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The Transmigration of Popular Religion: Praxis and Renewal of Syncretic Faith Across the Texas-Mexico Frontier

By Antonio Noé Zavaleta


The movement of populations to and from their respective homelands marks human history. There are many reasons why people leave their homes, including adventure, persecution, and the attempt to improve the overall human condition. Just as certain as human transmigration is a part of history, people always long for home. The homeland is never forgotten and is transformed from living memory to folklore. This is certainly true of the Mexican and Latin-American populations who have, over generations, relocated in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas.

For these populations and cultures away from home, one of the most remarkable holdouts to assimilation is a religious belief. That includes both formal and folk religious beliefs. In some remarkable cases, the homeland religion is maintained and, in some circumstances, transformed abroad. In extremely unique cases, the homeland religion becomes an underlying basis for transmigration and the perpetuation of culture. In the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas, such is the narrative of the twenty-first-century followers of El Niño Fidencio, whether in Mexico or abroad in the United States.

When a population is forced to leave its home, never to return, as in the case of forced African slavery in the Americas, the homeland lives on through lore, language, music, and the arts, but especially through spiritual memory. Therefore, the memory of the African homeland is very much alive in the Americas today No place is this truer than in the great popular religions created by the move from Africa and the mix with Roman Catholicism. For example, Santeria was created in Cuba, moving to Miami and then to New York. Voodoo, a variant, was created in Haiti and moved to the slave-holding areas of the American south.

Fidencismo, the religion of the followers of the Mexican curandero and spiritist Fidencio Constantino, was created in Mexico by a syncretism of Roman Catholicism and indigenous beliefs and carried into Texas and the United States. The case of Mexican immigrants abroad, /Mexicanos en extranjero is even more compelling because of the proximity of Mexico to the United States and the Mexicans’ ability to return home with periodicity and because of their passion for the celebration of their religious and cultural beliefs.

In the early years of colonization, Spaniards and, later, Mexicans owned the land north of the Rio Grande, Rio Bravo. They plied their cultural settlements along the Camino Real, north and south, east and west, to the farthest boundaries of the empire. By 1900, there was already a 300-year tradition of population transmigration to and from Mexico and the United States. The greatest cultural underpinning for this continual movement was religion, in the form of Roman Catholicism.

Over the course of Mexico’s and the United States’ bi-national history, from the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 to the present, both countries have become richer due to a recurrent admixture in their great cultures. This blending continues unabated, and the cultural mix we see in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas is a clear example of this.

In his seminal work at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Alejandro Portes theorizes that:

Transmigration can be seen as the opposite to the notion of assimilation as a gradual but irreversible process of the integration of migrants to the receiving Society. Transnationalism recalls the image of a continuous round-trip movement between countries of origin and reception, allowing migrants to be present in both societies and cultures and to exploit economic and political opportunities created by such dual lives.1

When people transmigrate, they always carry their religious beliefs. Their belief systems provide them with a functional operational system while abroad. When they return home, they give thanks, renew and reinforce their beliefs and are ready to transmigrate again. Carlos Gonzalez Gutierrez of Mexico’s Institute of Mexicans Abroad suggests:

Crossing the border forces Mexicanos neither to adopt a new code of values nor to develop attachments to a single nation as if it were a zero-sum game where loyalties, or the sense of’ belonging to one society or another, were mutually exclusive. Many of them fit the paradigm of transnational migrants: people able to work, participate politically, and develop community or religious bonds in several cultural contexts, regardless of the political borders that divide their countries of origin or adoption, 2

The early 20th century in Mexico was a period marked by continuous political and religious strife. The Roman Catholic Church had dominated the social structure and power in Mexico since colonial times. In the period between 1850 and 1900, this singular religious power came under fire from liberal ideals and newly-imported European social thinking, which was directed toward the Church by the unique authority of the State. 3

While the socio-economic power and authority of the Roman Church maintained its position in Mexican society, it was seriously challenged for the first time. The Church, a seemingly immovable social institution, regarded external and foreign influences as little more than curiosities. This was true, in spite of the social and political advances and the popularity of the spiritist movement introduced in Mexico in the 1850s. Both of French origin, Spiritism grew with Positivism during the French Revolution and was very popular in Europe and the United States in that era. Spiritism was wildly popular in Mexico, which had indigenous traditions of healing and consulting of ancestor spirits. 4

