Synopses & Reviews
Paul J. Vanderwood offers a fascinating look at the events, beliefs, and circumstances that have motivated popular devotion to Juan Soldado, a Mexican folk saint. In his mortal incarnation, Juan Soldado was Juan Castillo Morales, a twenty-four-year-old soldier convicted of and quickly executed for the rape and murder of eight-year-old Olga Camacho in Tijuana in 1938. Immediately after Moralesandrsquo;s death, many people began to doubt the evidence of his guilt, or at least the justice of his brutal execution. People reported seeing blood seeping from his grave and hearing his soul cry out protesting his innocence. Soon the andldquo;martyredandrdquo; Morales was known as Juan Soldado, or John the Soldier. Believing that those who have died unjustly sit closest to God, people began visiting Moralesandrsquo;s grave asking for favors. Within months of his death, the young soldier had become a popular saint. He is not recognized by the Catholic Church, yet thousands of people have made pilgrimages to his gravesite. While Juan Soldado is well known in Tijuana, southern Californiaandrsquo;s Mexican American community, and beyond, this book is the first to situate his story within a broader exploration of how and why popular canonizations such as his take root and flourish.
In addition to conducting extensive archival research, Vanderwood interviewed central actors in the events of 1938, including Olga Camachoandrsquo;s mother, citizens who rioted to demand Moralesandrsquo;s release to a lynch mob, those who witnessed his execution, and some of the earliest believers in his miraculous powers. Vanderwood also interviewed many present-day visitors to the shrine at Moralesandrsquo;s grave. He describes them, their petitionsandmdash;for favors such as health, a good marriage, or safe passage into the United Statesandmdash;and how they reconcile their belief in Juan Soldado with their Catholicism. Vanderwood puts the events of 1938 within the context of Depression-era Tijuana and he locates peopleandrsquo;s devotion, then and now, within the history of extra-institutional religious activity. In Juan Soldado, a gripping true-crime mystery opens up into a much larger and more elusive mystery of faith and belief.
"In 1938, 24-year-old Mexican soldier Juan Castillo Morales was executed for the rape and murder of eight-year-old Olga Camacho. Despite his well-publicized confession, people began doubting his guilt after his death; soon they had turned his Tijuana grave into a shrine and transformed Castillo Morales into Juan Soldado (Juan the Soldier), an unofficial saint to whom devotees prayed for good health and safe passage to the United States. In this extensively researched but flatly written book, Vanderwood, professor emeritus of Mexican history at San Diego State University, sheds new light on the circumstances surrounding the crime. Vanderwood also delves deeper than the title indicates, exploring the origins of religious devotion in Mexico and around the world and examining the history of criminals cum popular saints, from Mexico's Jesus Malverde, the patron saint of drug dealers, to Tucson's El Tiradito (the Castaway), whose shrine is promoted by the Chamber of Commerce. The book also devotes a chapter to the tense, Depression-era atmosphere in Tijuana and postrevolutionary Mexico at the time of Olga Camacho's murder and includes interviews with members of the Camacho family, witnesses to Castillo Morales's execution and present-day visitors to the soldier's grave. Those interested in Mexican culture and religious customs will surely glean new information from this book, but stolid prose compromises Vanderwood's thorough research and astute personal observations." Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
andldquo;Juan Soldado is a true cannot-put-it-down read that combines deep research, strong narrative, and remarkable insight about how a spontaneous religious devotion comes into being and consolidates itself. I know of no other work that portrays the elements of this particular sort of religious beliefandmdash;its spontaneity, its stubbornness in the face of the Churchandrsquo;s indifference, and the matter-of-fact way it is practiced in daily life.andrdquo;andmdash;Eric Van Young, author of The Other Rebellion: Popular Violence, Ideology, and the Mexican Struggle for Independence, 1810andndash;1821
andldquo;Juan Soldado is a rich, exuberant, and sensitive account of the making of a folk saint in Tijuana. It is based on extensive use of newspapers and remarkable interviews with eyewitnesses to events in the 1930s.andrdquo;andmdash;William A. Christian Jr., author of Visionaries: The Spanish Republic and the Reign of Christ
The fascinating story of a Mexican soldier executed, perhaps unjustly, for the rape and murder of an eight-year old girl in Tijuana 1938 who then became a folk saint for Mexicans and Mexican Americans.
Investigates the popular canonization of a saint in Tijuana, asking what triggered the devotion and considering local, national, international, geographical, environmental, cultural, and psychological aspects of the event.
About the Author
Paul J. Vanderwood is Professor Emeritus of Mexican History at San Diego State University. He is the author of several books, including The Power of God Against the Guns of Government: Religious Upheaval in Mexico at the Turn of the Nineteenth Century; Border Fury: A Picture Postcard Account of the Mexican Revolution and U.S. War Preparedness, 1910andndash;1917; and Disorder and Progress: Bandits, Police, and Mexican Development.