Monday 3 February 2020

Mexican Exodus - Julia G. Young - Emigrants, Exiles, and Refugees of the Cristero War

Mexican Exodus:
Emigrants, Exiles, and Refugees of the Cristero War
Julia G. Young
Oxford University Press
ISBN 9780190205003
eISBN 9780190272876

This book was recommended to me after reading Saint José Boy Cristero Martyr by Fr. Kevin McKenzie and the novel Nicholas Gilroy: Viva Christo Rey by Father Stephen Gemme and Deacon George O’Connor. I had also watched the movie For Greater Glory: The True Story of Cristiada. This book was not what I expected, even considering the description and the publisher. The description of the book is:

“In the summer of 1926, an army of Mexican Catholics launched a war against their government. Bearing aloft the banners of Christ the King and the Virgin of Guadalupe, they equipped themselves not only with guns, but also with scapulars, rosaries, prayers, and religious visions. These soldiers were called cristeros, and the war they fought, which would continue until the mid-1930s, is known as la Cristiada, or the Cristero war. The most intense fighting occurred in Mexico's west-central states, especially Jalisco, Guanajuato, and Michoacán. For this reason, scholars have generally regarded the war as a regional event, albeit one with national implications. Yet in fact, the Cristero war crossed the border into the United States, along with thousands of Mexican emigrants, exiles, and refugees.

In Mexican Exodus, Julia Young reframes the Cristero war as a transnational conflict, using previously unexamined archival materials from both Mexico and the United States to investigate the intersections between Mexico's Cristero War and Mexican migration to the United States during the late 1920s. She traces the formation, actions, and ideologies of the Cristero diaspora--a network of Mexicans across the United States who supported the Catholic uprising from beyond the border. These Cristero supporters participated in the conflict in a variety of ways: they took part in religious ceremonies and spectacles, organized political demonstrations and marches, formed associations and organizations, and collaborated with religious and political leaders on both sides of the border. Some of them even launched militant efforts that included arms smuggling, military recruitment, espionage, and armed border revolts. Ultimately, the Cristero diaspora aimed to overturn Mexico's anticlerical government and reform the Mexican Constitution of 1917. Although the group was unable to achieve its political goals, Young argues that these emigrants--and the war itself--would have a profound and enduring resonance for Mexican emigrants, impacting community formation, political affiliations, and religious devotion throughout subsequent decades and up to the present day.”

The work is much more academic than I expected based on the recommendation I received. But once I started reading, I was hooked. It was hard not to read this book and consider some of the implications to both Mexico and the United States, both historically and the continuing impact. The Sections in the book are:

Introduction: A Desert Uprising
1) A History of Faith and Conflic
2) Religious Refugees, Political Exiles, and the U.S. Catholic Church
3) "In Defense of Their Brothers Beyond the Río Grande"
4) Bishops, Knights, Border Guards, and Spies
5) After the Arreglos
6) Memories, Myths, and Martyrs
Epilogue: Cristeros Resurgent

Over a third of the book is the End Notes, Bibliography and Index section. This is truly an academic treaty, but Young has written it in such a way that anyone interested in this period of history can read and benefit from the volume. It presents at times both sides of the conflict, but throughout it focuses on the impact of the influx in American regions, states and cities of such a large population shift. In the epilogue it states:

“It is certainly true that the memory of the Cristero War has remained alive in California, as well as in many other parts of the United States and Mexico. In 2006, The New York Times Magazine published an article entitled “Nuevo Catholics,” which argued that Hispanic immigrants have revitalized the Catholic Church in the United States.”

And the book ends with:

“As historians and other scholars continue to assess the impact of the war, the actions, interactions, and ideologies of the Cristero diaspora must be taken into consideration. Newer religious devotions, such as that of Santo Toribio, indicate that the legacy of the Cristero War—particularly its history of martyrdom and militancy—will continue to retain symbolic significance, and to shape religious and political identities, for Mexican Catholics on both sides of the border.”

And that is the place from which I approached the book. And as such greatly appreciated it. This book will not be for all readers. Some will balk at the price or academic nature. With the recent release of the paperback edition, and adjustment to the ebook price it is much more accessible. But I would state to both it is worth the effort, especially if you have an interest in the events, the saints and blessed of this time and place.

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2020 Catholic Reading Plan!

Other books about Catholic Mexican History:
The Mexican Crisis Its Causes and Consequences - Rev. Michael Kenny, S.J., Ph.D.
Blood-Drenched Altars: A Catholic Commentary on the History of Mexico - Francis Kelley
Saints and Sinners in the Cristero War: Stories of Martyrdom from Mexico - James Murphy 

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