Mexican American Religions: Spirituality, Activism, and Culture



Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822340980
Publisher: Duke University Press Books
Publication date: 07/08/2008
Pages: 456
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Gastón Espinosa is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Claremont McKenna College. His books include Latino Religions and Civic Activism in the United States and Rethinking Latino Religions and Identity.

Mario T. García is Professor of History and Chicano Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His books include Padre: The Life and Spiritual Journey of Father Virgil Cordano; Luis Leal: An Auto/Biography; and The Gospel of César Chávez.

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Mexican American Religions

Spirituality, Activism, and Culture


Copyright © 2008 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-4119-2

Chapter One


History and Theory in the Study of Mexican American Religions

The contemporary academic study of Mexican American religions traces its origins to 1968, although important historical, sociological, and anthropological writing on the topic stretches back throughout the twentieth century. That year the writings and intellectual foment stimulated by César Chávez, Virgilio Elizondo, Gustavo Gutiérrez, Enrique Dussel, and others served as major catalysts in the future methodological and theoretical development of the field. Between 1970 and 1975, some of the first major academic books, articles, and centers were written, created, and organized by scholars such as Elizondo, Dussel, Moises Sandoval, Juan Romero, Juan Hurtado, Patrick McNamara, Joan Moore, and others. The Mexican American Cultural Center (MACC), which was cofounded and directed by Elizondo in San Antonio, Texas, in 1972, played a decisive role by publishing many of the first academically oriented biographies, histories, and studies in the emerging field. The field of Mexican American religions received a boost in 1987-88 with the publication of the work of feminist-informed Chicana/o literature and theologies by Gloria Anzaldúa, Andrés Guerrero, and Ada María Isasi-Díaz and Yolanda Tarango. The next major turning points came in 1994-96, when Jay P. Dolan and the University of Notre Dame Press published the three-volume series on Latino Catholicism (1994), Anthony Stevens-Arroyo and the Program for the Analysis of Religion Among Latinos (PARAL) published the four-volume series on U.S. Latino religions (1994-95). In 1997, Rudy V. Busto and Daniel Ramirez organized a conference at Stanford on U.S. Latino evangelism, and in 1996 Gastón Espinosa and Mario T. García attempted to help define the field at their "New Directions in Chicano Religions" conference at the University of California, Santa Barbara (1996). This book is part of the fruit of that conference.

Over the past thirty-five years, scholars have often taken one of five approaches to the study of Mexican American religions: (1) traditional church history (e.g., Brackenridge and García-Treto, Dolan, and Hinojosa), (2) interdisciplinary liberation theology church history (e.g., Sandoval, Romero), (3) interdisciplinary popular theology and religion (e.g., Elizondo, Guerrero, Rodríguez, Tarango), (4) anthropology, psychology, and sociology (e.g., Madsen, Kiev, McNamara, Moore), and (5) interdisciplinary phenomenological religious studies (e.g., Carrasco, León, Espinosa). Still other scholars have blended approaches or taken a Chicano studies/ethnic studies approach (e.g., Busto, Aquino). Some scholars have drawn on Chicano literature and poetry (Carlos Castañeda, Luis Valdez, Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzáles, Rudolfo Anaya, and Gloria Anzaldúa), the writings of Reies López Tijerina, the Chicano Student Movement, Chicana feminism, Black studies, secular religious studies, and the emerging scholarship on postcolonialism, transnational studies, critical theory, ethnic studies, and race, class, gender, and sexuality.

