My Novel Santa Muerte Mentioned in Academic Paper

On occasion I google my name, mostly to see if there are any mentions of me and my works anywhere I should be aware of. Yesterday, I came upon this find and I’m surprised I did not find it sooner.


Back in 2014 a student at the University of Miami mentioned me and my novel Santa Muerte in his thesis for his Master of Arts. Armando Rubi III wrote the below about my novel in his thesis Santa Muerte: A Transnational Spiritual Movement of the Marginalized.


I have not yet read the entire paper, but I did enjoy his analysis of my usage of Santa Muerte.

The below is an excerpt from Armando Rubi III’s thesis Santa Muerte: A Transnational Spiritual Movement of the Marginalized.


“The abuse of the power of Santa Muerte for personal gain and nefarious purposes such as drug cartels, violence and criminality is endemic in the media portrayals on either side of the border. Born in Puerto Rico and raised in inner-city Chicago, Cynthia Pelayo has won the International Latino Book Award for her young adult novel, Santa Muerte. The novel centers around Ariana Molina, a young woman whose father works for the authorities in Mexico combating the drug cartels. “Ari” begins to have visions and dreams of Santa Muerte and finds herself being targeted and kidnapped by the cartel that seeks to eliminate her father. Throughout the book, Pelayo connects Santa Muerte to the drug cartels yet at the same time criticizes how the system of belief has been corrupted and abused. In a flashback, Ari’s mother states:


Santa Muerte wants to be worshiped and praised and she has found that in the people on the edge; prostitutes, drug dealers, thieves and murders [sic]. They have brought the passion that she has longed for since the conquerors left. Lust, power, death, and revenge. These are the things she oversees and these are the things that her followers are begging for Ari, 32 but I want you to beware. There are those who abuse their gods. There are those who do not know for what they ask because they think that their earthly indulgences are all that matters, but the gods are no fools. Our god of death is commanded by no one. (181)


Ari’s mother has restated that the marginalized are the people that Santa Muerte attracts yet is highlighting the criminal or illegal practices of the marginalized. Prostitutes or thieves may not be violent wrong-doers, but their activities are considered illegal and on the fringes of society, highlighting their criminality both in the present and the colonial experience.


It is to be noted, however, that there is a criticism of those who abuse Santa Muerte’s gifts. In the conclusion of the novel, Santa Muerte herself recruits Ari as her agent among the living and tells her: “You will find my betrayers, find my detractors. I’ve been abused long enough by the living. The living do not command me. I command the living and I want death to those who have abused my powers and my strengths” (221). Pelayo has clearly constructed a unique Santa Muerte worldview in her novel, having a young girl serve as her living agent. Santa Muerte states that she wants death to those who have abused her, signifying that she alone does not choose who dies. The more neutral or benevolent beliefs of Santa Muerte are that God the Father is who decides when it is a person’s time to die and that Santa Muerte is only the messenger who claims the soul. The more malevolent beliefs of Santa Muerte–which Pelayo insinuates in her novel is abuse of the religious system–do teach that if devotees are sincere and make adequate offerings, they can persuade Santa Muerte to kill or cause harm to an enemy.”