February 19, 1999
By Daniel L. Muñoz
At the age of 16 Maria Amparo Escandon began writing a simple memoir about her family. Little did she know that her curiosity and desire to let the people of Mexico City know about her great-grandfather, Ramon Corral, Vice President of Mexico during the Porfirio Diaz dictatorship (1910) would lead her to fame as a renown writer of fiction, novels and short stories.
Born in the city of Mexico, home to the Aztecs, Toltecs, and
eventually the founding land of the Mestizo Race, Maria Amparo
Escandon absorbed the mysterious religious cultures of the indigenous
cultures that surrounded her father's hacienda. " I rode
my horse, chased chameleons and dug archeological pieces from
the surrounding Toltec pyramids", she now recalls.
Maria Amparo Escandon
The ancient religions of Mexico's indigenous people eventually became enmeshed with the new imposed religion of the conquering Spaniards. The ancient Gods of the Toltecs, Aztecs, Mayas, as well as of all the indigenous groups, melted into the religion and melded with the pantheon of Saints of the new Catholic religion. Though the Gods took on new forms, they never became totally absorbed. Thus the "Santitos", that eerily walked through the pages of Maria Amparo Escandon's novel, are as natural as the ancient sightings of the spirits of the world were to the Aztecs as was their mistaking the white Conquistadors as Gods.
In her first major work in the English language "Espe-ranza's Box of Saints," which she wrote in 1998 and had published in January of 1999, brought to the American reader the haunting story of true belief and a mother's love for her child. Escandon takes us on a mystical trip as seen through the eyes and as felt in the heart of a poor Mestiza woman, Esperanza Diaz.
Widowed as a young bride and young mother, from a small isolated Mexican village of Tlacotalpan, we relive her pain and suffering when she losses her only child, Blanca. At the age of 12 Blanca is hospitalized for a minor routine operation from which she never returns.
As a devote Catholic, living in the religious present but still condition by the religious-cultural beliefs of the village, Esperanza has an apparition on the greasy stained door of her stove. It is San Judas Tadeo, the saint of desperate causes. He speaks to Esperanza and tells her "Your Daughter is not dead" Esperanza, steeped in the lore of ancient Mexico, strongly believes that the Gods are truly speaking to her.
From that moment on, the reader is taken on a mystical sacred trip seeking Blanca! It is a painful journey full of dangers to Esperanza as she leaves her safe haven in Tlacotalpan. She follows the lead of her beloved Saint through a perilous trip of self-discovery and pain from Veracruz to Los Angeles.
We believe that "Esperanza's Box of Saints" will bring you laughter, fear, and a sense of understanding of the interconnectedness between reality and the strength of strongly held beliefs, whether it be in Quetzalcoatl or Christian God. What one chooses to believe is within the soul and heart of each one and will be one's guiding strength.
(Maria Amparo Escandon was born in Mexico. She now lives in Los Angeles. She teaches writing at UCLA.)