Now legends and songs honor him and thousands flock to his hometown.
by Icess Fernandez Caller-Times, October 23, 2004
He’s known for performing successful surgery with pieces of broken glass and healing the masses by throwing candy and fruit into the air.
Jose Fidencio Sintora Constantino, a folk and spiritual healer from the early 20th century, is somewhat of a saint to people in South Texas and Northern Mexico. Stories of his healings are legends, folk songs or corridos idolize him and candles stamped with images of his face are sold next to candles of Catholic saints.
Thousands of people flock annually to Fidencio’s hometown Espinazo, México, to pay their spiritual respects and to hopefully cure what ails them.
Niño Fidencio, as his followers call him, started curing people at 8 years old when he reportedly set his mother’s broken arm. The fact about his early childhood are unclear, said Tony Zavaleta, an anthropologist, and author of El Niño Fidencio and the Fidencistas, an academic paper about the spiritual healer. Zavaleta has been studying the movement for more than 20 years.
What is known is that Fidencio was born in 1898 near the village of Yuriria, Guanajuato, Mexico. He was one of 24 children and became an orphan during his childhood. At 23, Fidencio and his brother settled in Espinazo. It was in Espinazo that he started honing his life as a medicine and religious man, said Leo Carrillo, a former professor at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi who is writing a book on the followers of Fidencio, also known as the Fidencio movement. Carrillo has studied the movement for about 27 years.
According to Zavaleta’s research, Fidencio had supernatural experiences including revelations, visions, and visits from Jesus Christ. In one vision, a bearded man instilled within Fidencio the gift of healing and knowledge of using plants and herbs for medicinal purposes. In another vision, he was told that his mission in life was to heal the sick. For much of his adult life, Fidencio healed people throughout Northern México and surrounding areas. He conducted his healing one-on-one, and once his popularity grew, en mass.
At the time of his death 66 years ago, Fidencio was teaching a small group of people to be materias, or mediums, to channel his spirit and possess his healing skills. Only two of the original materias are still living; however, some of their descendants also have become materias.
“Nino Fidencio predicted that he would die and return in spirit,” Zavaleta said. “And even before his death people believed he would transport, for lack of a better word, himself in spirit to a materia in another part of the state.”
Dr. Tony Zavaleta grew up in Brownsville and is a member of one of the 13 founding families of northern Mexico. He is the nephew of Dr. Joe Zavaleta and Prax Orive, each of whom served on the TSC Board.
Dr. Zavaleta graduated from Saint Joseph Academy in 1964 and entered Texas Southmost College, graduating and transferring to The University of Texas at Austin in 1966, where he completed a Ph.D. in Anthropology in 1976. Moving back to Brownsville in 1976, Dr. Zavaleta began teaching sociology and anthropology at Texas Southmost College and at Pan American University at Brownsville. Dr. Zavaleta became the first Dean of the College of Liberal Arts for UTB/TSC, and also served as the Dean of the College of Mathematics and Science and Technology. He next served as Vice President for Partnership Affairs, where he coordinated all of the work between the TSC Board and UTB, and then became the Vice President for External Affairs, which included governmental relations and all external programs such as Workforce Training and Continuing Education. Dr. Zavaleta served as Interim Provost, the chief operating officer of UTB/TSC, and then as the Associate Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. In 2011 he retired from the administration to return to full-time teaching. Dr. Zavaleta retired in May 2016 after 40 years of service.
Dr. Zavaleta is regarded as one of the top experts on the US-Mexico Border, and frequently speaks throughout Mexico and the U.S. Dr. Zavaleta was appointed to two Federal commissions by Presidents Reagan and Obama, and he served two terms on the Brownsville City Commission, followed by a term on the City of Brownsville Civil Service Commission.