"The face of god has changed" : Tejana cultural production and the politics of spirituality in the borderlands
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This ethnography of spirituality explores the production of cultural practices and beliefs among a group of Texas Mexican women (Tejanas) of the post-World War II generation. These women have been involved with various social justice initiatives since the 1960s and 1970s in Texas, such as the Chicana feminist and Chicano civil rights movements. This study explains how race, ethnicity, and gender intersect and interact in these women’s geographic and spiritual borderlands to produce a pattern of change in the ways they choose to engage with religion, particularly Catholicism. While the Tejana spiritual productions examined here are in many ways distinct from the religious practices of these women’s Catholic upbringings, they also recall religious rituals and traditions from their imagined, constructed, and engaged pasts. Some women have left Catholicism for other forms of spiritual fulfillment, including earth-based, indigenous, and/or Eastern religious practices, while others have remained Catholic-identified, yet altered how they practice Catholicism. A common theme in the narratives is that of spiritual agency – the conscious decision women make to reconfigure their spiritual practices and beliefs. I explore the meaning of such acts and what they indicate about the construction of spiritual and religious identities in the borderlands. I argue that because gender structures Tejana religious experiences to such a wide extent, a critical gender analysis of religious and spiritual practices will provide deeper insight into the making of Texas Mexican culture and social relations. I examine the women’s life experiences through a methodological framework I call mujerista ethnography, which draws on oral history and research methods employed by feminist, indigenous, and Chicana/o Studies scholars. In order to further illustrate how the women’s material and spiritual needs have changed so as to require new forms of spiritual engagement, I engage in a critical self-reflection of my own spiritual journey as a Tejana raised in the Catholic faith through the use of autoethnographic research methods and testimonio. I argue that these Tejanas have extended the political, feminist, and historical consciousnesses that they cultivated in Mexican American social causes into the religious and spiritual realms. For instance, these women transferred their critique of gender politics and hierarchies of power into the social setting of organized Catholicism with new spiritual practices and understandings, effectively remaking religion and subsequently engaging in processes of self-making by changing the ways they interact with Catholicism and are affected by it. Religion, as a site of social struggle for women, is political, that is, these Tejanas transformed the spiritual into a site of resistance, resolution, and reconciliation where they disrupt and challenge hierarchies of power and create strategies for healing themselves, their communities, and the earth.