Native and Roman Catholic religion in Anaya´s Bless me, Ultima

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 1999

23 Pages, Grade: 1,0/A



1. Introduction

2. Information about Rudolfo A. Anaya

3. The situation in the beginning: Antonio and his family

4. Analysis of Native and Roman Catholic religion in Anaya`s
Bless me, Ultima
4.1 Antonio`s parents
4.1.1 Explanation to Chicano Catholicism: The Virgin of Guadal
4.2 Ultima
4.2.1 Explanation to Native religion: Witchcraft and Curanderismo
4.3 Antonio
4.4 The townsfolk

5. Conclusion
5.1 Ultima
5.2 Antonio´s solution

1. Introduction

In the following paper I want to examine the traits of Native and Roman Catholic religion described in Rudolfo Anaya`s novel Bless me, Ultima[1], which was first published by TQS Publications, Berkeley, California in 1972. It shall be revealed how the different characters in the novel deal with the Mexican pagan past and the Roman Catholic influences which affect and determine their lives. I chose to examine the most important persons separately, to stress the individuality of searching a way through the number of beliefs which are offered to each of us during our lives. Nevertheless the complexity of personal relations and their mutual influences are regarded as well; although a comprehensive analysis would also have been possible without splitting the story. According to the fact that every person is dealt with individually, the conclusion shall provide the reader with an overall picture of the relationships between the main characters in the novel. Native religion touches the region of curanderismo and witchcraft, which certainly is an interesting chapter, but has to be dealt with only as far as it is necessary. On the other hand there is Roman Catholic religion, which the Spanish under Hernan Cortés brought to America. One chapter is dedicated to The Virgin of Guadalupe, the patron saint of the Chicanos- the descendants of Indians and Spaniards. Bless me, Ultima as a work of the Mexican American author Rudolfo Anaya represents the religious opposites Mexican Americans have to deal with and it shall therefore serve as a source of examples to show the complexity of Chicano beliefs.

2. Information about Rudolfo A. Anaya

Rudolfo A. Anaya led an unspectacular live for a writer. He was born on October, 30th 1937 in Pastura, New Mexico. Although he travelled several times to Europe, Latin America and China, he never tried to take up residence anywhere else than in the South of the United States, where he studied and works at the University of New Mexico.

I still live in New Mexico. I have travelled to many places, but I have no desire to leave New Mexico. Here I can look around and have a feeling that these hills, these mountains, this river, this earth, this sky is mine. I feel good in it. For that I think I am fortunate.[2]

His family was a family of workers, which meant that they were not very rich people. Shortly after his birth, the family moved to Santa Rosa, New Mexico, which served as the scene for the partly autobiographical novel Bless me, Ultima.[3] Later, the family moved to Albuquerque, where Anaya visited the University of New Mexico. 1963 he passed the Bachelor of Arts and from this time on he worked as a teacher in Albuquerque. In the years 1968 and 1972 he succeeded in passing the Master of Arts in English and got the title of `guidances and counselling´. Since 1974 he has been teaching at the English Department of the University of New Mexico, mainly `creative writing´ and Chicano-literature.

There are parallels to Antonio, the protagonist of Bless me, Ultima: Anaya was raised in a Spanish-speaking society. Not until he reached the first grade was he in contact with the English language. “both my father and mother spoke Spanish, and I was raised speaking Spanish in an almost completely Spanish background. I did not learn English until I startet first grade.”[4]

3. The situation in the beginning. Antonio and his family

Antonio Márez is a six year old boy who lives with his family, his parents and two older sisters, in the town of Guadalupe in New Mexico. The story of the novel is set during the Second World War. His three elder brothers are in the war. When he is almost seven Ultima, a curandera and midwife of all the children of the family, comes to live with them. She has become old and Antonio´s parents want to provide her with a warm family home for her last days as it is custom for the old and sick.

