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Santa Muerte: The rise of Mexico’s folk saint of death

October 31, 2017

Father Daniel Santana’s Mass at the Santa Muerte temple follows traditional Catholic patterns.

With readings, hymns and communion, Daniel Santana’s Sunday service could pass for a traditional Catholic Mass, if it were not for the cloaked skeletons and skulls that surround him.

The ceremony takes place at a modest temple to Santa Muerte, the Mexican folk saint of death, in a rundown area of Guadalajara, the nation’s second biggest city.

Despite a reputation as a death cult for criminals and drug traffickers, Santa Muerte has surged in popularity and taken on an increasingly prominent and polemic role in the Day of the Dead festivities held every 1 and 2 November.

Santa Muerte is popular among marginalised groups like migrants and the LGBT community.

Also known as the Bony Lady, the followers of Santa Muerte say her appeal lies in her non-judgemental nature and her supposed ability to grant wishes in return for pledges or offerings.

“It’s a widely misunderstood faith. It’s not a satanic Mass,” says Mr Santana, a lifelong devotee who has officiated at Santa Muerte temples across Mexico since 2010.

“She gives people what they want and when they finish their cycle of life here on earth she comes for their souls,” Mr Santana adds. “She’s just fulfilling God’s orders.”

A Santa Muerte devotee since she was a child, Isabel asked the priest to bless her unborn daughter.

Reclaiming the Day of the Dead

According to Andrew Chesnut, author of Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint, this is the fastest growing religion in the Americas, with an estimated 10 to 12 million followers worldwide.

Mr Chesnut says more and more devotees have started incorporating Santa Muerte into Day of the Dead celebrations over the past five years.

Although many Mexicans see no connection between the two, both are thought to stem from Mictecacihuatl, an Aztec goddess who presided over a festival of death every August…

Click here to read this feature in full at the BBC

 

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Mexican comedian brings stand-up to female prisoners

October 19, 2017

Sofía Niño de Rivera in a standup workshop behind bars (photo by Yara Cavazos)

Best known for her Netflix shows and stand-up tours, Sofía Niño de Rivera is one of Latin America’s leading comedians.

The 35-year-old from Mexico City has long been making audiences laugh, but she recently embarked on a more serious mission: supporting vulnerable women in Mexico’s notoriously dangerous prisons.

In a bid to help female inmates overcome frustration and depression, Sofía gave 10 stand-up workshops in the Mexican capital’s vast Santa Martha Acatitla penitentiary over the summer.

The project came about after her cousin, Saskia Niño de Rivera, asked her to do a benefit gig to raise funds for Reinserta, a charity she runs to improve conditions in Mexican jails.

The comedian accepted but wanted to do more than just raise money. They agreed that stand-up workshops could help inmates to use comedy as an emotional release for the benefit of their mental health…

Click here to read this feature at the BBC

Years of corruption revealed in Mexico’s quake aftermath

October 13, 2017

I recorded the voiceover for the English version of this France 24 news report on the role that corruption played in the recent earthquake damage in Mexico City. 

Outrage greets Mexican feminism panel with 11 participants – all of them male

October 3, 2017

When a pink flyer promoting a feminism conference at Mexico’s biggest university was posted on social media this week, it did not take long before people noticed something was amiss.

The lineup featured two panels with 11 participants – and all of them were male. It was, as one woman tweeted, the graphic description of “mansplaining”.

The lopsided lineup provoked outrage on Twitter, reigniting debate about the representation of women in Mexican society and the role of men in feminist movements in a deeply machista country where seven women are murdered every day.

“What’s next? A conference on racism with only white people?” asked another Twitter user…

Click here to read this article in full at The Guardian

Viva México podcast Episode 9: Raised Fists and Rubble

October 2, 2017

In episode 9 of the Viva México podcast we discuss the impact of the devastating earthquake that killed over 300 people in Mexico last month. We also speak to Susana Ochoa, a local activist and congressional candidate, about the response to the earthquake, the importance of feminism in Mexican politics, and the growth of the grassroots Wikipolítica movement.

If you want to help the victims of Mexico’s earthquake, please donate to this initiative organised by Mexican actors Diego Luna and Gael García Bernal, or to the Cruz Roja, Mexico’s Red Cross.

 

How the disappearance of 43 students changed Mexican politics forever

October 2, 2017

Tens of thousands of Mexicans have marched to protest the disappearance of the students

In the summer of 2014 it seemed like Mexico’s handsome young president Enrique Peña Nieto could do no wrong. Two years into his term, Peña Nieto had passed major structural reforms, overseen declining levels of narco violence, and imprisoned Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, Mexico’s most wanted kingpin.

Time magazine hailed him on its cover as “Saving Mexico,” but when a group of students arrived in the town of Iguala in southern Guerrero state in late September that year, it ignited a chain of events that would tear this narrative to shreds.

Moments after boarding buses headed for Mexico City, the students from the all-male Ayotzinapa teachers’ college were ambushed by police gunmen. Six people were killed, including one student whose face was flayed; dozens were wounded; and 43 young men were driven away in patrol cars, never to be seen again. Three years later, the students remain missing and Mexico’s presidency and its politics have never been the same.

Municipal, state, and federal officers were implicated in the coordinated and sustained attacks, along with soldiers who observed the action and threatened a group of survivors. It was one of the worst crimes in recent Mexican history, but the government was slow to react and its eventual investigation was riddled with glaring holes and confounding contradictions.

 Peña Nieto had presented himself as the fresh face of a modern and open Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), but his cold and detached handling of the investigation brought to mind the party’s more authoritarian tendencies during its uninterrupted 71-year reign last century.

The president was criticized for waiting a month before meeting with the missing students’ parents and for refusing to investigate the role of the army, fueling widespread suspicion that a cover-up was underway.

His reputation never recovered…

Click here to read this article in full at VICE News

Parents of Mexico’s 43 missing students take matters into their own hands

September 26, 2017

A 3D rendering from research firm Forensic Architecture shows the exact location of the military intelligence officer who observed the attack on a busload of students.

Mario González hoped the Ayotzinapa teacher training college in southern Guerrero state would provide his 22-year-old son César with a pathway out of poverty. But César was robbed of any future when police officers forcefully disappeared him and 42 male classmates on a hellish September night three years ago in the town of Iguala.

Alerted to the incident by one of César’s friends, Gónzalez, a 52-year-old welder from central Tlaxcala state, arrived in Iguala the next morning, but it was too late. The missing students had last been seen packed in patrol cars after a series of ambushes in which police killed six civilians and wounded dozens more.

Three years after the attacks, González is still trying to find his son and bring the culprits to justice. But the Mexican government’s widely discredited investigation has stalled, leaving unanswered questions over the level of state involvement in the crime, and robbing parents and survivors of any sense of closure.

Forced disappearances are not uncommon in Mexico, where over 32,000 people are currently missing, but Ayotzinapa captured the public’s attention more than any other due to the brutal, calculated manner in which the students were vanished, and the government’s inability to find them.

“All 43 families still feel the same pain as if our children had been taken from us yesterday,” González says. “We’re still determined to search for them, find them, and embrace them.”

Click here to read this article in full at VICE News