Rows upon rows of pink crosses line the desert floor. A veil-covered skeletal face emerges from the barren landscape. She tells the dying girl in her arms: “There’s no such thing as villains and heroes. Only those lost in the desert” (49). Shivers trail down my spine. Hilary Bettis’ play, The Ghosts of Lote Bravo features countless symbols, but the most striking is the “The Bony Lady” herself: La Santa Muerte (52). Bettis employs the icon to implode the black-and-white binary of good and evil and to expose the systems of exploitation of the bodies at risk in Lote Bravo, making the play a testament to what we studied in our course. In my collage and artist’s statement, I intend to evoke La Santa Muerte and the buried dreams of those she embodies into an emotional piece of art.
My collage begins with Juanda’s admittance to the sacrifice of Raquel: “I…My daughter’s blood is on my hands. I sent her out on the streets. I knew how to feed us the moment I saw that red shirt. I’ve sacrificed everything for nothing” (60). Juanda initially appears to be a caring mother searching for her child until La Santa Muerte forces her to acknowledge the ugly truth.
As a reader, I felt betrayed by the role Juanda had in Raquel’s death. In a larger context, though, Juanda is a pawn in the systems of exploitation. If I cannot judge Juanda, then should I judge characters like “El Reloj” or the police officer, Roberto? La Santa Muerte illuminates the complexity of these characters. No one is one-dimensional. “El Reloj” dropped his sicario persona around Raquel and even planned to escape Lote Bravo with her. Bettis also drops a clue in the Production Notes: “Men were turned away from employment in favor of women because they were less likely to unionize, and more willing to work longer hours for less pay” (48). In actuality, both men and women in Lote Bravo face limited opportunities, pushing some to pursue disreputable and violent occupations.
No matter who you are, La Santa Muerte spots you as someone with a soul. She represents all the characters of The Ghosts of Lote Bravo — neither completely innocent or sinful, nor completely good or evil. I assembled her face with an eclectic mix of faces as opposed to a simple skeletal face in my collage. La Santa Muerte embodies not only those who pray to her, but also those who don’t fit into the good-or-evil binary: essentially everyone.
Some faces I put under her veil stick out as immediately recognizable, such as Davidson College alum and basketball star, Stephen Curry. Other faces fade into the mix. I selected young and old faces; faces of different races and ethnicities; and faces with smiles and frowns. My intention was to show that no singular individual stands out as good or bad. Women’s faces also disproportionately fill the facial outline of La Santa Muerte to highlight the overwhelming victimization Lote Bravo’s women and girls. Oppressive societal environments pressure them to make impossible choices — life and death choices.
Pink crosses cannot travel or dream, so behind La Sante Muerte is a diverse collection of iconic sites and places around the world. La Santa Muerte’s form continues as the main focal point of my collage, but I wanted to pay special tribute to Raquel’s lost life and dreams in specific detail. Flirtatious texts between teenagers dot the skyline, representing the lost love and childlike play between Raquel and “El Reloj.” Grilled cheese sandwiches and other diner foods border the page — a bittersweet reminder of Raquel’s New York waitress aspirations. Skyscrapers, beaches, and heavenly sunsets manifest Raquel’s ghost dreams born in the desert — dreams brutally beaten down in the sand.
Dreams are not black and white. People are not black and white. That’s why the portrait of La Santa Muerte looks like this. It’s colorful, representing our diverse humanity and moral ambiguity.
Bordertown prostitute. Desperate mother. Childlike hitman. Unscrupulous policemen. These are the faces of Lote Bravo. These are the faces that I see in La Santa Muerte.