4. Analysis of Native and Roman Catholic religion in Anaya´s Bless me, Ultima

4.1 Antonio´s parents

Antonio´s parents are opposite characters. The mother who is a member of the family Luna is a strong believer in God. Her family is a family of farmers and characterised as quiet people who learned about the secrets of the earth:

They spoke very little. My mother said their communication was with the earth. She said they spoke to the earth with their hands. They used words mostly when each one in his own way walked through his field or orchard at night and spoke to the growing plants.[5] My mother was not a woman of the llano, she was the daughter of a farmer. She could not see beauty in the llano and she could not understand the coarse men who lived half their lifetimes on horseback.[6]

His father is a member of a family of vaqueros. According to Antonio´s mother he is a freethinker, which is a blasphemy to her. When he is drunk, he calls priests “women”. There exists a story which was not for Antonio´s ears, that Antonio´s grandfather had once beaten a priest for preaching against something the Márez´ grandfather had done. Antonio concludes, that his father has not a good feeling for priests.[7]

Ultima describes him as wild as the ocean: “And it is the blood of the Márez to be wild, like the ocean from which they take their name, and the spaces of the llano that have become their home.”[8] Once the father talks about his childhood:

“A man cannot struggle against his own fate. In my own day we were given no schooling. Only the ricos could afford school. Me, my father gave me a saddle blanket and a wild pony when I was ten. There is your life, he said, and he pointed to the llano. So the llano was my school, it was my teacher, it was my first love-“[9]

Antonio´s father sees the freedom in the llano. The history of his family goes back to the Spaniards, who brought the first horses to the American continent. As a vaquero, a cowboy, he continues the Spanish tradition. But when the mother wanted to give schooling to their children, the family had to move from the llano to the town of Guadalupe. The father had to give up his work as a vaquero and now works in the building of streets for the Anglos who want to settle in New Mexico. He has lost his freedom and gained his habit of drinking. The only solution for him lies in the future; he wants to move to California, when his three sons are back from war.

Antonio´s mother has an altar with the Virgin of Guadalupe. After supper the whole family always has to pray the rosary. They clean the dishes and the they kneel before the altar and pray for hours. Antonio describes the statue of the Virgin with respect and pride.

The Virgin of Guadalupe is a symbol for the Christianisation of the Mexicans. There is a story related to the myth of the Virgin:

4.1.1 Explanation to Chicano Catholicism: The Virgin of Guadalupe

Juan Diego was a poor Indian that used to walk around the land that now surrounds Mexico City. He lived in Cuautitlán. One day in December, 1531, he was walking to Tlatelolco, when he heard music, and smelled a sweet perfume coming from a small cerrito, -hill-, nearby. Somebody, in a very affable voice, was calling his name: ”Juanito, Juan Dieguito...”. He climbed the Tepeyac hill and he saw a young woman standing there. She asked him to come closer.

When he was in front of Her he saw how magnificent She was: Her clothes had a light like that of the sun, and She was very beautiful. She said: “Listen, my little son, Juantzin, where are you going?” And he answered:” My Lady, Queen, my little girl, I´m going to Tlatelolco, to hear the things from God.” She then told him She was the Virgin Mary, mother of the true God. Then She asked him to go to México, to the Bishop´s Palace, to tell him that She wanted a temple built on the Tepeyac for Her.

He promised the Lady to obey Her, and he walked all the way down to México, to talk with the Bishop, Fray Juan de Zumárraga. In the palace, he had to wait for a while, but finally he was in the presence of the Bishop himself. He told him about all the marvelous things he had heard and seen, and then presented to him the request from the Queen of Heaven. The Bishop did not believe him, so he walked back to the Tepeyac hill. And She was waiting there for him. As soon as he saw Her, he said, “Lady, Queen, my little daughter, my little girl, I went there to fulfil your orders. The Governor Priest was kind to me, he listened to me, but I think he did not understand me; he did not believe me. So I beg you, my Lady, Queen, my little girl, that you send one of your noblemen; because I am a simple man, I am small, I am like a wood ladder, I need to be guided, so I will fail you, and I don´t want you to be angry at me”. She insisted in that he was the one that had to carry Her orders; nobody else. He promised, again, to do as She said.

