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Richard Valdemar

Richard Valdemar

Sgt. Richard Valdemar retired from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department after spending most of his 33 years on the job combating gangs.

Patron Saints of the Mexican Drug Underworld (Part 1 of 2)

Both Mexican and Mexican-American criminals use the iconography and heroes of the church and Mexican culture as symbols of power and loyalty.

June 01, 2010  |  by Richard Valdemar - Also by this author

The Lady of Guadalupe

In December 1531 on Tepeyac Hill near Mexico City, the miraculous appearance of the Virgin Mary known as Our Lady of Guadalupe almost overnight converted millions of Mexico's indigenous natives to Catholicism. This was partly due to the fact that she is said to have appeared as a native in native dress and first appeared to a simple indigenous man named Juan Diego. This appearance is said to have occurred near the spot where human sacrifices had once been made to the pagan god Mictecacihuatl. The Lady of Guadalupe became the patron saint of Mexico and of the entire American continent. Her image is found throughout Mexico and in both Central America and South America.

Both pious orthodox Catholics and superstitious criminals often utilize statues and images of the Lady of Guadalupe. She is invoked by criminals who are believers in magic for protection and to identify with Mexico. She can often be found in their cars and homes along with unorthodox folk saints and good luck charms. 

Scarface and Tweety

For some reason two common "good luck" images among Narco traffickers are the movie character from "Scarface" and the cartoon character "Tweety Bird." Al Pacino's Scarface is admired and invoked because the movie depicts him as a highly successful narcotics kingpin.

I have seen posters from the movie in countless gang members' homes and even a "Scarface" doll owned by a Mexican Mafia member arrested in Orange County, Calif. Tweety can be thought of as a pollo (baby chick), which is Mexican slang for an illegal border crosser and a pollero is slang for a smuggler or coyote. The Tweety decal on an automobile is another hint about its owner's occupation.

Orthodox Catholic Saints

Saint Jude is a recognized Catholic saint. He is considered the patron of hopeless or desperate causes. Comedian Danny Thomas built a hospital in his name for people with terminal diseases. In the criminal underworld, Saint Jude is invoked to protect smugglers and bandits because of their desperate situation.

Saint Toribio Romo was a Catholic priest who was martyred in 1928 during the persecution of Catholics by the Mexican government in the Christero War that followed the Mexican Revolution.

In the 1990s, illegal immigrants crossing the Sonora desert into the U.S. began reporting that they were given food and water by a stranger who resembled the image of Saint Toribio. Subsequently, he became the patron of immigrants or illegal immigrants. He is invoked by both coyotes and border crossers who must cross the dangerous border area.

Santo Nino de Atocha (Holy Child of Atocha) came to Mexico from 13th Century Spain. During this time, the city of Atocha fell under the control of Muslim invaders. The males of the town were imprisoned and denied food and water. Only very small children were allowed to visit these men. The women pleaded and prayed for divine intervention to a statue of the Virgin Mary who held in her arms the Christ child. A small child appeared in the prison carrying a pilgrim's staff with a gourd of water and a basket of food. This was assumed to be the Christ child. Santo Nino became the patron of prisoners and travelers. Because of this, his image is often used by prisoners and by human smugglers.  

San Ramon was a saint who was born by Caesarian operation. He is known for exchanging himself to free Christians warriors held hostage by the Muslims in Algiers. He was tortured for preaching to convert his captors. A hot iron rod was used to pierce his lips and a lock was used to seal his mouth. He is invoked as the patron saint of midwives and of silence. Drug dealers especially invoke San Ramon to prevent the telling of secrets. It is common to see his image with a coin or tape placed across his lips to ensure silence.

Read the second part of this blog here.

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