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My dissertation, entitled Pilgrimage in el Gran México, utilizes the structural and thematic configuration of pilgrimage to problematize various current debates: the representations of the U.S.-Mexico border, Mexican northern literature, (in)migration, and the coexistence of distinct historical temporalities in contemporary Greater Mexico, among others. Considering that the very foundational myth of Mexican history involves a pilgrimage—the sacred journey that the people of Aztlán undertake in search of a sacred vision: an eagle perched on a prickly pear cactus, devouring a snake—, I have devoted my research to the study of this peculiar form of sacred travel. Indeed, my investigation demonstrates that sacred journeys allow pilgrims to cross "sacred" borders and enter mystical territories. Moreover, in the texts I study, pilgrimages facilitate reencounters with lost identities and with distant temporalities and, through these reencounters, they offer the promise of spiritual (and even physical) resurrections. The pilgrims I examine embark on sacred journeys to descend (or to ascend) into the social and existential depths (or summits) of the flesh and mind; through their journeys, these pilgrims discover unique sanctuaries: mirrors of degenerate eroticism, of terminal sickness, of folk sanctity, and of supernatural healing. Pilgrimages, I argue, entail the delirious search for the eternal in the realm of the ephemeral, for the immortal in the mortal, for the miraculous in the mundane. The first chapter of my dissertation explores a canonical short story: "Talpa", by Juan Rulfo. I argue that this story masterfully employs the semantics and syntax of two of the most important constituents of pilgrimage: the idea of miracle and that of penitence. "Talpa" uses the miraculous to meditate on (and to refute) a commonplace associated not only with Mexican literature, but with Latin American literature in general: lo maravilloso (the marvelous). Moreover, this story uses the penitential to illustrate another of the pillars of pilgrimage: an economy of exchange between the divine and the human. I also demonstrate that "Talpa" reveals pilgrimage’s theatrical nature; indeed, in Juan Rulfo’s story, two pilgrimages fight with each other: one is real, whereas the other one is fictional: a performance which suddenly becomes murderous. In my second chapter, I examine the film Bajo California: El límite del tiempo, by Carlos Bolado. I focus my analysis on the sui generis pilgrimage of the main character (Damián Ojeda, a Latino artist) who crosses the Mexico-U.S border to expiate the guilt he feels after running over a pregnant woman. His pilgrimage takes place "backwards"; that is, he crosses from the U.S into Mexico: from the Global North into the Global South, an itinerary that subverts the conventional geopolitics of (in)migration. I also argue that in Bajo pilgrimage disguises itself as an artistic installation, an almost sacrilegious operation that abolishes the fallacious divorce between art and religion trumpeted by the architects of modernity. I contend that this film’s pilgrim returns to the land of his ancestors in search of psychological and spiritual healing; thus, for him the past is his sanctuary. Moreover, Bajo illustrates what I call the heart of pilgrimage: Motherhood. Indeed, all the pilgrimages that my dissertation studies, no matter what "mask" they adopt, are always sacred attempts to return to the maternal womb. Motherhood, this chapter allows me to conclude, is the magnetic force that orchestrates all pilgrimages. In my third chapter, I study Yuri Herrera’s novel Señales que precederán el fin del mundo (Signs Preceding the End of the World). I concentrate on how this novel uses pilgrimage to illustrate the transculturation of the protagonist, a girl named Makina, who embarks on a journey to the U.S. in search of her lost brother. Furthermore, in this chapter I prove that pilgrimage demands a transcultural space: one where different historical periods and nations interact: in Bajo’s pilgrimage, elements of the Pre-Columbian world dialogue with those of the Latinx world, and contemporary Greater Mexico is in dialogue with its colonial past. Finally, in my last chapter, I analyze the construction of secular sanctity through a series of pilgrimages in The Hummingbird’s Daughter, a novel by Latino writer Luis Alberto Urrea. I understand The Hummingbird’s as a series of metamorphosis: an illegitimate girl becomes a pilgrim, and later becomes a saint, and finally becomes a migrant. Her ontological trajectory starts in the telluric, enters the divine, and finally returns to the telluric. In this fictional hagiography, migration and pilgrimage become the same indivisible substance.

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Pilgrimage; Literature; Latin American Literature; borderlands; miracle; travel literature; U.S.-Mexico border; Latin American studies; Religion


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Union Local


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Castillo, Debra Ann

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Paz-Soldan, Jose Edmundo
Keller, Patricia M.

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Romance Studies

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Ph. D., Romance Studies

Degree Level

Doctor of Philosophy

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dissertation or thesis

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