Timothy MATOVINA and Gary RIEBE-ESTRELLA, SVD, Editors, Horizons of the Sacred. New York: Cornell University Press. 2002. ISBN 0-8014-8822-2 (paperback).
Reviewed by Yanick St. JEAN, University of Wisconsin-Parkside, Kenosha, WI 53141-2000

Horizons of the Sacred is an inviting multidisciplinary collection of essays about Mexican American Catholics. There are three broad themes: "The challenges of understanding U.S. Catholicism in a way that more fully accounts for and embraces the presence of Mexican Americans and their religious traditions, the influence of U.S. church and society on those traditions, and the contributions that Mexican Americans and their faith expressions offer the wider church society" (2).

The book opens with a two-page preface followed by a short introduction that captures its arguments. Here, Timothy Matovina and Gary Riebe-Estrella explain that the experiences of Mexican Americans are included inaccurately under the assimilation model used for early European immigrants. Americanization does not apply because "In the wake of their incorporation into the United States, an activist Mexican laity at times accompanied by clergy asserted their Mexican Catholic heritage through collective efforts like the persistent celebration of public rituals and devotions"(3). Today these rituals persist though changed in forms, influenced by U.S. Catholicism. Mexican American religious experiences are best conceptualized as a mix, or segundo mestizaje. They blend an "indigenous heritage as well as the formative influence of Spanish and later US Catholicism" (7). A conception by parents from different traditions is complex, continuously developing, thus fluid in character.

In subsequent chapters, four traditions are discussed: Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Via Crucis, Día de Los Muertos, curanderismo. Tradition is empowerment as Mexican Americans seek justice and resist pressures to assimilate. "Companion in Exile," Timothy Matovina's chapter, is about Guadalupan devotion at San Fernando parish "during the first decades of the twentieth century, when thousands of Mexican émigrés . . . resettled in San Antonio" (17). These "commemoration[s] . . . provided a ritual arena for Mexicans and Mexican Americans to forge and celebrate an alternative world, one in which painful realities like exile and racism could be redefined and reimagined. A brown-skinned 'exile' herself, Guadalupe was a treasured companion whose faithful encountered her most intensely in the midst of the displacement, discrimination, degradation, and other difficulties they endured. Fortified by her presence, the faithful confronted their plight by symbolically proclaiming in Guadalupan devotion that exiles were the 'true' Mexicans, that despised Mexican-descent residents were a chosen people, and that devotees of la morenita were heirs to the dignity she personified" (40).

In "The Real Way of Praying," Karen Mary Davalos writes about the Via Crucis (Way of the Cross). The Via Crucis is "a public event in which Mexicanos momentarily position themselves at the center displacing a 'minority' or 'alien' status and the sanctioned racialized landscape of Chicago" (42).

Mexican Americans communicate with their dead in Lara Medina and Gilbert R. Cadena's Dias de los Muertos (Days of the Dead). "[This tradition] is a celebration that strengthens a collective historical memory as ancestors and cultural heroes/heroines are remembered and sanctified. In a society that ignores Chicanas/os as historical actors, the mere act of remembering one's ancestors carries subversive elements. In the process, a community renews itself as it gathers publicly to honor the interconnectedness of life and death" (94).

In "Soy Una Curandera y Soy Una Católica," Luis León maintains "participants in his study saw the Catholic Church as key to who they were and to who they were becoming"(117). Though the Catholic church may disapprove of that practice those who visit the curandera (healer) think she reflects the divine when returning health to the people.

Robert S. Goizueta explains the "Symbolic World of Mexican American Religion" is a sacramental world without separation between individual and community, spiritual and material, life and death. Goizueta suggests "the rich religious traditions of the Mexican American community enable us to discover that, yes, love is more important than life because love is what defines life" (138). Theirs is a world of relationships and love which generate life.

With Orlando Espin's essay, "Mexican Religious Practices, Popular Catholicism, and the Development of Doctrine," the book paints one last stroke. Espin "attempts to construct a theoretical framework within which Mexican American popular Catholicism can be understood theologically" (141). He stresses the sensus fidelium intuitions of the people in the development of methodology and theology.

The book challenges domination in American culture and shows traditions strengthening Mexican Americans against injustice. The authors are careful not to assume Catholic knowledge on the part of readers. The book is intended for classroom use, scholars, church leaders, pastoral ministers and meets its goals. Audiences may draw different benefits from it but each will be pleased, for the authors are eloquent. Ideas swarm. No review can do justice to Horizons.


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