Bless Me, Ultima: The Movie

Indeed, the movie is about pride and prejudice. It is about faith and beliefs in a "modern world."

By Roberto Dr. Cintli Rodriguez, Contributing Editor
Published on LatinoLA: February 23, 2013

Bless Me, Ultima: The Movie

First a confession: I was not a Chicano Studies major when I attended UCLA back in the day‘«™ Probably for that reason, I have never read Bless Me Ultima, cover to cover‘«™ That's probably an unpardonable sin, akin to me never having donned a Zoot Suit, etc.

But let's talk about the movie, set during World War II in northern New Mexico.

Yet, for me, the context is always Arizona.

Just an FYI: Bless Me Ultima is one of the books that was at the core of Tucson's Raza Studies curriculum. It had been previously banned around the country, but the Tucson Unified School District put it on the map in 2010 by shutting down the program, essentially banning all the books and other materials (Aztec Calendar) associated with it. All this was precipitated because then-state schools' superintendent, Tom Horne, decided that Raza Studies was outside of Western Civilization.

That said, I would recommend the movie to any and all past, present and future censors, starting with Mr. Horne, his successor, John Huppenthal and current Tucson Superintendent John Pedicone and all the TUSD school board and all the state legislators (nationwide) who have conspired to destroy Raza Studies.

To them and to the world, I would say: Bless Me Ultima is Raza Studies!

From the opening scene, it is magical‘«™ more than magical, it is the magic of New Mexico, whose reality is virtually unknown to urban types (like myself) who growing up, know little of the land, the mountains, the waters and the open skies.

Ultima is a curandera, who moves in with family in a village in Northern New Mexico‘«™ where everyone knows each other‘«™ but where feuds stretch far back and where violence is no stranger‘«™

In the movie, Ultima takes 7-year-old Antonio under her wing, teaching him about life‘«™ about medicine, about the natural world, but most of all, about the nature of human beings.

Without giving the story and ending away, Bless Me Ultima indeed is about pride and prejudice. It is about faith and beliefs in a "modern world." Its power is that it is seen through the eyes of a seven year-old, a boy who is destined to become a priest‘«™

Ultima is recognizable ‘«Ű an Indigenous woman-healer - a woman who people both respect, but also fear‘«™ and as the movie shows, a woman who is shunned, even after she heals. Unstated, is that this story takes place among what people refer to as an Indohispano village.

The fact that the book/movie touches upon the subject of curanderas is what roils conservatives. Just like in the movie, she is accused of being a witch who practices witchcraft‘«™. Many of the village people react to her, akin to the way they've been taught to react for 500 years‘«™

Beyond watching the movie (and reading the book), I would recommend two books (and I have read both of them): Women and Knowledge in Mesoamerica: From East L.A. to Anahuac (2011) by Paloma Martinez-Cruz and Red Medicine (2012), by Patrisia Gonzales, both from the University of Arizona Press.

Both deal with topic of woman healers and their knowledge and medicines that survive the so-called conquest or European invasion. It is living knowledge‘«™ knowledge that cannot be destroyed, despite a 500-year effort.

The magic of Bless Me Ultima is beyond its content; it is, after 41 years, the ability to see Rodolfo Anaya's classic work on the big screen. Truly, to see brown faces throughout the whole movie, not simply in support roles or as extras ‘«Ű was part of the magic.

In effect, Bless Me Ultima was one of the first fruits of the Chicano/Chicana literary renaissance. It made me and makes me wonder when we will be seeing a few more classics, a product of the Flor y Canto (In Xochitl In Cuicatl) Movement of the 1960s-1970s. There are hundreds of stories ready to be told.

To Rudy Anaya: Gracias-Thanks-Tlazocamati‘«™



Rodriguez, an assistant professor at the University of Arizona, can be reached at: XColumn@gmail.com - http://drcintli.blogspot.com/

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