The attitude of disinterest and lack of concern within the paradigm of the Roman Catholic Church toward the changing values of the Mexican hierarchy continued until the politically powerful and economic elite of Mexico began to question the traditional beliefs and power of Roman Catholicism. 5

In 1900, recently imported ideas of politics, economics, and religion took hold in Mexican society. The ideas and practices of newly imported French Spiritism infiltrated the highest and most elite parlors of Mexican society and trickled down to the middle and working classes of Mexico. All levels of Mexican society had been staunchly Roman Catholic since Mexico’s beginnings in the 16th century, and all were affected. Spiritist beliefs were also popular in Texas at the same time, and San Antonio had a large and well-known spiritist church. Small spiritist temples sprang up across the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas, as well.

Other religious beliefs, such as Protestantism, Judaism, Islam, and, especially, lesser-known practices and sects were considered insignificant within the equation of Mexican social and political power in the early 20th century. In fact, the Roman Catholic Church faced no real threat until the anti-clerical movement reached the highest levels of government, and, by that time, there was no turning back. 6

It is fair to say that the Mexican Revolution of 1910, which successfully ended the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz, in and of it, did not have widespread dissonant religious underpinnings. The Mexican Revolution began and ended as an eclectic movement of peoples from all levels who sought political liberties and rights to land. In fact, most participants in the grassroots aspects of the revolution drew upon iconic Mexican religious symbols such as La Virgen de Guadalupe for their support. It was the intellectuals of the revolution, not the combatants, who read Auguste Comte and Karl Marx. 7

With the deposing of the dictator, Diaz, and the supposed end of the revolution, a period of ho years of political uncertainty and civil strife consumed Mexico. It was during this period of 1910 to 1940 that the true story of transmigration began as supported by a small religious sect, namely the Followers of Jose Fidencio Sintora Constantino, known as El Niño Fidencio (1898-1938).

Mexico boasted a centralized colonial and national infrastructure in all of its aspects From its 16th-century beginnings. In other words, all notions whether cultural, educational, or religious emanate from the capital and then filter throughout the hinterland, regarded as provincial. Social, political, and religious thought that emanates from the capital merits serious consideration. No matter how profound a provincial movement may appear, if its origins are from the provinces, it is just that: provincial. This is why the movement of El Niño Fidencio was never taken seriously in Mexico City. The newly created power structure in Mexico immediately after the revolution and, especially, the new shifts in Mexico’s reasoning regarding society, politics and religion did not change that fact.

The first president of the post-revolutionary Republic of Mexico, Francisco I. Madero, was an accomplished spiritist who both practiced and wrote of its importance. The installation of Madero as Mexico’s first new-era president would portend new ways of evaluating Mexican society. However, his assassination did not allow for enough time for many of his modern beliefs to make substantive changes in Mexican society. Most historians feel that Madero was simply ahead of his time. Spiritist beliefs maintained a deep foundation in the Mexican capital for more than thirty years before the Revolution. All levels of society and most of the important and forward-thinking provinces, including the elites of the northern giants of Nuevo Leon and Coahuila, were a good example of this fact may be drawn from the north, where wealthy and politically-influential landowner Teodoro Von Wernich and his intimate friend Francisco Madero had large land holdings in both the states of Nuevo Leon and Coahuila. Von Wernich, in addition to being a friend of Madero, was an adherent of modern Spiritism.

Spiritism is important to this discussion because it formed the basis for the newly developing sect of Fidencismo, which fits into the paradigm of folk-Catholicism. In the decades of the 1920s and 1930s, Mexican Spiritism remained popular, as it was supported by a number of influential spiritist organizations, all centralized in Mexico City. 9 The primary Catholic Church intellectuals denounced it as a religion and disavowed any viable association. This was a bureaucratic disassociation between spiritist organizations and the Catholic Church at the highest levels and a mutual repudiation. 10 The Roman Catholic Church has never allowed for any spirit except the Holy Spirit and never endorsed continued communications with the deceased such as Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, or saints such as Joseph or Francis.

