Tired of Begging: Devotion to La Santa Muerte in Mexico City
2020 Student Media Grant Program
Rodrigo Salido is a Doctoral Student in the Department of History (expected graduation 2024) at The University of
Texas at Austin.
Project Website: www.rsmoulinie.com/santamuerte
Santa Muerte is
a Mexican folk saint, “canonized” by no one, but a Saint still. She emerged as
a popular figure in Mexico City at the beginning of the twenty-first century
and became mainstream during the security crisis in Mexico that started in
2007. Santa Muerte, or “Saint Death,” rapidly became a patron for people living
on the edge of life and death in violent contexts—a protector of the dispossessed
and marginalized groups: sexual workers, soldiers, policemen, smugglers, drug-traffickers,
cancer patients without insurance. In a world where violence and shameless
inequality are the norm, Santa Muerte is seen as an equalizer. “It doesn’t
matter how rich or powerful you are,” a devotee told me, “she will take us
anyway.” Represented as a white female skeleton dressed in fabrics of different
colors, her image appears suddenly in many corners of Mexico City: street
altars, small figures, tattooed skins, home-made shrines, she appears printed on
handguns and candles. But her troubling image and the lifestyles of some infamous
believers (such as high-profile drug-traffickers and criminals) contributed to
the stigmatization of her devotees: they are all seen as narcos. The Mexican
government’s tendency to dehumanize all people involved in drug-trafficking is
evident in speeches and announcement decrying victims of the Drug War as traitors,
cockroaches, and animals. This national narrative has propelled stigma towards
Santa Muerte devotees, instilling fear and discrimination.
this project, Rodrigo intends to photograph believers of Santa Muerte. He will depict these poorly understood objects and spaces of devotion: the statuettes,
the ink on their skins, the public shrines and paintings. Tired of Begging will use Santa Muerte as a common thread to connect a diverse set of stories of
conflict, violence, displacement, poverty and urban marginalization. Rather
than framing her as merely a narco-saint (as the Mexican and US media
and security agencies usually do), these intimate portraits will highlight the
wide range of uncertainties, conflicts, and policy outcomes that give Santa
Muerte her power and allure.
Blogs and more Santa Muerte photography will be available soon, as Rodrigo is completing his SMGP project in Mexico City.