Mormonism in Mexico, Part 12: Bautista’s Lamanites

While efforts to gather converts from central Mexico failed and the mission in central Mexico closed, there would still be future successes. Among the earliest converts in the 20th century in Mexico, the Bautista family would go on to have an impact on the Church for years to come, including the development of an indigenous-affirming perspective on Lamanite identity.

In the end, will it be us, the Mexicans and all the other aborigines who are scattered throughout Mexico and down to Central and South America, the ones who in the latter days will have the right to become the greatest because of our birthright for which our forefathers shed so much blood?

~Margarito Bautista[1]

 

This is part 12 of a history series in connection with the Mexican Mission Hymns project.

 


 

Juana and Margarito Bautista were early converts who moved north to the colonies in northern Mexico and remained there for several years. Juana (1882 – 1984) was a faithful member of the Church and missionary throughout her life. Her older brother, Margarito (1878 – 1961), became an influential member in Mexico, writing the largest single contribution to Latter-day Saint literature by an individual with indigenous ancestry to date. His commitment to Mexican nationalism and Mormon fundamentalism, however, would eventually lead him into conflict with the leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Margarito was the first to come in contact with the Church. Juana recalled that: “The Elders would go visit him. … I was delighted that the missionaries visited my brother… because I could listen to the gospel that they taught him … from the Bible and the Book of Mormon. I felt great joy.”[2] Even though a priesthood blessing from the missionaries healed Margarito from a severe illness, their parents opposed them being baptized. Finally, however, Juana was baptized on November 15, 1901. The rest of their family eventually followed.

Both Juana and Margarito were powerful public speakers. Juana recalled that:

The Mission President [Ammon M. Tenny] said that if any person had a verse from the Bible or the Book of Mormon that they would like to touch upon, to raise their hand. I quickly raised my hand, and I was granted permission to speak. [Thereafter,] I would study the Bible and the Book of Mormon all of the time so that I would be ready to speak again the following Sunday, then again the Sunday after–I spoke every Sunday. It was heard throughout the families [in the community] that I spoke at the meetings. When the Branch was organized, only two families attended [our church]. But soon there was not enough room in the meeting place for all of the people, because they would all come to hear me speak.[3]

Ammon Tenney wrote in his journal that when Juana spoke “her face glowed with an unseen Power, her cheeks were crimsoned with red & her eyes sparkled & snapped as under the greatest emotion. … She seemed wrought upon by some unseen Power to the astonishment of her father & mother.” He added in a later entry that: “The son & daughter of the man & woman are the foremost in the defense of the Gospell and never loose an opportunity … to bear a faithful Testimony. Their names are Margarito & Juana Bautista.”[4]

Juana married José Medina Zúñiga in 1903, then moved north to the colonies to join Margarito, who had moved there previously. José had been among the saints who had participated in the attempt at gathering in the north. Together, they were instrumental in establishing a Spanish-speaking branch in Colonia Dublán. When the Mexican Revolution erupted in 1910, however, José was conscripted by Pancho Villa’s men and both he and Margarito fled the country to avoid fighting the Villistas’ battles. Their families followed after and they settled first in Mesa, Arizona and then in Salt Lake City, Utah. José found steady employment for three decades there as a janitor at the Salt Lake City Z.C.M.I. store and Juana and Margarito worked together to share the gospel with the Mexican diaspora in Utah.