After sketching the historical development of the field of Mexican American religions, I will propose that a nepantla-informed, ethno-phenomenological method is one of many possible alternatives for studying and interpreting Mexican American religions at secular colleges and universities, which are required by the state or college mission statement not to promote or endorse a normative theological worldview. This approach blends race, class, gender, and phenomenological analyses grounded in their historical, social, theological, and political contexts. It identifies, recognizes, and interrogates religious leaders and structures, traditions, movements, and experiences on their own plane of reference. Such an approach is taken in order to understand how such leaders and structures provide hope and meaning to practitioners and contribute to their larger culture. It also seeks to bridge the growing chasm that separates secular religious studies from theology as described in Donald Wiebe's book The Politics of Religious Studies: The Continuing Conflict with Theology in the Academy (1999). It does so by listening to, dialoging with, and drawing upon the important insights from theology and the above-noted influences. While Mexican American and U.S. Latino religions are organically connected, due to time, space, and regional limitations I will focus on the historical development of Mexican American religions in the Southwest. The best place to review the literature on Mexican American religious historiography are the bibliographies and essays edited or written by Anthony M. Stevens Arroyo and Segundo Pantoja, Paul Barton and David Maldonado, Justo L. González, and Daisy Machado. Although beyond the scope of this study, there are also a number of overviews on U.S. Latino theology and history by Alex Saragoza, María Pilar Aquino, Lara Medina, Eduardo Fernández, Orlando Espín, Miguel de la Torre and Edwin Aponte, and Miguel H. Díaz.

Why Mexican American Religious Studies?

Despite the growing scholarship on Mexican American religions, no one has attempted to systematically map out its historical development over the last 100 years. This is largely because it has been subsumed under the rubric of U.S. Latino religions. However, there are a number of reasons why it should itself be an academic field of intellectual inquiry. People of Mexican ancestry have lived in the Southwest for over 400 years-since 1598. Their history in the American Southwest predates that of the Pilgrims and Puritans at Jamestown in 1607 and Plymouth Rock in 1620. People of Spanish and Mexican ancestry have a number of rich and unique religious traditions (e.g., New Mexican popular Catholicism, the santero tradition, the Chimayó Pilgrimage site, Día de los Muertos), saints and spiritual healers (e.g., Our Lady of Guadalupe, El Niño Fidencio, María Teresa Urrea, Don Pedrito Jaramillo, Juan Soldado, Francisco Olazábal), brotherhoods and social-spiritual movements (e.g., the Penitente Brotherhood, the Cursillo, PADRES, Las Hermanas, La Raza Churchmen), political leaders (e.g., Padre Antonio José Martínez, César Chávez, Reies López Tijerina, Dolores Huerta), and religious leaders (e.g., Junipero Serra, Eusebio Kino, Francisco Olazábal, Archbishop Patricio Flores), all of which have influenced U.S. Latino and American religious history. People of Mexican ancestry have shaped the history, architecture, politics, culture, and cuisine of the Southwest for over 400 years.

The 2006 U.S. Census Bureau noted that people of Mexican ancestry made up 64 percent (28 million) of the nation's 44.3 million Latinos. They are now more numerous than all Asian Americans (14.9 million), Jewish Americans (6 million), and Native Americans (4.5 million) combined, all of which have their own discrete intellectual fields of study. They are also the fastest growing Latino subgroup in the United States and account for 52 percent (8.2 million) of all Latin American immigrants to the United States (16 million).

The Mexican American community is also becoming more religiously diverse. The Hispanic Churches in American Public Life (HCAPL) National Survey, which surveyed more than 2,060 Latinos across the country (1,103 of whom were of Mexican ancestry), found that 79 percent of all Latinos of Mexican ancestry were Roman Catholic and 21 percent were Protestant and other Christian. Of this population, 27 percent self-identified as Catholic Charismatic. When the figures are broken down by five religious family groupings, 79 percent of people of Mexican ancestry self-reported Roman Catholic affiliation, 7.2 percent Pentecostal, 6.9 percent Evangelical non-Pentecostal, 4 percent Mainline Protestant, and 3 percent Alternative Christian, such as Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormon, and other. All combined, 14 percent (almost 1 in 6) of all Mexican Americans self-identify as Pentecostal/Evangelical. Furthermore, over 30 percent of those who self-identified as Mainline Protestant also self-identified as a Born-Again Christian, thus indicating that the actual percentage of Mexican-ancestry Evangelical Protestants is larger than the figures above indicate. An analysis across all denominations and religious traditions shows that 35 percent of all people of Mexican ancestry self-reported being a Born-Again Christian, slightly less than the overall U.S. Latino population at 37 percent. This number is shaped by the influence of the trans-denominational Pentecostal/Charismatic movement as 36 percent of all those of Mexican ancestry also reported being both Born-Again Christian and Pentecostal/Charismatic/Spirit-Filled. Other spirit-led metaphysical religious traditions are also active. The HCAPL survey found that 18.3 percent of all people of Mexican ancestry said they "believe in the practice of" espiritismo, curanderismo, brujería, or all of the above. All of these figures point to a very vibrant and diverse religious community.

