Analyzing the costumbrista sketches of Ignacio Manuel Altamirano as a single multi-faceted work, and comparing his treatment of popular Catholicism in different communities, this study represents a new reading of the author’s writings. It proposes that Altamirano’s juxtaposition of religion and modernity across urban-rural and ethnic continua reveals the author exploring the possibilities of Indian-centered nationalism rooted in what he describes as the innately American, independent spirit of rural indigenous Catholic practice. In short, camou- flaged in a traditional, eclectic genre, Altamirano identified the foundations of the national character in Indian popular religion long before twentieth-century indigenismo looked to contemporary Native American culture for inspiration.
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