Jose Fidencio Sintora Constantino

At the end of the revolution, and in the early years of the civil war, a young man named Enrique Lopez de la Fuente, originally from the Mexican state of Guanajuato was recruited by Teodoro Von Wernich to serve as the majordomo or general manager of his northern hacienda. A surviving veteran of the revolution, Lopez de la Fuente was accompanied by his childhood friend and supposed orphan named Jose Fidencio Sintora Constantino. The son of a family of meager means and many siblings, Fidencio, at a very early age, had been adopted as a working boy by the Lopez de la Fuente family. That is a very common practice in Mexico. When Enrique moved northward for the next twenty years, their relationship both suffered and benefited from Fidencios physical and psychic gifts and peculiarities.

Fidencios time on the Von Wernich hacienda at Espinazo began simply enough. Fidencio, who was born in 1898, was a teenager when he arrived at the hacienda. Fidencio, as he was called, attended to the kitchen and household chores and the small animals on the property. Therefore, it was not unusual that these creatures were his pets; his concern for them subsequently led to his assisting all farm animals encountering difficult births.

Espinazo is situated on the main railroad line running north and south through Mexico, starting at the Texas border. In the 1920s, it was geographically isolated due to its juxtaposition with the Coahuiltecan desert. There were no modern amenities and, obviously, no medical doctors. Human ailments were either not treated or were administered by the few local folk healers known as curanderos.

Once Fidencio s remarkable facility with assisting with animal births was recognized, he was called upon to assist as a partero/midwife for the women of the region. Over a short period of time, Fidencio developed considerable regional notoriety and came to play a much-needed role in the area, developing his skills as a curandero who had received a spiritual gift. At the least, Fidencio was known for his peculiar physical features, which would eventually motivate people to call him the child.

Fidencio was during his early transition from unknown kitchen boy to the fabled spiritual healer that Fidencio fell into an on-going confrontation with his friend and ranch foreman, Enrique Lopez de la Fuente. Constantly sought after for his widening range of healing abilities, Fidencio neglected his ranch work and was forbidden to continue practicing healing by Enrique.12

Fidencios unique talents were as curious as he was. As Fidencio entered adolescence, he did not experience the normal changes of secondary sexual characteristics like his male peers. He did not grow facial hair or develop a deepening of the masculine voice or increased muscularity. Notwithstanding, he appeared to be otherwise normal with a gregarious demeanor and intelligence. For all intents and purposes, he was illiterate, never completing elementary school in his home town of Yuriria, Guanajuato.13 Due to this; Fidencio has not left any significant writing in his hand and, certainly, nothing that would explain the mystical powers he developed as an adult.

As Fidencio approached his 23rd birthday in 1925, he still maintained a distinctly childlike voice and was called El “Niño” Fidencio (the Child Fidencio) by the locals. While never examined by medical doctors, and certainly not by geneticists, American anthropologist Barbara June Macklin theorized that Fidencio suffered from Klinefelter’s syndrome, a genetic syndrome in which a physiognomic male has an extra X chromosome. In some cases, determination of gender is ambiguous due to varying degrees of androgyny. While normal males have an XY chromosomal configuration, the Klinefelter’s male is XXY, with a total of 47 chromosomes instead of the normal 46.14 However, Dr. Macklin’s supposition has never been confirmed by DNA analysis.

Twenty years after Macklin, a firsthand anthropological held investigation involving the leader of the Fidencista movement also tended to confirm his undiagnosed physical oddities.15 While not widely researched in Mexico, in reality, only a few hundred miles north, amongst the Zuni and other Native American populations, the two-spirit berdache man-woman is still an accepted member of the society with a defined social and cultural role.16

It must be stated clearly here that there is no evidence to suggest that Fidencio ever had any interest in sex, much less a sexual relationship with either a man or a woman. As he aged, his appearance became, even more, that of a berdache. Fidencio is known to have been sought after by numerous women of society and received repeated proposals of marriage. He never showed any interest, but there is no evidence that he was homosexual, as claimed by many.