Genealogy of Mexican American Religious Studies

The exact origin of the academic study of Mexican American religions is difficult to determine. The most important systematic records of Mexican American religious experiences in the Southwest were written from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries by Catholic Franciscan and Jesuit missionaries, diocesan priests, lay leaders, and American and European clergy, missionaries, and traders such as Father Alonso de Benavides, Father Eusebio Kino, Father Junipero Serra, Richard Henry Dana, and others. In the late nineteenth century and early twentieth, we see the rise of slightly more formal institutional church histories, such as Jean-Baptiste Salpointe's Soldiers of the Cross: Notes on the Ecclesiastical History of New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado (1898) and Thomas Harwood's History of Spanish and English Missions of the Methodist Episcopal Church from 1850 to 1910, 2 vols. (1908, 1910). However, these were written almost exclusively by clergy about their own institutional churches and for a Christian audience.

In the wake of the first massive wave of Mexican immigration to the United States from 1880 to 1920, we begin to witness in the 1920s and 1930s a number of church-sponsored or affiliated Catholic and Protestant books, reports, and articles on Mexican Americans in the Southwest. The most important books include Jay S. Stowell's A Study of Mexicans and Spanish Americans in the United States (1920), Vernon M. McCombs's, From Over the Border: A Study of the Mexican in the United States (1925), Linna Bresette's, Mexicans in the United States: A Report of a Brief Survey (1929), Robert N. McLean's, The Northern Mexican (1930), Robert C. Jones's and Louis R. Wilson's, The Mexican in Chicago (1931), and Theodore Abel's, Protestant Home Missions to Catholic Immigrants (1933). Many other articles, reports, and books were also published.

In the early twentieth century we also note a growing number of university-affiliated humanistic and social-science theses, books, reports, articles, and studies on Mexican Americans that include attention to religion. One of the first major social-science studies on Mexican American religions was the Methodist bishop G. Bromley Oxnam's article "The Mexican in Los Angeles from the Standpoint of Religious Forces of the City" (1921). This research was more social-science oriented than the previous church-sponsored literature. It was soon augmented by a number articles, folklore and museum studies, and histories on religion and culture in New Mexico and elsewhere.

One of the first set of significant humanistic interpretations of Mexican American religiosity were Manuel Gamio's classic anthropological studies Mexican Immigration to the United States: A Study of Human Migration and Adjustment (1930) and The Mexican Immigrant: His Life-Story (1931). Gamio, who was a highly respected anthropologist from Mexico, conducted his field research in the United States over a two-year period from 1926 to 1927. His books were among the first to examine the role that religious beliefs played in helping Mexican immigrants transition into American society. Unlike the approach of previous church-sponsored work, the methodological orientation of his work is almost entirely secular, humanistic, and anthropological. His work touches on anti-clericalism, church attendance, popular-Catholic practices, and why many Catholics were switching over to Protestantism. Perhaps more important for the future methodological development of Mexican American religions, his pluralistic and nonsectarian work notes the importance of Evangelical Protestantism and other religious traditions such as Spiritualism, Spiritism, and brujería.

Oxnam's and Gamio's work influenced Robert C. Jones' report on "The Religious Life of the Mexican in Chicago" (1929) and his subsequent book The Mexican in Chicago (1931). Similarly, American Baptist Samuel M. Ortegón drew upon Oxnam's and Gamio's work for his ma thesis at USC entitled "Mexican Religious Population of Los Angeles" (1932). Like Gamio and Jones, Ortegón's work was pluralistic in scope and included brief mention of Mainline Protestants, Evangelicals, Pentecostals, Seventh-Day Adventists, Spiritualists, Theosophists, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Roman Catholics. His study was perhaps the first significant qualitative and quantitative ethnographic study of Mexican American religions in Los Angeles. Gamio's work was later picked up with vigor by Chicano Movement scholars hungry for Mexican authors and cultural interpreters.

