More thoughts on being “Latino” and Catholic

28 12 2009

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Since no one is reading this blog right now anyway, I feel free to ramble about personal stuff that I ordinarily try to steer clear of. This time, I will touch once again on ethnicity. Again, maybe I am just not able to connect with other “Latinos” on the Internet, but I always find that the way most people reflect on issues of growing up “Latino”, culture, and religion, is profoundly different from my own experience. First of all, “Latino” is a construct that I don’t agree with. Even now, in New Orleans, I work in an office with lots of other Latino people, most of whom are Central American, and to tell the truth, it is the Latino equivalent of Americans working with Australians. (I have lived with Australians too, so I know what I am talking about.) Granted, if you were working in a place where the official language was French, you would probably identify a lot more with the Australians than with other co-workers. But you wouldn’t consider them “your people”.

Of course, my own experience growing up was different than what a “Latino” would experience here in New Orleans. In my small town on the central coast of California, people of Mexican descent were the majority, about sixty percent of the town. During the holidays, the exodus of entire families back to Mexico is a common phenomenon, one that I participated in several times as a youth. There was never the sense that we were a “racial minority”. Where we lived, we were the majority, and our enclaves were sort of “little Mexicos” where our customs, food, and way of life were somewhat preserved in the midst of the American melting pot. I can’t really think that this would be the experience of “Latino” communities in other places, and perhaps with the rapid spread of modern means of communication, it will not be in the near future.

When it comes to religion (the popular topic on this blog) I really cannot endorse the optimism that conservatives have towards the Latino attitude regarding the Catholic Church. For one thing, at least on the Mexican side, “Latinos” are far more suspicious of institutions than Americans are. I was particularly amused by this article in which a priest from Mexico raised the money to build his church in Tijuana by coming north and performing the sacraments for Mexican families on this side of the border for a fee. “Simony!” is the flabbergasted response of the American Catholic reader. But when you think about the highly mobile nature of many Mexican families here, they may not have the time or stability to go to baptismal classes, First Communion classes, etc. The American Church presumes that the middle class lifestyle is the norm, and people who are used to just showing up at the church and getting what they need from it are glad to pay to get around the Yankee “red tape” Of course, the Mexican hierarchy is horrified, but his parishioners love him.

I loved particularly this quote from the rogue cura:

I’ve never become a drunk or a priest that runs around with women. There are priests like that, you know. Drunks. Pedophiles. I’ve only tried to serve this community as best as I can.

Yeah, like the ever-obedient, JPII-loving Padre Maciel of the Legionaries of Christ. I swear, if you could come up with one man who could summarize all of the stereotypes of what Mexicans dislike about the clergy, Maciel was that man. An anti-clericalist dream case if there ever was one.

Americans associate faithfulness to the institution as tantamount to being a “good person”. In Latin America, your Catholicism is not necessarily linked to the institutional manifestation of the religion. People are often Catholic “in their own way”, for better or for worse. This can either be because you are secretly a “spiritist” and believe all sorts of questionable things, or because your priest is more concerned with “liberation theology” than the Gospel, and you just want to be able to go to church and pray in front of your favorite statue without being bothered. And “bad Catholics” in Latin America would be comfortable claiming the label for ancestral reasons and not going to Mass. Such fiascos as pro-abortion politicians showing up at church and expecting to receive Communion would not happen there, because they wouldn’t come to church in the first place.

I have to ponder how the conservative wing of the Catholic Church sees us as entering into its vision of politically active, homogenized Neo-Catholicism. Most of the readers of this blog are either in or around such movements or at least speak the same language. I think we also need to distinguish it from the line of the Conference of Catholic Bishops, the “official line” if you will, which is more often than not left of center of what the country thinks. I tend to write outside of the blog for these people as well, though I have also made a few enemies there.

A lot of times, I feel that I am using the same alphabet and grammatical rules in order to speak a different language from these people. Yes, family and other “life issues” are important to me, but the success or failure of the Republican Party is not. And most people in the barrio, no matter how many “brown faces” your get at the GOP convention, are not going to care either. On the other hand, I feel there is a longing in some “Latino” Catholics for the enchantment of the Catholicism of the home country, or at least a longing for the “spiritual pragmatism” of what I have termed on this blog “folk Catholicism”. For those “thinking Catholics”, perhaps it will all go the way of assimilation, just as leprechauns and mal’ occhio have faded into the family lore of people with Irish or Italian last names in this country. The only difference is that the “Latinos” keep coming, and the barrio is not disappearing any time soon. Whither, then, the course of these folks’ religiosity? Only time will tell.


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9 responses

3 01 2010
Arturo Vasquez

Above average? Ouch!

Anyway, I really cannot comment on the phenomenon of Mexican Catholic traditionalism, viz the Internet. Mexican traditionalists have their own series of complaints and theological baggage; I think a lot of it is informed by inherent distrust for the clergy, especially the higher clergy. In Latin America in general, the traditionalist movement tends to be weak to non-existent. That is because liturgical issues have never had enough power to stir a vocal minority to create a “loyal opposition”, if you will. Politicial considerations, particularly those having to do with loyalty to “la Patria” and opposition to communist infiltration into the Church seem to be more the driving force behind it all. I think this is especially the case in Argentina.

