The New Narcocultura

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Interesting "Letter from Mexico: Days of the Dead," by Alma Guillermoprieto, illuminating the narcotraficante culture in Mexico.

Along the edges of the packed street, young men took quick snorts of glue and sometimes wept. A thin tattooed and pierced man with terrible skin was the only one of the many young toughs present who was willing to talk to me, and his amiability may have had something to do with the fact that he had just absent-mindedly assembled a joint about the size of a Robusto and was now wreathed in its smoke. The Holy Death had restored to him the love of the excruciatingly shy woman at his side, the man said, and he was now Death's devotee forever. At the front of the crowd, banks of flowers to rival those laid at Princess Diana's grave paid tribute to the skeleton. Half hidden by the flowers was a large, clear plastic death figure, and behind it was a sound system at which one of Queta's sons would soon lead the Rosary. Behind that, Queta cackled in answer to a question. Yes, it was true that the Catholic Church disapproved of her "Little Skinny One," she said. "But have you noticed how empty their churches are?"

Queta's genius has been to create out of her Catholic faith an inclusive syncretic ritual: a Rosary, which is recited complete with Hail Marys and the Lord's Prayer; special prayers for those in jail; and a culminating, quasi-Pentecostal moment when the faithful all lift their effigy to Heaven to "charge it with energy." It is a cult, Queta says, accurately, that does not discriminate. A Catholic priest might extend grudging absolution to those who confess that they have just sold several grams of crystal meth to a bunch of twelve-year-olds, but only at Queta's Rosary can you be blessed on a monthly basis without the matter of how you earn a living ever coming up.

Queta, naturally enough, denies that the Santa Muerte is a devotion for drug traffickers–one more element of the narcocultura. Why, then, I wondered, was it perceived as such outside Tepito?

"Ha!" she exclaimed. "Because every single time one of them is arrested or killed they find my Little Skinny One on their altar!" From the storefront next to the shrine, where she sells candles and other devotional objects for the cult, she blew another kiss and called out to her patron saint, "Preciosa!"

"Days of the Dead."