The flurry of scholarship on Mexican American religions in the late 1920s and early 1930s continued in a steady stream throughout the 1940s, and especially the 1950s in the wake of the bracero guest-worker program agreement between the U.S. and Mexican governments. The two most notable book-length manuscripts were Samuel M. Ortegón's massive USC PhD dissertation, "Religious Thought and Practice among Mexican Baptists of the United States, 1900-1947" (1950), and Carlos Eduardo Castañeda's (1896-1958) seven-volume history, Our Catholic Heritage in Texas, 1519-1950 (completed in 1958). Although both works were clearly rooted in their respective theological and ecclesiastical traditions, they mark a major leap forward in the academic study of Mexican American religions because they also included social-science interpretations and explanations that were not strictly shaped by a theological method. Perhaps more important, they represent two of the first major histories of Mexican American Protestantism and Catholicism written by, about, and for the Mexican American and Anglo-American communities. A number of scholars cited their work in the wake of the Chicano Movement.

Ortegón and Castañeda were part of what Mario T. García has called the Mexican American GI Generation (1930s-50s), which sought to uncover and reclaim a Mexican American historical consciousness and fight for civil rights by working within the existing political and social system. Although they were professionally trained intellectuals and church historians living in the American Southwest that were engaged in a process of historical retrieval, their work does not mark the birth of the field, because they (like Gamio before them) did not see themselves as scholars of Mexican American religions per se and because they did not seek to self-consciously define or construct a field as such.


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Table of Contents

Preface ix

Introduction 1

I. History and Interpretations of Mexican American Religions

1. History and Theory in the Study of Mexican American Religions / Gaston Espinosa 17

2. Pious Colonialism: Assessing a Church Paradigm for Chicano Identity / Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo 57

II. Mexican American Mystics and Prophets

3. Sacred Order, Sacred Space: Reies Lopez Tijerina and the Valle de Paz Community / Rudy V. Busto 85

4. Holy Activist, Secular Saint: Religion and the Social Activism of Cesar Chavez / Stephen R. Lloyrd-Moffett 106

5. Religion and the Chicano Movement: Catolicos Por La Raza / Mario T. Garcia 125

III. Mexican American Popular Catholicism

6. Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Politics of Cultural Interpretation / Socorro Castaneda-Liles 153

7. Voces de Fe: Mexican American Altaristas in Texas / Kay Turner 180

8. Los Pastores and the Gendered Politics of Location / Richard R. Flores 206

9. The Religious Vision of Gloria Anzaldua: Borderlands/La Frontera as a Shamanic Space / David Carrasco and Roberto Lint Sagarena 223

10. Voice and Vision in Chicana Religious Practice: The Literary Re-elaborations of Mary Helen Ponce, Denise Chavez, and Sandra Cisneros / Ellen McCracken 242

V. Mexican American Religions and Healing

11. Brown Moses: Francisco Olazabal and Mexican American Pentecostal Healing in the Borderlands / Gaston Espinosa 263

12. Borderlands Bodies and Souls: Mexican Religious Healing Practices in East L.A. / Luis D. Leon 296

VI. Mexican American Religions and Pop Culture

13. Luis Valdez's La Pastorela: "The Shepherds' Play": Tradition, Hybridity, and Transformation / Maria Herrera-Sobek 325

14. Hybrid Spiritualities and Chicana Altar-Based Art: The Work of Amalia Mesa-Bains / Laura E. Perez 338

15. Mexican Madonna: Selena and the Politics of Cultural Redemption / Gaston Espinosa 359

Conclusion: Reflections on Mexican American Religions and Culture 381

Bibliography 387

Contributors 429

Index 433

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