The way that they did their missionary work was to prepare meals that they shared at Pioneer Park. Simon Zúñiga (Juana’s son) noted that when they started, the park was a popular destination “where many Mexican families would go on their weekends and enjoy their picnics with their families.”[5] After the meals, they held an informal worship service. The idea caught on, and the group grew. As a result, the Church organized the “Local Mexican Mission” and called Margarito as the mission president.[6] Later, in recalling his missionary efforts, Margarito wrote that:

In [1901], when for the first time I heard of God … I [began] to preach the gospel. We establish[ed] a mission in my own State, México [D.F.]. In 1905, we establish[ed] a mission in the State of Chihuahua. In Colonia Dublán there was no meeting house for the Mexican people, until we establish[ed] the Mission. In 1910–13, I establish[ed] a Branch at Mesa, Aerizona. … In 1915 I establish[ed] the [Mexican] mission in the State of Utah, from Provo to Garland. There is a meeting house for the Mexican people there now.[7]

In 1922, however, Margarito was called as a family history missionary to central Mexico. Juana and her family stayed in Salt Lake City until 1946, when they moved back to Mexico, then to Texas.

During his time as a genealogical missionary in Mexico in 1922-1924, Margarito was deeply impressed with the changes that had come about as a result of the Mexican Revolution in freeing Mexicans to run their own lives and institutions. As he would later write: “My surprise can be illustrated this way: As soon as I boarded the train in Ciudad Juaréz, I immediately noticed something unusual–A Mexican conductor was in charge of the train. I soon found others carrying out different responsibilities, all of them of Mexican nationality.”[8] He imbibed the atmosphere of nationalism and began to fuse that Mexican nationalism with his understanding of Lamanite identity. He started preaching this doctrinal fusion, visiting the various wards and branches of central Mexico to do so, until he was released in 1924. Euro-American Church leaders had become concerned about what he was saying and doing (including some sermons where he preached about polygamy), and so did not give him any further callings in the Church. In order to continue to share his ideas, though, Margarito wrote and published a 600-page tome called La evolución de Mexico: sus verdaderos progenitores y su origen: el destino de America y Europa. We’ll talk more about Margarito later, but his ideas about Lamanites are important to understand in connection with the previous two posts.

Modern sketch of Margarito Bautista. Image courtesy Wikimedia.

La evolución de Mexico is a complicated work that interprets the spiritual history, present condition, and destiny of Mexico in light of Mormonism. The interpretation fuses sacred history from the Book of Mormon and Bible, Joseph Smith’s revelations, Mexican history texts, and Aztec legends in an effort to “creatively coalesce their mythical, historical, and spiritual perceptions in an attempt to address present suffering.”[9] Margarito’s goal seems to have been to influence Mexicans to come together and reform in preparation for a larger role in world history. As such, he doesn’t identify the Mormon influences explicitly, only referring to the Book of Mormon as Mexico’s “ancient annals”, despite quoting over 1100 verses from it. It is a long read, but a significant one.

In interpreting Mexican history in light of the Book of Mormon, Margarito identifies indigenous Mexican ancestors as Lamanites. He even went as far as connecting individuals in the Book of Mormon with figures in the histories and legends of Mesoamerica, linking King Mosiah with the Guatemalan king Votan, Lamanites with Chichimecas, and Nephites with Nahuas and Toltecs. He also stated that Netzahualcoyotl and Cuauhtémoc were direct descendants of Laman. Margarito accepted negative stereotypes of Lamanites in the Book of Mormon as part of his belief in the Book of Mormon, using the narrative as an explanation for European colonization of Mexico and the resulting marginalization, poverty, illiteracy, oppression, and prejudice against indigenous peoples in their own ancestral lands. Due to the colonialism from European conquest, however, he believed that the mestizaje meant that Mexicans were able to claim both Israelite ancestry through Nephite and Lamanite ancestors and inheritance of the new covenant of Christianity through Spanish ancestry. As such, Mexicans were among the most chosen of peoples in the world, destined for a leading role in both The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and on the world stage.

