Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2012

Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Guérin C. Montilus


Anthropological literature in the study of material culture argues that person/object interactions are important to the construction and maintenance of social relations and personal identity both in the present and through time. It is through relationships and interactions with things that people come to "know who they are" (Tilley (2007). This line of thinking has led some Latino studies scholars to propose that the retention of traditional aspects of culture, such as religious practices, often serves as a way of negotiating personal or cultural identity in an ever changing social milieu (Sandoval 2006, Aponte and De La Torre 2006). This paper explores the relationships formed with the objects used on traditional home altars in the Catholic Mexicano community of San Antonio, Texas to demonstrate how objects help maintain connections with past and present religious, personal, and cultural traditions and identities.

Traditionally Catholics of Mexican descent have relied on home based devotions such as home altars therefore the objects used on these altars are charged with sacred meanings. The objects chosen for use on the altars are also imbued with very personal meanings. Objects once considered ordinary "commodities," are transformed into "inalienable" possessions closely associated with particular persons who are remembered on the altar (Weiner 1994). Objects in this way are given "biographical" meanings of personal identity (Hoskins 1998). The assemblage of culturally-determined objects on the home altar provides not only a sacred space for devotion but also a space to display and renew personal relationships and social and ethnic identity. The objects on the altar represent aspects of the user's negotiated self identity: religious, personal, and cultural.