As an adult, his identity was that of a religious being, and his dress in long flowing robes was his way of identifying with religion and not gender. If anything, he was asexual. As he grew into adolescence, he became more and more androgynous.

On September 21, 1925, Fidencio had a profound and life-changing religious experience, including a vision and spiritual message, which would influence the rest of his short life. While sitting and, perhaps, meditating under the centrally located tree in Espinazo, Fidencio said that he had a vision of an old man with a flowing white beard, ostensibly God the Father, who announced his gift of healing and asked that he prepare for a life of suffering and hardship, but most importantly, of service to mankind through healing and the working of miracles. 17

Fidencio was, at first; loathe talking about his vision and healing gift as he was continuously ridiculed. Between 1925 and 1928, Fidencio is said to have constantly been at odds with Enrique Lopez de la Fuente. This would soon change, as his healing ability and spirituality was witnessed by the spiritist Teodoro Von Wernich and by the needy, that began to flood Espinazo seeking cures for their assorted aliments. Fidencio’s initial fame was restricted to the ranches around Espinazo in Nuevo Leon and Coahuila, but one day he was called upon to treat ranch owner Von Wernich, who was suffering from a wound or fistula that refused to heal. Using his supernaturally attained knowledge of the local medicinal plants of the desert. Fidencio prepared a plaster, which quickly healed the chronic wound. The incredulous Von Wernich, suspecting the involvement of spirit healers channeled through Fidencio, placed an advertisement in Mexico City’s most prestigious daily’s, proclaiming the “miraculous” cure by the Niño Fidencio. The ad announced the spirit healer, the miraculous spirit medium in the desert. 10

It was his notoriety outside the area of Espinazo that would, over the next thirteen years, draw tens of thousands of needy and suffering people to the miracle worker on the desert. For a notable period of five to seven years, El Niño Fidencio became a household name. Mexico’s top reporters and photographers arrived from the capital to see for themselves. 20 Newsreel reporters from Hollywood also made the trek to Espinazo. 21

The New York Timer reported his so-called miracles, and from there the story was conveyed worldwide.

“The Mexican thaumaturge, or miracle worker, was recognized for all manner of miraculous cures short of raising the dead. Making the sightless see and the voiceless regain their speech were commonplace occurrences as was the alleged cure of the insane. The avenues of transportation were flooded with people from Mexico, the United States, and Europe bringing their sick loved ones to Espinazo in the hope of a cure.”22

By 1928, so many people had arrived in Espinazo that a makeshift village of thatched huts had sprung up to house the people who waited months to be seen. Many were so ill that they never left Espinazo and are buried there. During the same period, the first Fidencista temples were being established in the Valley. These spiritist temples were each led by a spirit medium that channeled the healing spirit of Fidencio.

Early Fidencismo

By the 1930s, Fidencio was regarded as a living saint and became so popular that a pseudo-religious movement developed around him, which continued its development posthumously and continued to thrive and evolve today. Simultaneously, while Niño Fidencio was gaining in fame, the Roman Catholic Church was under a direct assault from the Mexican government. The Church was seen as not attending to the basic needs of most Catholics. This was especially true of rural campecino or peasant Catholics. During the 1920s and 1930s, it was very difficult for the Roman Catholic Church to deliver the sacraments to rural northern Mexico. Catholic priests were only rarely accessible in the vast stretches of rural Mexico and, especially, in the desert north, where the Church had little presence.

As a result, people flocked to Espinazo, believing the Niño to have been supernaturally anointed, they clamored for their saint to deliver the sacraments. It was commonly believed that El Niño Fidencio had been ordained by God, and therefore was fully empowered to marry, baptize, to anoint the dead and dying, and, most importantly, to recite the Mass and distribute Holy Communion. This, of course, infuriated the Church. These actions brought immediate negative attention from the Church it sent undercover Catholic priests to witness and to report to report to the bishops of Monterrey and Saltillo. The bishops, in turn, denounced Fidencio as unholy. However forceful the action of the Church in its indictment of Fidencio may have been, the reality was that the Church was fighting for its very survival. The Church itself was under fire from a punishing Mexican government, which sought to eliminate it and possessed little power to stop Fidencio or the development of a quasi-Catholic religious movement.