Bautista looked to the future as being bright for Mexicans due to the promises made about the descendants of Lehi in the Book of Mormon. As Elisa Eastwood Pulido suggested, “In La evolución, the future prosperity and spiritual development of Mexico was the bedrock of all of Bautista’s other concerns.”[10] The core of his program for achieving that, based on his interpretation of the Book of Mormon, was to “serve God and prosper.” He believed that Mexico had paid the “spiritual debt” they had incurred due to the sins of their ancestors and that they had been able to throw off the yolk of European rule as a result, beginning in 1810. He also believed that Europeans would “have to be held up to the same ruler, the same balance” in the Americas and if they shirked the laws of God, “they would suffer the same consequences [as the Mexicans].”[11] He suggested that part of this would require restitution to colonized peoples around the world by European and Euro-American countries, writing that: “In order for the Gentile nations to establish peace on the earth … they must … first compensate the conquered of everything that has been taken away, returning all that belongs to them.”[12] Bautista believed that Euro-Americans would have to also repent or be oppressed.

Based on the Book of Mormon, Bautista believed that there would be a time when the descendants of Lehi would build a new Jerusalem. As he wrote:

Perhaps, with the passage of time, when the domain of the Gentiles has come to an end, and their opportunity has disappeared, it will be possible for our sovereignty to be restored in all its fullness. That Divinity, Whom we have spoken of, personally offered to return and again and live among our people; not to teach the working of metals and precious stones, but to exalt and glorify that “Holy City” in the flesh, which will be built by the aboriginal people and those who shall be numbered among my people [3 Nephi 16: 13].

A city that will be the “SUPREME CAPITAL OF THE WORLD,” where the powers of heaven shall rest, serving as a connection between heaven and earth. That city will be called “THE NEW JERUSALEM.” Blessed are those who will be worthy to take part in that place.[13]

He described a time in the future when European (Gentile) colonialism would end and the Mexican people would establish the world capital from which Jesus would reign.

Margarito’s book proved to be popular among Mexican Latter-day Saints in the 1930s, and he was asked to read and discuss the book frequently in meetings among the members in Mexico.[14] His work marks one of the first and most extensive efforts to transform Lamanite identity into an indigenous-affirming paradigm. The concepts articulated by Margarito Bautista remain influential today, as Ignacio M. García explained: “Today’s Latinos still believe that they will ‘blossom’ like a rose and become the heirs of Mormonism’s better days, while most white Mormons today downplay the notion of a ‘Lamanite take over’ as their numbers have declined.”[15] Seeing as the concepts are derived from the Book of Mormon and the demographic realities of conversions and de-conversions in the Church (as García pointed out), there may be some truth to the ideas.

 


Footnotes:

[1] Margarito Bautista, La evolución de Mexico: sus verdaderos progenitores y su origen: el destino de America y Europa (Districto Federal: Arzate Brothers, 1935), 388. See also Margarito Bautista, The Evolution of Mexico: Its True Progenitors and Its Origin: The Destiny of America and Europe, translated by Brett Morrison and Fernando Gomez (Provo: Museum of Mormon Mexican History, 2014).

[2] Juana Bautista Zúñiga, interview by Irene Zúñiga [Cruz], December 23, 1976, “Interview number 253,” Institute of Oral History, University of Texas at El Paso, trans. Eduardo B. Zúñiga, cited in Elizabeth Zúñiga Ontiveros Vigil, “Showing Forth the Light,” in Women of Faith in the Latter-days: Volume Four, 1871 – 1900 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2017), 295.

[3] Zúñiga interview by Zúñiga, in Elizabeth Zúñiga Ontiveros Vigil, “Showing Forth the Light,” 296.

[4] Ammon M. Tenney diaries, 1887 – 1890 and 1901-1921, vol. 1, pp. 161, 163-65, 172, microfilm of holograph, Church History Library, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.

[5] Simón B. Zúñiga, From the House of Joseph to the Land of Restoration (Denver, CO: Bilingual Publications, 2010), 26.

[6]  Elizabeth Zúñiga Ontiveros Vigil, “Showing Forth the Light,” 303.

[7] Margarito Bautista, A Decree, Covenants, and Promises Taken from the Earth: Also a Correspondence between Noel B. Pratt and M. Bautista (Ozumba: Colonia Agricola industrial Mexicana, 1959), 25.

