Mexican Exodus

Emigrants, Exiles, and Refugees of the Cristero War

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Julia G. Young
  • New York, NY: 
    Oxford University Press
    , August
     288 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


In the wake of the anticlerical reforms of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920), militant priests, bishops, and lay Catholics took up arms against the government in a bloody series of battles referred to in English as the Cristero War (1926-1929). Military troops defeated the loosely organized rebels, forcing tens of thousands of Cristero supporters to leave for the United States as exiles or refugees. Mexican Exodus tells the story of this “Cristero diaspora,” and traces its legacy down to present-day Mexican-American communities. Julia Young’s strong narrative style combines with an excellent organizational scheme to make this book an instructive and enjoyable read. While the Cristero cause was unsuccessful on the battlefields of west-central Mexico, the author shows how Cristero supporters’ militant Catholicism influenced the lives of Mexicans on both sides of the border.  

Young engages with scholarship on the Cristero War, borderlands, and popular Mexican-American religion. In keeping with her uncluttered, narrative style, these interactions occur primarily in the rich endnotes that accompany the introduction and chapter 6. In chapter 1, the author provides the basic historical narrative of the Cristero War, and its intersection with massive waves of Mexican emigration to the United States during the 1920s. The following three chapters introduce readers to exiled Mexican Catholics as they participated in the Cristero cause through fundraising, propaganda, and even armed rebellion from their new homes in US cities like Los Angeles and Chicago. Chapters 5 and 6 focus on the years after the cease-fire agreements between the Catholic Church and the Mexican state in 1929. Here, we get a sense of the ongoing legacy of pro-Cristero activism in Mexican-American communities, and the final chapter analyzes the oral histories of six families descended from Cristero supporters.

While one of Young’s main objectives is to show the “importance of the Cristero diaspora for an understanding of contemporary Mexican religious and political identities on both sides of the border,” she never quite demonstrates how Cristero conservatism has affected the political identity of Mexican-American communities (12). We get a brief view of this legacy in the epilogue, when Young mentions that, in recent decades, Cristero imagery has become “a heroic emblem for conservative Catholics” (179). Yet, as we learn in chapter 6, some Cristero martyrs such as Santo Toribio Romo have become symbols of Mexican immigration (both documented and undocumented), aligning the legacy of the cause with a politically progressive issue. Young misses an opportunity to analyze the overlap between Cristero symbolism and the complex political makeup of Mexican-American communities. In this particular case, the author seems content to provide the data and allow readers to reach their own conclusions.

Alongside the book’s many poignant vignettes, Young provides readers with a refreshingly clear view into the archive. One example is her use of the personal archives of the de la Torre family, who emigrated from Mexico to Arizona at the height of the Cristero War. In this section, Young takes readers on a tour of the family’s collection of personal letters, political pamphlets, and organizational newsletters in order to demonstrate how members of the Cristero diaspora continued supporting their cause after the end of the war in 1929 (145-149). The author weaves the personal stories of the de la Torre family into her discussion of sources including the letters they exchanged with “the two exiled bishops most important to Cristero activism in the United States” (145). The book is full of similar examples where the lines between the archive and the human experiences they represent are blurred. Additionally, throughout the text, organically positioned photographs and historical images add to the intimacy that connects the reader, author, and historical actors.

In Mexican Exodus, Young successfully shows the transnational and trans-temporal importance of the Cristero War. Convincingly argued and well researched, this compact volume—180 pages of main text—would make an excellent addition to undergraduate and graduate seminars on borderlands, US religions, or modern Latin American history.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Matthew Peter Casey is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of History at the University of California, Davis.

Date of Review: 
September 26, 2016
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Julia G. Young is Assistant Professor in the Department of History at The Catholic University of America.


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