A Chicana Hagiography for the Twenty-first Century

Ana Castillo’s Locas Santas
  • Rita Cano Alcalá
Part of the New Directions in Latino American Cultures book series (NDLAC)


In many ways it is no surprise that a novel set in a small town in the Sangre de Cristo mountains of New Mexico—where penitent brothers and miracle-seeking pilgrims visit the sacred grounds of Chimayó—would integrate the medieval religious genre of the vidas de santos (the lives of saints). In the vidas de santos, miracles and exemplary lives were portrayed to enseñar deleitando (teach by entertaining), with one writer, Gonzalo de Berceo, being described as an intermediary between the science of the clergy and the ignorance of the masses. Rather than represent the lives of martyred saints as role models to emulate, however, Ana Castillo’s So Far from God1 calls attention to martyrdoms that must be eliminated. The novel seeks to inspire with “saintly” examples of extraordinary everyday people who struggle to improve their own and others’ lives in a turn-of-the-century milieu of illness, poverty, and war. So Far from God aims to raise consciousness, to concientizar its readers in the spirit of Castillo’s somewhat apocalyptic Massacre of the Dreamers: Essays on Xicanisma.2 At the same time, it entertains readers in a way that the essays of Massacre of the Dreamers could not. The vidas of these locas santas are related by an entertaining chismosa (gossip) in what has been described as a telenovela (soap opera) tone that, like the Spanish-inflected language and use of dichos (popular sayings), lightens their didactic overtones. So Far from God enseña deleitando and shows how humor, too, can be a tool against oppression.


Unfair Labor Practice American Dream Compulsive Gambling Moral Lesson Catholic Doctrine 
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© Alicia Gaspar de Alba 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rita Cano Alcalá

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