of themselves anymore) and ask if you can bring them anything specific or just take Dispensas and cloth for all. The area around large towns have become saturated with “good will workers” and help from abroad. Why not try to find some villages that are so far out that no one is “helping” them? We can offer you suggestions for this if you but ask us.


And lastly, please keep in mind that there are very poor Mexicans here as well who would benefit enormously from any help you would like to provide and they would certainly like to see their lives improved in ways that we will all agree with. While some of the Rarámuri do receive a lot of  aid each year, the local poor Mexican families don’t receive any help, with the exception of  a bit from the government every now and then. There is a Rarámuri orphanage in Creel in great need of assistance too. Please ask us for any other information you might need in locating persons or communities in need of a bit of help.

If you’d like to do a private and customized Copper Canyon trip that includes all hotels, train tickets, tours and transfers, please visit our other company website, Amigo Trails. 

Source: The Rarámuri Indians

A School in Roseburg, a Hospital in Kunduz

A culture of violence. It is that as much as the guns that are its expression. And, I would add, it is the corporate war machine that arms the wars abroad and at home.

Melting-Pot Dharma

What’s the difference between a community college in Roseburg, Oregon, and a Doctors Without Borders trauma hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan? Sounds like the first line of a joke, but it’s serious. Deadly serious.

You have heard by now that, in Roseburg, a student took six guns to class with him and killed nine others and himself; in Kunduz, a U.S. airstrike directly on the hospital killed 22 people, including 12 staff members.

President Obama and many others have cried out in anguish about the school shootings. Why haven’t we learned from this phenomenon that keeps repeating? Why don’t we pass stricter gun laws? Although I agree with the call for more gun controls,I don’t see guns as the root of the problem.

Old Used Boots Iraq WarThe root of the problem may be related to the reaction in the United States to the hospital massacre. Reaction? What reaction? Have you heard any anguished cries from the…

View original post 287 more words