Editor’s Note: This is the second cross-posting that Points is proud to feature from the Freq.uenci.es project, a “collaborative genealogy of spirituality” sponsored by the Social Science Research Council’s Working Group on Spirituality, Political Engagement, and Public Life. (Our first cross-posting, on Bill W. and the Big Book, appeared earlier this fall). Today’s offering is by Luís León, Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Denver; the spectacular lead illustration is by Joseph Mastroianni.
Counted among my pantheon of personal heroes while growing up in California’s East Bay area were Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong. I was a strange kid. I still sometimes mimic Cheech’s purposefully exaggerated Chicano accent, American English with a Spanish rhythm and Aztec intonation, also known as Calo or Mexican American “Spanglish.” It’s a sound distinct to the borderlands experience; the echo of Aztlan: the Chicana/o mythical homeland; a sanctuary; a pipe dream. When I speak like Cheech to my close friend and academic colleague, who I affectionately call Chong, we deploy a linguistic code decipherable sometimes only by us, and perhaps a few other confidantes. Referring to four twenty, I often say “los santos,” or just santos, which translates loosely as “the saints.” We conspire in our devotion to them. Like the Rastafarians, the practice becomes a sacred ritual. For us, praying to the saints, our muertos, is an attempt to connect to the divine; a gestural offering in hopes of elevating our spirits to Elysium; the mythical land of the triumphantly dead, or physically displaced, the heavenly space where the souls of heroes dwell. Aztlan by another name. This, I believe, is how my Chicano hero, Cheech Marin, understands his devotion to los santos.
It’s appropriate that Cheech, a Mexican American, would open the artistic space for the popularization and promotion of marijuana into the soul of American popular culture.