Juan Martinez Leads “One City, One Story” Discussions
Lectures in English and Spanish explore religious themes in The Hummingbird’s Daughter
Fuller Seminary recently participated in Pasadena’s annual One City, One Story event with a lecture on religious themes in the book The Hummingbird’s Daughter, given at Fuller’s Pasadena campus in both English and Spanish by faculty member Juan Martínez. Martínez serves as assistant dean for the Hispanic Church Studies Department and associate professor of Hispanic studies and pastoral leadership. His April 3 lecture was one in a series of five held throughout Pasadena, focusing on various literary, cultural, historical aspects of Luis Alberto Urrea’s novel.
Urrea put two decades of research and writing into The Hummingbird’s Daughter, which tells the true story of his distant relative Teresita Urrea, a Mexican curandera, or healer, who lived in the late 19th century, shortly before the Mexican Revolution. Like many other curanderos, Teresita receives special powers after a traumatic experience and uses her gift of healing and practical knowledge of folk medicine for the benefit of others. Teresita is still recognized today as a saint within popular Catholicism in Mexico and the southwestern United States.
Martínez described the larger religious context that would have welcomed a healer like Teresita as a folk saint by contrasting institutional and popular religion. “There’s a saying: ‘Lord, please keep the bishop…far from here!’ The people would say they’re Catholic and give official respect to the priest, but as long as the priest is far away, the priest is not a part of their lives,” he explained. “The people live out their faith in a very different way.” This was especially true among the native peoples of South and Central America and the southwestern U.S., where large populations were converted by missionary friars, a group often in tension with official Catholicism.
And as demonstrated in The Hummingbird’s Daughter, popular religion’s view of healing often conflicts with modern perspectives on spirituality and science. Martínez noted that while we may consider miraculous stories examples of the literary style of magical realism, this is how many people around the world still understand and relate their healing experiences today. “Westerners work from a materialist view of the world, which has no room for the spiritual powers with which most people around the world interact regularly,” he said. “The world described in the book is that world, where people interact with those spiritual powers daily.”
Physical healing, however, is not the only thing Teresita offered the peasants of 19th-century Mexico. “The whole social system was based on the poor’s being disposable grunt labor,” Martínez asserted, “so when Teresita started healing the poor, it told them that they had value—that God walked with them.” Ultimately, Teresita was exiled by dictator Porfirio Díaz because her empowering peasants made her a threat to the political order. As Martínez observed, “Sometimes empowerment is just being told that you’re people—and that God cares about you, your healing, your health in the broadest sense of the term.”