My principled positions (?) are too complex to summarize in a few sentences. I lean theologically towards the Lefebvrists primarily because I don’t think that anyone else has come up with a compelling narrative about what shape Catholic thought has taken in the last fifty years. On the other hand, due to personal reasons, I don’t really go to Mass at Lefebvrist chapels that often, and tend to go to “official” old Latin Masses (though I have been offered a spot on the schola of the local SSPX chapel). I also think that I am far more sympathetic to “catolicismo popular” or folk Catholicism than many people who would call themselves traditionalists. I don’t think the best possible religion is that which conforms to the positions of the higher clergy. I have a soft spot for such figures as Juan Soldado, Gauchito Gil, Sarita Colonia, and so forth.

At the end of the day, I am a pessimist feeling the historical ethos of the Church slipping away with each passing day, but, in te, Domine, speravi, non confundar in aeternum.

e-mail: vasqart3@yahoo.com

And there’s just one of me.

3 01 2010
Dr. S. Petersen

You say mail can come to you by “Abbot”, but I couldn’t find that on the site (Reditus). I came to this blog via a link from Mexican guy (maybe born in the U. S.) who does current events-political commentary with a Catholic background. I marked your blog so I could check it regularly. I am interested in following authentic and informed discussions of issues such as that you raise (at least inferentially) in this post. Does the border divide most Mexican Catholics from traddies in the U.S.? I know there are trad. bloggers in Mex. What about immigration? What are your principled positions?
I also infer there are several bloggers at this site. I think you’re doing a good job with above-average, at least, writing.

31 12 2009
Sam Urfer

Yeah, I figured that would be the case, and I’m fine with it as an answer. But it amuses me that the Orthodox don’t see any planks in their own eyes when they complain about our specks.

30 12 2009
Tom Smith

Well, Russians and Ukrainians joining the Greek Catholic Church means leaving a schismatic body in favor of the true Church…

I would imagine Lucian feels the same, just in reverse. Personally, I am not at all offended that he is excited by a bunch of people converting to what he honestly believes to be the faith of the Apostles.

30 12 2009
Sam Urfer

Now, I’m curious, Lucian, what you as an Orthodox Christian think is the essential difference between this and Catholic activity in Eastern Europe? I don’t lose any sleep over Central and South Americans (or North Americans, for that matter) joining the Orthodox Church(es), and given the history of the Catholic Hierarchy’s treatment of the Indians I can’t say I blame them.

But if Ukrainians or Russians choose to join the Greek Catholic Church, all Hell breaks loose, and Orthodox Hiearchs go through the roof about Papist missionary activity.

What’s the difference?

29 12 2009
Politburo

“In my small town on the central coast of California, people of Mexican descent were the majority, about sixty percent of the town. During the holidays, the exodus of entire families back to Mexico is a common phenomenon, one that I participated in several times as a youth. There was never the sense that we were a “racial minority”. Where we lived, we were the majority, and our enclaves were sort of “little Mexicos” where our customs, food, and way of life were somewhat preserved in the midst of the American melting pot. I can’t really think that this would be the experience of “Latino” communities in other places, and perhaps with the rapid spread of modern means of communication, it will not be in the near future.”

Having grown up in a Los Angeles barrio I have seen a lot of the old religious practices in my parish church (tons of candles throughout the church with la Virgen totally pwning Jesus, knee-walking to the sanctuary from the entrance of the church and even the dressing up of little kids as saints as well as other assorted mandas.)
But it is evidently clear that it is pretty much only the first generation immigrants doing that stuff. “Folk Catholicism” is no match for formal secular schooling and a licentious mass media society. After all the kids are learning the germ theory of disease in school and not mal de ojo.
On top of that the immigrants who come to the US are more worldly than those who stay since we all know Mexicans come to the US for temporal reasons. Thus the immigrants who come here are those worst suited on average to maintain the old culture.
Mexico itself is urbanizing so I don’t think those future reinforcements will do much to maintain old country practices plus the crappy U.S. economy has been stemming the flow to boot.

29 12 2009
Tom Smith

“Since no one is reading this blog right now anyway, I feel free to ramble about personal stuff that I ordinarily try to steer clear of.”

Myself, I have really like reading your personal stuff. For example, I remember reading a story about a bicycle-riding pilgrim named, I think, Obadiah, on your old blog, and really enjoying it.

29 12 2009
Lucian

Well… since You’ve mentioned “Latinos” and “Catholicism”, here’s something to poison your already-saddened soul for the Holidays, no less…

28 12 2009
Rob

-I work in an office with lots of other Latino people, most of whom are Central American, and to tell the truth, it is the Latino equivalent of Americans working with Australians.-

LOL. I lived in Mexico and Honduras (my wife is Honduran) and I can attest to the veracity of this statement. The people are completely different. So’s the food.

Having lived on the border all my life, I began my thirteen-month stay in Honduras by ordering an enchilada at a lorieta (a kind of small, open grill on the streetside in San Pedro Sula). Used to Sonoran and Chihuahuan food, I was profoundly disappointed to receive a fried tortilla with some cabbage, vomit cheese, and sickly looking ground beef on top. My wife explained that that was an enchilada in Honduras. I said, “Y como pido una enchilada como las hacen en Mexico?” “No las hacen aqui.” She said. I was devastated. No Mexican food for a year, and I had to listen to their shitty accent the whole time.

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