The period of the Cristero, revolt (1926-1929) in Mexico required the Church to enter into a survival mode, in which El Niño Fidencio was the lesser problem. 23 This was especially true when Mexican President Plutarco Elias Calles chose to personally visit the Niño, traveling in his presidential train, el Olivo. There was heightened anticipation as el Olivo pulled into Estacíon Espinazo. This much-publicized event, symbolic of the government s hatred of Catholicism, was a spiritual salvo to the Catholic Church, as it appeared to validate Fidencio’s actions as those of an ordained Catholic priest to the nation, rendering ordained priests superfluous.

Additionally, during his brief stay in Espinazo, Calles was sequestered with the Niño in total privacy for several hours. During that time, it is believed that the president was cured of a serious skin ailment, some rumors mentioning leprosy. The exceedingly grateful president commanded both Church and

hampered. He also ordered that a seven-kilometer water line be constructed from the nearby mountain spring at La Gavia to Espinazo. That gift of water remains to this day, the only available water in Espinazo. 24

The religious movement originating in Espinazo in the 1920s and 1930s continued without intervention from government or religion and may be defined as a quasi-religious, spiritist cult. Neither Catholic nor spiritist, it is based upon the Santo Evangelico or Escrituras of the Niño Fidencio. At the same time that the various Mexican spiritist associations distanced Roman Catholicism, the Fidencismo claimed no relationship to the spiritist associations, but claimed to be Catholic.

In the early years, Fidencio was surrounded and protected by a handful of faithful believers from nearby villages and towns. A hierarchy of authority developed from two primary offices, la Directora/Director, and el Revisador/Reviewer. The original Directora, Damiana Martinez, and original Revisador, Victor Zapata, enjoyed the trust of Fidencio while holding the top two positions. Importantly, it should be noted that both were accomplished, materias/ mediums, regularly channeling the spirit of the Niño. Both in life and after his death, they channeled his spirit in order to receive his directions for the movement.

Throughout the l930s, the leaders regularly enteral into trance states in order to receive messages from the Niño. More than sixty of those sessions were recorded by trusted followers who transferred the message via longhand to paper. This never-before-known treasure trove of Scriptures is known to only the innermost circle of Fidencio. The first Escrituras were handwritten, transcribing Fidencio’s words while sitting alongside the Niño in a trance-state before his death. Almost immediately after his death, the spirit of El Niño continued his communication, via trance, with his two leaders, La Directora and El Revisador.

Today, some 500 pages of handwritten material known as Escrituras of El Niño Fidencio serve as the basis of the Fidencista folk religion.25 Numerous individuals from the surrounding countryside believed capable of spirit mediumship and would regularly claim to channel the Niño Fidencio. Because the majority of these messages were not verifiable, the position of Revisador was created to test the veracity of mediums as true Fidencistas to eliminate frauds and hucksters.

The Niño messages provided information on the developing Fidencista ritual and belief system. Patterned after Roman Catholicism with Fidencio at the center, Fidencismo rapidly became a form of folk-Catholicism operating in a syncretic state along with Roman Catholicism. In the Lower Rio Grande Valley, Fidencista healing missions were established from Roma to Brownsville, and the Niño’s revisador would visit them regularly to determine orthodoxy. Most Fidencistas when asked, responding about their religious beliefs, will declare that they are Roman Catholics who believe in the folk-saint, El Niño Fidencio. This is exactly how folk-Catholicism and curanderismo have emerged and been maintained in the Valley.

In the year before his death, Fidencio claimed continual communication with the three entities of the Holy Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Hence, the cult of Fidencio became akin to a Christian folk-religion such as Santeria Fidencio’s popularity, combined with the thousands who supported him, made his actions unstoppable, and allowed the desert phenomenon to coalesce into an organized spiritual movement. Mexican officials were helpless to intervene and found it better to simply leave the situation untouched and isolated in Espinazo. In 1993, as the formal prohibition of religion in Mexico came to an end, the Christian Church of Fidencio was established.

