Just South of Zion

The Mormons in Mexico and Its Borderlands

Book Notice

Just South of Zion: The Mormons in Mexico and Its Borderlands, ed. Jason H. Dormady and Jared M. Tamez (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2015)

Jason H. Dormady and Jared M. Tamez are doing important work in borderland studies—studies surrounding the history of the U.S.–Mexico borderlands and surrounding regions.

Dormady is an associate professor of history at Central Washington University and the author of Primitive Revolution: Restorationist Religion and the Idea of the Mexican Revolution, 1940–1968 (2011). Tamez is a well-known history PhD student and blogger focusing on the LDS experience in Mexico, LDS Hispanics in the United States, and race and Mormonism.

The book began as an idea generated during a roundtable presentation about the Latter-day Saint experience in Mexico at the Utah Rocky Mountain Council for Latin American Studies conference in 2012. Mormons went to Mexico in 1847 as soldiers in the Mormon Battalion during the Mexican-American War, as proselyting missionaries when Brigham Young called a party of six missionaries to take Spanish-language materials about the Church from Salt Lake City to Mexico in 1875, as refugees from U.S. federal prosecution for plural marriage in the 1880s, and as permanent settlers establishing Mormon colonies near the Sierra Madre Mountains in northern Mexico beginning in 1885.

Ten authors, including established and new historians, provide readers with a thoughtful look at a controversial topic: the LDS experience in Mexico. During the process, Mormons “expended considerable effort to maintain as foremost their identity as members of what they considered the Kingdom of God on earth, often culturally isolating themselves from their Mexican neighbors” (6). This tension plays out as native Mexicans and native LDS Mexicans interact with each other and with LDS Anglo-colonizers, LDS Anglo-missionaries, and LDS leaders during more than 170 years.

In dialogue with previous scholarship, Just South of Zion provides new insights about some old topics, including plural marriage, LDS colonization, and transnational identity. It also plows new ground with topics such as the role of LDS women in local worship, indigenous intellectuals, and the roles of masculinity and violence in Mormon identity.

Because this book is the first collection of scholarly work by academics whose primary focus is Mexico and the borderlands instead of LDS history, the discussions and tone will be new to most Latter-day Saints. The audience is obviously not LDS, as the detailed “Glossary of Terms Related to Mormonism or Mexican Mormons” reveals (203–6). Instead, the book is addressed to academics in Mexico and the United States who have or should have interests in “looking at one of the most active groups of transborder migrants in US-Mexican history—the Mormons” (19).

In the end, Just South of Zion provides a fresh survey of religious pluralism in Mexico and an informed approach to LDS international history.


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