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I Call Her 'La Flaca'

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Published on Jul 13, 2012

Arely Gonzalez's bedroom in Jackson Heights, Queens, was once a garage. Occupying the wall that was the garage door is an altar, and at the center is a statue of a skeleton draped in jewelry and dressed in a sparkling jade gown. She is La Santa Muerte, the Holy Death, and she is the object of Gonzalez's affection, a powerful ally in a precarious life, a source of comfort—even miracles—when nothing else helps.

Also known as La Flaca, the Skinny Lady, and La Huesuda, the Bony Lady, Santa Muerte has been worshipped in Mexico since the early 20th century. Her origins are murky, perhaps a merging of Aztec or Mayan death deities with European Catholic culture. Her popularity has exploded in the past ten years. Today, millions of Mexicans call themselves devotees of Santa Muerte, and her cult has crossed the border into the U.S.

The project was made possible by a Knight Foundation grant for reporting on religion and American public life. Faith in the Five Boroughs is produced by Julia Elliott and Matt Ozug, and shot and edited by Scott Elliott.

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