Additionally, the fascination with Fidencio attracted many thousands of pesos to the small community. Fidencio never showed any interest in the vast wealth accumulated there. However, his fame attracted people whose sole intention was the wealth. During the peak years, tens of thousands of gold coins and other currency were unaccounted for. Major sums of money were invested in the development of infrastructure, and some money was distributed by Fidencio himself to the crowds comprised mostly of desperate, destitute people.

The Niño Fidencio frenzy subsided after a few years, but Espinazo never returned to its previous status of isolated desert pueblito. The peak years of 1925 to 1930 produced a cadre of faithful followers referred to as apostles, many of whom moved to the Rio Grande Valley. Additionally, a steady stream of pilgrims, including those who claimed to have received miraculous cures, regularly returned to Espinazo. Espinazo slowly developed as a pilgrimage site; and as such, generated permanent employment opportunities by drawing many from the surrounding communities. Additionally, many literally gave up their mundane lives for a monastic existence in Espinazo; these were the devoted true believers.

The culto/cult of the Niño Fidencio developed a core of followers and an even larger group of casual believers. What was much unexpected was that the faith in Fidencio would become transportable with the transmigration of thousands of Mexican agricultural workers to the Valley and the United States after his death in 1938. Many of the original braceros were, in fact, Fidencistas who transmigrated to the United States via the Bracero Program. 26

This primary phase of the transmigration of Fidencistas took place between 1940 and 1965. In the years just before his untimely death, Fidencio predicted to his followers that he was soon to be home, to take his place with the Heavenly Father, El Padre Celestial. He also announced that he would often return to continue his healing ministry through spirit mediumship with his primary followers. Fidencio predicted that the number of mediums channeling his spirit would increase and that many would be false.

Therefore, the primary mission of his Revisador was to venture wherever there was an individual claiming to be a materia of El Niño Fidencio to ensure that this materia was in fact truly channeling Fidencio. Victor Zapata el revisador was frequently in the Valley visiting with old friends and reviewing new ones. Until his death in the 1970s, this was the principal role of Victor Zapata. He traveled throughout the United States and Mexico reviewing practicing material claiming to channel the spirit of El Niño. In the initial years after his death, the faithful followers of the Niño had developed a nascent folk-religion with leadership, core followers or apostles, scriptures, and rituals, all near Espinazo, Nuevo Leon as the primary sanctuary and pilgrimage site.

In the early 1940s, approximately twenty authenticated channelers had been identified and approved in the communities around Espinazo, and mainly in the Mexican state of Coahuila, from Castanos, Monclova, Frontera, La Esperanza, Nueva Rosita and Palau, as well as the Durangan town of Gomez Palacio. This core of believers formed the foundation for the continued growth of the faith. An equal number of materias were located throughout the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas.

The Phases of Transmigration

The development of Fidencismo coincided with the first phase of transmigration in the 1940s. Followers of Fidencio transmigrated northward to the U.S.-Mexico border. They settled in the Mexican border towns and crossed into dozens of Texas towns strewn along the border. The so-called bracero era (the 1940s to the 1960s) drew thousands of Mexican agricultural workers northward into the fields of Texas.

In the second phase of transmigration, Fidencismo took up residence in most of the major agricultural communities throughout the state of Texas. The health and living conditions of Mexicans in Texas were marginal, and it is easy to understand how the healing services of Fidencio were continuously needed.

Fidencismo flourished, and, by the 1980s, Fidencismo were located throughout the heartland of American agriculture and in the cities and towns of the American Midwest. In fact, wherever the Mexican base population was located, Fidencismo could be found. This was the third phase of transmigration.

The primary feature of Fidencismo during each phase was and is the continuous and circuitous travel by believers from the United States to Mexico and back. The throngs of seekers had disappeared from Espinazo, the small desert community, but the town continued to develop as a pilgrimage site, celebrating two major fiestas attracting tens of thousands of faithful to the site in March and October of each year. These major celebrations recalled Fidencio’s saint’s day in March, and the days of his birth and death in October, as well as lesser celebrations during the Catholic seasons of Easter and Christmas.

