Mexican Robin Hood figure gains a kind of notoriety abroad
Our Blessed Saint of Narcotics?
By Kate Murphy
Jesús Malverde has been revered for almost a century in northwestern Mexico. According to folklore, he was a Mexican Robin Hood who took from the rich and gave to the poor until he was killed by the police in 1909.
Now, immigrants have brought his legend to the United States. His image, which is thought to offer protection from the law, can be found on items that include T shirts and household cleaners.
Malverde is widely considered the patron saint of drug dealers, say law enforcement officials and experts on Mexican culture. A shrine has been erected atop his grave in the remote city of Culiacán in the Mexican state of Sinaloa, which has long been associated with opium and marijuana trafficking.
"The drug guys go to the shrine and ask for assistance and come back with stacks of money to give thanks," said James Creechan.
But Creechan, who presented a paper on Malverde to the American Society of Criminology in 2005, added that the poor also pray to Malverde for money and safe passage across the border into the United States.
An influx of immigrants from the Sinaloan region in recent years has made Malverde's image increasingly visible on this side of the border, particularly in the Southwest and in California. His legend has spread among Hispanics, Creechan said, inspiring many to build altars to Malverde in their homes, as well as to wear Malverde cologne.
His image, which looks suspiciously like that of Pedro Infante, the Mexican matinee idol of the 1940s, appears on T shirts and patches sewn on jackets and backpacks. Busts of Malverde can be seen next to cash registers at restaurants, bars and discos.