[8] Bautista, La evolución, 70.

[9] Elisa Eastwood Pulido, The Spiritual Evolution of Margarito Bautista: Mexican Mormon Evangelizer, Polygamist Dissident, and Utopian Founder, 1878–1961 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020), 109.

[10] Pulido, The Spiritual Evolution, 122.

[11] Bautista, La evolución, 368.

[12] Bautista, La evolución, 26.

[13] Bautista, La evolución, 20; Bautista, Morrison, and Gomez The Evolution of Mexico, 20.

[14] See Bautista Diaries June 21, 1937; July 25, 1937; August 4, 1937; August 15, 1937; September 22, 1937; October 12, 1937.

[15] Ignacio M. García, Chicano While Mormon: Activism, War, and Keeping the Faith (Lanham, Maryland: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2015), 29-30.

3 comments for “Mormonism in Mexico, Part 12: Bautista’s Lamanites

  1. Have you seen evidence that the Mexican Saints of Bautista’s day (or since, really) embraced La evolución de Mexico and studied it as a text or guide or interpretation? Or was its importance not in its actual words and detailed interpretation, but more as an artifact to hold up as evidence that “we, too, can and have and will produce works of importance”?

    I ask because you write here, and quote Ignacio Garcia as speaking, of its contents in the broadest, most simplistic terms, which is all I have ever heard: “We’ll blossom as the rose, we’ll build New Jerusalem, we’ll assume our rightful sovereignty,” without, really, any detailed plan of how that will come about, or when, or what the people should do to prepare for or bring it about. That may all be in the book, but all I’ve ever heard is that high-level, glorious-future generality, which people would have picked up from Bautista’s public preaching, without details of what you call “a complicated work.”

  2. It’s hard to say, Ardis. The book never sold well, partly because Harold Pratt (the mission president) worked to discourage Latter-day Saints in Mexico from buying it. The book is useful as a detailed description of what Bautista was thinking and probably preaching. I know that Fernando Gomez, over at the Museum of Mexican Mormon History, feels that it is an important work and has helped to produce and publish an English translation to show, if nothing else, that it’s not super heretical. Your suggestion that its existence and the general idea of a glorious future are more important than its specific contents is probably accurate.

    As far as detailed approach to how the “Lamanite takeover,” as it has been termed by some, would happen is pretty vague most of the time (at least as far as I’ve seen). Bautista suggested that there might be some divine intervention through which Mexico would become the world’s primary superpower. Functionally, after he split from the mainline church, and then again from the Third Convention, he just claimed authority to lead his own church and ordain people to the priesthood based on being a Lamanite.

    I think García described it in more recent times almost in terms of being a “pie in the sky” thing in the Church that is used to say (sometimes by the Mexican converts themselves) that it’s okay that they aren’t leading the Church now because at some point in the future, they will be prepared and have the chance to do so.

  3. Bautista may have been a bit overzealous–but I think (according to what you’ve written above) that he was essentially correct about who the Lamanites of the latter-days are. Of course, we can’t really know how far the blood and influence of Lehi has spread over the centuries but Mexico sure seems like a hot spot–a “ground zero” if you will. With over 200 stakes and soon to be 20 temples–that’s evidence that something big is happening there. And it’s the best evidence (that I’ve seen) of a “blossoming” of sorts.

    And along with everything positive that’s happening in Mexico–there’s some negative as well. Those durn Gadiaton Robbers are at it again. They’re pervasive–all through middle America. Some of them are so powerful that they’re at war with their own governments. But as negative as those elements may be they’re evidence (to me) of Lamanite blood–or at least influence.

    I wish I could be here 50 years from now and see what the continued “blossoming” will amount to. Bautista’s vision of Mexico becoming a superpower may not unfold in the way he imagined. But it certainly could emerge through cooperative effort between the descendants of Lehi and the gentiles–as spoken of in the Book of Mormon.

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