El Hermano – A Novel by Carmen Baca
Imagine growing up in a Penitente household where your father, Hermano Mayor of the community's cofradía, never discloses a word about their secret rituals although you’re allowed to participate in their public ceremonies. Fast forward another decade after your father’s passing when you clean out the Hermanos’ morada and unearth an old wooden box filled with their religious relics, their implements for performing penance, their blood-stained garments, and their rules established in 1850, all of which confirm what you suspected all along from your limited studies of Penitentes in New Mexico. When this happened to me, I knew I had to write my father's story to provide an insight into their secret society which I believe no one else can.
What sets my book apart from those already on the market is the first person narration in a style reminiscent of Bless Me, Ultima. El Hermano takes place mostly during the forty days of Lent in 1928 as José and his four cousins conspire to spy on one of the Brotherhood’s secret rituals to see what lies ahead for them as novices. José knows his time to join the cofradía (of which his own father is Hermano Mayor-the leader) is near, but having seen a few Hermanos who appear to be in pain after a night spent at the Morada and having heard stories about those who even died in the past because of whatever went on within the sacred structure, his fear guides him to join his cousins in their clandestine scheme. Little do they know, certain New Mexican legends conspire against them; La Muerte warns José to leave his future unknown, a ghost hampers their midnight excursion on another occasion, a ball of fire thought to be a witch also crosses their path, and even la Llorona and el Diablo make an appearance. Additionally, interwoven in José’s story are customs common to Hispanics even today—the age-old cures for empachado and ojo, which combine with forgotten traditions of the past: formal letters required in asking for the bride and giving the infant to padrinos for baptism (both historical documents included in the context are mine).
About Carmen Baca (Albuquerque, New Mexico Author)
Carmen Baca taught a variety of English and history courses, mostly at the high school and college levels, over the course of thirty-six years before retiring in 2014. She is a member of the Las Vegas chapter of the New Mexico Association of Educational Retirees. Her command of both English and Spanish enables her to write with true story-telling talent. Her knowledge of New Mexico Penitentes, traditions, and folklore enables her to tell the story of her father’s entrance into the secret society of the Penitente Brotherhood. Set in the early nineteen hundreds, El Hermano provides historical insight into the life of a rural community which embraced los Hermanos and welcomed their selfless acts of charity. Living on the land left to her by her father, she and her husband enjoy a peaceful county life in northern New Mexico.