Thousands of Fidencistas living abroad cultivated important traditions of returning to Mexico each year during at least one of the fiestas. During the days of fiesta, families would travel from states like Indiana and Ohio to Mexico to renew their faith in Fidencio and to strengthen culture.

By the end of the development era, and continuing well into the 1980s, second and third-generation Mexican families established permanent residence throughout Texas and the United States. The Texas border became the new homeland for many thousands of Mexicans living abroad. Now called migrant farm workers, they were mostly based in Texas and followed the migrant stream throughout the rest of the country. Their descendants have moved to urban areas, completed university degrees, and actively participated in the political process.

It is important to note that, now in the fourth phase of transmigration and having realized social, political, and economic success in the United States, those who have consistently participated in the Fidencista movement, since childhood, and across generations, lead the trends in maintaining Mexican cultural awareness in the United States. This is particularly true of their religious beliefs.

Fidencista healing missions are established in the Valley and throughout the United States, wherever northern Mexican origin populations are located. They are generally very pious populations, which consider themselves Roman Catholics while maintaining an active religious life as followers of Fidencio. They revere Catholic saints in addition to Fidencio, making trips to the major pilgrimage sites in Mexico, such as to those of La Virgen de San Juan at San Juan de Los Lagos, San Francisco de Assis at Real de Catorce, and the Santo Niño de Atocha at Plateros Zacatecas. Of course, their primary devotion lies with the Mother of the Americas, La Virgen de Guadalupe in Mexico City. While abroad, they come together to pray, to sing, and to receive blessings and healing, and are maintained and supported by spirit mediums or mediums that in turn, connect them to Espinazo.

During the movement’s early days, the faithful would test their catechetical knowledge and practices. The practices and rituals were validated during annual trips to Espinazo and by witnessing the actions of other groups. By emulating these approved practices, transmigrants return to their homes abroad to re-enact them. Thus, all Fidencistas, in both Mexico and the United States, have similar practices. Second-and-third generation Revisadores continue the review process.

The Importance for Mexicanos Abroad

In the United States, Fidencismo provides a place for Mexicanos to meet and renew friendships, as well as a place where children may learn the practice of spirit mediumship and channel the spirit of Fidencio. This renewal serves to perpetuate the beliefs in both families and regions. The movement’s healing missions, with a local hierarchy of trance mediums and a locally based head materia, provide an opportunity to keep Mexican cultural traditions alive and to participate in their local Catholic parishes and Mexican traditions, thereby contributing to the rich Mexican cultural traditions of the Valley.

Groups of extended families can plan return trips to Mexico for both family and pilgrimage purposes with safety. Fidencista healing centers provide a place where the younger generations may learn and practice important Mexican cultural Missions provide a place for physical and emotional networking, support, and healing In the absence of other services.


The Fidencista movement began shortly after the death of El Niño Fidencio in 1938. Over the course of years, Fidencismo has extended throughout the Rio Grande Valley, Texas, and the United States, and today is currently located wherever Mexican origin populations are found. The number of devout Fidencistas continues to grow, and Fidencistas are among the most devout of Latino Roman Catholics.27 Additionally, Fidencistas have successfully enculturated their children with Mexican culture and customs across generations, while living abroad. In the face of limited health-care facilities and limited funds, Fidencistas have established a functioning physical and emotional health-care delivery system and health-care net for Mexicans living abroad throughout the United States.

Fidencistas are linked and united by the scripture left to them by Fidencio and taught to them by the leadership. Between 2010 and 2015, the number of Fidencistas able to cross the border southward to participate in annual pilgrimages and fiestas has been greatly curtailed due to border violence. Most believe this to be only a temporary setback. Many thousands of Mexican-origin populations reside in the United States today, but, except for the followers of El Niño Fidencio, few have maintained an on-going pattern of return transmigration. The regular return visits of Fidencistas from the United States to Mexico represents one of the most significant patterns of the Mexicanization of young Mexican immigrants in the United States and their ensuing progeny.