Next day, Sunday, he went to the Bishop again, and he repeated his story. The Bishop asked him a lot of questions, and finally said that, in order to build a temple, he needed a token, a tangible sign from the Lady.

He came back to Her, told Her everything, and She asked him to come back the next day, and then She would give him the sign he was asking for.

Next day, Monday, Juan Diego did not meet the Lady, because his uncle, Juan Bernardino, was very ill, and he went to visit him. He spent the night there, and next morning, very early, Juan Diego startet walking to Tlatelolco, in order to find a priest for his uncle, because he was sure of Juan Bernardino´s near death. When he approached the cerrito, he took a different turn, because he didn´t want the Lady from Heaven to stop him; he was in a hurry. ( He thought that he wouldn´t be seen by Her, She that sees everywhere!) But She suddenly appeared in front of him and asked him, “ What happen, my little son? Where are you going?” He was embarraced, and he said, “ My young one, my little daughter, my girl, I hope you are happy; how are you this morning? Do you feel well?” And he told Her that he was going to get a priest, because his uncle was dying. She answered: “ Put this in your heart, my little son: do not be afraid. Am I not here, Me, your mother? Are you not under my shadow, under my care? Am I not the fountain of joy? Are you not in the crease of my cloak, in the fold of my arms? Do you need anything else?” And She told him that his uncle was sound in that very moment.

Then She told him to climb the hill and cut the flowers that were there. He did so, and was very amazed to find a lot of beautiful flowers up there, because it was not the time for them. He cut the flowers and put them inside his tilma ( a cloak made by the Indians), and then came back to Her. She took the flowers in Her hands and put them inside the tilma again. And then She sent him to the Bishop, asking him to show what he carried.

When Juan Diego arrived at the palace, he had a long wait to see the Bishop. He told him all the story, about the Lady, the hill, the flowers, the orders from Her. All this time he was holding his tilma, with the flowers inside. Finally, the Bishop asked him to show what he was carrying. When he opened his cloak, the flowers fell to the floor, and there, on the white fabric, was the image of the Lady from Heaven, Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe.[10]

Antonio´s mother on the one hand has a strong affection to God, Antonio describes her as a devout Catholic. According to him she sees the salvation of the soul rooted in the Church and considers a society of farmers ruled by a priest the true way of life.[11] On the other hand she comes from a family who rely on nature and its cycles:

“So it was fitting that these people, the Lunas, came to settle in this valley. They planted their crops and cared for their animals according to the cycles of the moon. They lived their lives, sang their songs, and died under the changing moon. The moon was their goddess.”[12]


[1] Rudolfo Anaya, Bless me, Ultima (New York: Warner Books, 1994)

[2] Bruce-Novoa , Juan. Chicano Authors. Inquiry By Interview. ( Austin: Univ. of Texas Press, 1980) 186

[3] Cf. Bruce-Novoa, Chicano Authors 185

[4] ibid., 189

[5] Anaya, Bless me, Ultima 46.

[6] Anaya, Bless me, Ultima 2.

[7] Cf. ibid., 29

[8] Anaya, Bless me, Ultima 41.

[9] Anaya, Bless me, Ultima 54.

[10], 7.10.99, 14:13

[11] Cf. Anaya, Bless me, Ultima 29

[12] Anaya, Bless me, Ultima 90.

Excerpt out of 23 pages


Native and Roman Catholic religion in Anaya´s Bless me, Ultima
University of Dusseldorf "Heinrich Heine"  (Anglistik II, Amerikastudien)
Latino/a Literature
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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583 KB
Native, Roman, Catholic, Anaya´s, Bless, Ultima, Latino/a, Literature
Quote paper
Claudia Haase (Author), 1999, Native and Roman Catholic religion in Anaya´s Bless me, Ultima, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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