The force of devotion : performing a transnational spirituality
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This dissertation explores the role of popular religion in a transnational community by examining the performance of devotion to local patron saints, virgin mothers and sacred crosses. Annually in May, Empalme Escobedo, Guanajuato, Mexico celebrates San Isidro Labrador (the patron saint of farmers), Maria Auxiliadora (the patroness of railroad laborers) and the Santa Cruz de Picacho (Sacred Cross of Picacho). Following the celebrations many of the male participants in the fiestas travel to Texas to work in agriculture or the service industry. Consequently, devotion to the saint(s) moves with migrants back and forth across the Mexican-U.S. border. My thesis is that the force of devotion gives voice to the tension between the desire for solidarity (experienced through fiesta performance) and the erosion of the community by migration (experienced as absence and dissolution). What I call the force of devotion refers to the social processes, expressive culture, continuity and change that make up a transnational community's system of beliefs and practices and enable folks to understand, explain or cope with everyday life. The force of devotion is the key analytic frame through which I interpret the articulations of spirituality and popular religion, impermanence and fragmentation, absence and hope. The central questions posed in this dissertation emerge from the stories folks in Empalme Escobedo tell about their lives. Consultants talk about their devotion as an expression of faith, a necessary guidance through daily life and a symbol of hope. Tracking the force of devotion exposes social relationships, emotional and intimate experiences, desires and fears. Memory of and participation in the fiestas not only symbolize the force of devotion, but also serve as a connection to separated family members and place of origin. The everyday reality of the absence of loved ones and the fragmentation of the community as a result of migration amplifies the human desire for sociability and solidarity. The fiesta performance provides a space in which the consciousness of communal boundaries is heightened, thereby confirming and strengthening the experience of the social and the force of devotion.