1 Alejandro Portes, “Un Dialogo Norte-Sur: El Progreso de la teoriaen el estudio de la migracion international v susimplicaciones,” Princeton University: Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Center for Transmigration and Development, Working Paper, no. 368

2 Carlos Gonzalez Gutierrez, “Fostering Identities, Mexico’s Relations with its Diaspora,” Journal of American History, http://www.journalofamerican-

3 Vincent C. Peloso and Barbara Tanenbaum, eds., Liberals, Politics, and Power: State Formation in Nineteenth century Latin America (Athens and London: The University of Georgia Press, 1996).

4 A Lia Theresa Schraeder, “The Spirits of the Times, The Mexican Spiritist Movement from Reform to Revolution,” Doctoral Dissertation, The University of California at Davis, 2009.

5 Anita Brenner, Idols behind Alfaro (New York: Payson and Clarke, 1929).

6 Vanderwood, Paul, 1998, The power of God against the guns of government, Religious upheaval in Mexico at the turn of the Nineteenth Century (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1998).

7 Lynn L. Sharp, Secular Spirituality: Reincarnation and Spiritism in Nineteenth Century France (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2006).

8 Enrique Krauze, Francisco I. Madera: Mistico de la Mistica de la Libertad (Mexico, D.E, Fondo de Cultura Economica, 1987).

9 Pamela Voekel, “Liberal Religion: The Schism of 1861,” Religion Culture in /Modern Mexico, edited by Martin Austin Nesvig (Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2007).

10 Carlos Marfa de Heredia, Spiritism, and Common Sense (New York: P,J, Kenedy & Sons, 1922).

11 Antonio N. Zavaleta and Alberto Salinas Jr., Curandero Conversations, El Niño Fidencio, Shamanism and Healing Traditions of the Borderland, (Bloomington, Indiana: AuthorHouse Publishers, 2009).

12 The story of Enrique de la Fuente’s treatment of El Niño was told to Antonio Zavaleta in “Espinazo, Nuevo Leon” by Ciprianita Zapata in an original research interview, 1990.

13 Antonio N. Zavaleta and Maria Tamayo visited Yuriria in 1995 to speak

To the relatives of the Niño Fidencio who continue to live in that town.

14 National Institute of Health, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Klinefelter Syndrome, http:// syndrome.

15 Barbara June Macklin and N. Ross Crumrine, “Three North Mexican Folk Saint Movements,” Comparative Studies in Society and History, 15, no. 1, 1973.

16 William L. Walter, The Spirit, and the Flesh: Sexual Diversity in American Indian Culture (Boston: Beacon Press, 1986).

17 Antonio N. Zavaleta, El Niño Fidencio: Libro de su Santa Evangelio, number 1, Authorhouse 2013.

18 Antonio N. Zavaleta, Medicinal Plants of the Borderlands: A Bilingual Resource Guide (Bloomington, Indiana: Author House Publishers, 2012).

19 Aspectos del campo del dolor en Espinazo, February 18, 1928, El

Universal de Mexico, February 18, 1928, p. 1.

20 Con Fidencio en Espinazo, Hoy de Mexico, October 1937, p. 20.

21 Fox Newsreel, El Niño Fidencio, Espinazo, Nuevo Leon, 1928.

22 The Niño Fidencio, The New York Times, February 22, 1928, p. 6.

23 Jean Meyer, The Cristero Rebellion: The Mexican People Between Church and State 1926-1929 (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2008).

24 Enrique Krauze, Plutarco E. Calles (Mexico D.F.: Fondo de Cultura Economia, 1987).

25 The Original hand written Escrituras of El Niño Fidencio were entrusted to Antonio Zavaleta in the early 1980s by the leader of the Fidencista movement, Doña Cirpianita Panita Zapata, who was told to publish them after her death in 2008. Dr. Antonio Zavaleta and the Niño Fidencio Research Project of The University of Texas at Brownsville have conducted intensive field research with the Fidencista leadership for the last 30 years.

26 The Bracero Program (1942-1964).

27 James Burbank, Catholics, too, venerate El Niño Fidencio- Mexican mystic and healer, National Catholic Reporter, February 7, 1997.

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.

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