As soon as she arrives, Ultima recognises something within Antonio, and becomes his mentor in curanderismo, the healing arts. She teaches him not only the herbs and their properties, but also how to respect them. Antonio has vivid dreams and deep sympathies, which reflect not only his learning as a curandero, but also the conflicts of Catholic teachings and traditional beliefs, and the conventionality of his mother's family and the freedom loving nature of his father. Then his uncle Lucas is cursed by the three bruja (witch) daughters of Tenorio Trementina. Antonio not only witnesses Ultima break the curse, but also internalises Lucas' illness, leading to his recovery. However, Tenorio becomes determined to destroy Ultima and anyone protecting her. Antonio witnesses a number of deaths as a result.
Bless Me, Ultima contains swearing both in Mexican Spanish and in English, and what could be taken for mocking of Catholic religious practices through the children re-enacting confession with Antonio as reluctant priest. However, there is nothing more shocking in it than in Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood scenes with children. I was unsurprised to see that the principal who removed the book in Norwood, Colorado later admitted that he had in fact not read it. I am at a loss to find where the parents of Fayetteville, Arkansas find the book irreverent. The scene where the children are re-enacting confession, as I mention above, shows that Antonio is an unwilling participant and feels uncomfortable doing so; Anaya is definitely not approving of this behaviour.
In my opinion the changes to the UK education system, with more state-funded independent schools and giving more "freedom" in the curriculum could lead to similar challenges to literature here. In my opinion this should be resisted. Parents should and do have the right to disapprove of books for children; they have every right to control what their children read at home. However, no parent should have the right to control what other children read. Literature exists to provoke, challenge and make us think. It should be discussed, studied and its merits should be judged. How else will a child in the City of Birmingham, UK know about the lives of children in Birmingham, Alabama, or children in East London, UK know about children in East London, South Africa? "Only connect", as EM Forster says in Howards End. Through reading, that is what we do.
An appropriate song: La Bruja by Lila Downs, an amazing Mexican singer.
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