By MICHAEL RODRIGUEZ
Since publishing the story about the mysterious Santa Muerte statue and various followup articles, the San Benito News has received hundreds of comments through various forms of communication and media, including emails, tweets, text messages, website and Facebook comments.
We’ve also felt the wrath of self-proclaimed “brujos” and “brujas” who were offended by Dr. Antonio N. Zavaleta, a professor of anthropology at the University of Texas at Brownsville, concluding that the statue was intended to cast a deadly spell using brujeria.
Suddenly, the story ignited dialogue about religious freedoms among Wiccans, Santa Muerte devotees and other practitioners of folk religions and the occult. I observed as much after noticing our original story had been the subject of fevered debate on various blogs and news aggregation websites, including Doubtful News, which I was actually unfamiliar with until recently.
So, knowing me, I had to respond to criticism made by folks who thought we should have sought the opinion of someone else, someone such as Dr. R. Andrew Chesnut, author of Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint and the Bishop Walter Sullivan Chair in Catholic Studies at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of World Studies. Dr. Zavaleta’s comments, you see, were not accepted by many people outside the Rio Grande Valley, most of whom were followers of the aforementioned cult and folk religions.
Also, Dr. Zavaleta was not considered a credible source because he is “too Catholic to open his eyes,” as one so-called bruja charged.
As I’ve said in countless email responses and website comments, if there are those who would discredit Dr. Zavaleta’s conclusions based on his religious practice, then by the same token I should dismiss their remarks as biased. For instance, a person identifying oneself as a “bruja” would obviously be offended by Dr. Zavaleta’s theories that the statue was being used in some sort of brujeria spell to kill a person. Then again, I’d be making a presumption that would be rather unfair.
Dr. Zavaleta deserves better treatment, and so does Dr. Chesnut, for that matter. I consider both men professionals whose expert opinions are highly sought-after.
It should further be noted that the original article was not an attempt to spark an argument about religious freedoms but merely to present the concerns of a community, the actions of a city administration in response to such concerns, and the opinion of a doctor/professor/published author with expertise in this field.
What was really interesting were the theories some commenters shared on the aforementioned blogs and news aggregation websites, even criticizing people in the state of Texas for praying before football games. Without going into detail as far as what was said, I got the impression that these commenters were implying that God-fearing Texans were somehow backwards hicks.
Yet these very people are the same ones who often ask to be taken seriously.
Still, I don’t want this column to end on a bad note. I am actually quite pleased with the response we received because it’s opened the door to a dialogue that must be had, and I’d like to think the News helped open that door as a result of publicizing Dr. Zavaleta’s thoughts on this matter. It prompted the response of Dr. Chesnut, which I am equally pleased with.
Consider that there’s always going to be a difference of opinion regarding this subject; after all, Santa Muerte as a practice has long been a controversial topic in which at least one thing can be determined without a shadow of a doubt – no one can agree 100 percent on anything, not even two world-renowned experts.
Read this story in the Jan. 27 edition of the San Benito News, or subscribe to our E-Edition by clicking here.