Just when mysticism seemed to be contestable, an announcement for the movie at local theaters magically appeared before my eyes in the Denver Post. Denver had been selected as one of the sites for the movie to be shown; a place where perhaps it might draw a big audience.
With few exceptions, why was the movie not advertised on major television stations, announced in newspapers and given radio time, with interviews and press coverage? I am certain that there are skeptics who would like to see the movie fail. What forces were at play here? Did a brujo get involved? Some argue that there is a beautiful side to evil and only certain people can discern this; on the other hand, charlatans exist in all disciplines. To discern this requires exceptional qualities.
Perhaps, there were no mal intentions only a benevolent person wanting to protect us from wickedness that exists in the world. Mal puesto could be the culprit, as book critics have torn into Anaya’s book heralding it falsely as brujeria. All books and authors have lists of critics; ready to debase works that wander out of the box. My mother often stated that she was more afraid of the live people than the dead ones. She taught me that the live ones can harm you.
One of the political realities is that without audiences packing the theatre to see this movie it will fail. Flicks that cause certain kinds of controversy often end up in middle-of-the-road theatres in downtrodden barrios where it is believed that superstition is rampant. “Bless Me Ultima” might be on this path. As mentioned, the book had been scorned in a Colorado public school district, as the superintendent went on a witch hunt. It wasn’t until students stood up to this hypocrisy and organized a sit-in did Conder recant his decision.
At a time when science has become an omnipotent god, with a ubiquitous presence in American society and where technocrats use scientific methods such as empiricism and positivism to prove or disprove materialistic theory, this type of movie doesn’t fit quite well. After you sift through the morass of propaganda and realize that spirituality and science can be complimentary, read the book, go see the movie.
“Bless Me Ultima” is about spiritual healing. When spirituality is left outside the front door of medical practitioner’s offices, someone has to fill the gap. Curanderas/os are enigmatic figures versed in ethno-botany and ethno-psychiatry, possessing what indigenous cultures believe is “el don.” They are generally gifted people, called an assortment of derogatory names, causing consternation in scientific camps.
Curanderas treat people holistically, which include the spirit; a non-materialistic entity that occupies human castles. This notion doesn’t fit well with western psychiatry. It is perceived as black magic, brujeria practiced by witch doctors. As Eliseo “Cheo” Torres states in his book, “Curandero: A Life In Mexican Folk Healing,” “Western Medicine itself has only recently emerged from eons of ignorance and poor practices…Thus, watchdog groups such as the American Medical Association jealously guard their hard-won standards, both to protect patients and to protect the integrity of their profession.”
Ultima is your Tia, your tatarabuela or maybe your abuela; someone familiar with natural medicine, remedios, cultural rites and the beauty of nature and its magnificence. They transmitted cultural lessons of life to the next generation; they possessed the gift of healing. Remember the rituals, prayers, incantations and stories of magical realism that we grew up with? Remember la yerba buena, estafiate and the mystical teas used in barrios when someone could not afford a doctor’s visit? Remember when corn mothers and apprentices walked the community? They were healers on journeys fraught with challenges, mystery, faith and courage. They were strong, special, caretakers of life who knew how to follow the cycles of the universe.
Granted the movie clashes with the patriarchy of the Catholic Church and some might see it as sacrilegious but so do good Catholic women who have exceptional discernment qualities. They are called nuns who believe they too should be able to become priestesses. If the movie doesn’t win an Oscar, we have nobody to blame but ourselves. After all, its success is based on a god called money.
Bless me Ultima!
Dr. Ramón Del Castillo is an independent journalist.
© 2013 Ramón Del Castillo
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