Posts Tagged ‘Catholic Church


Doesn’t Everybody Love LA?

I moved back to Los Angeles about six months ago. In the half year that I’ve been back, I’ve been most grateful to see old friends, to discover great places and events that sprung up in my absence, and to skip winter altogether.

But I’m also happy that my return to California has had a positive effect on this blog. In my previous hometown in the Midwest, Hispanics are still a fairly rare sight, so Latino-themed stories don’t pop up too often. But in LA, every other newsmaker has a name that ends in Z, or some debate gets going about clashing cultures, or there’s a new Hispanic-influenced restaurant, art form, or social movement taking hold.

For example, the Catholic Church recently named a new leader of the Los Angeles diocese, which has the largest concentration of Catholics in America. Archbishop Jose Gomez is now “in line to become the highest-ranking Latino in the American Catholic hierarchy and the first Latino cardinal in the U.S.”

His predecessor, Cardinal Roger Mahony, said he was “grateful to God for this gift of a Hispanic archbishop” and said he personally asked the pope to supply him with a Latino replacement. Los Angeles has five million Catholics, over 70 percent of whom are Hispanic, so Gomez’s appointment couldn’t have been too much of a shocker. Even so, Mahony’s sentiments – thanking God for a Latino and pressing to replaced by a Hispanic – are somewhat rare occurrences in the United States, as I’m sure you can imagine. But it happens here in California.

By the way, Gomez was a member of Opus Dei, which according to several conspiracy theorists and best-selling authors, is really just a front for power-hungry zealots, albino assassins, and killer dwarves. If true, it could make the line for communion very interesting.

Another only-in-LA moment came when I saw the poster for an upcoming Cinco de Mayo celebration. But this was not some bland, half-assed get-together with cheap tequila shooters, which you might find in other parts of the country. No, this party (called Cinco de Mayan), features “mucho sexo y violencia in the form of burlesque dancers, masked Mexican wrestlers, comedians, mariachi, Aztec dancers, and more.”

To be honest, I have no plans to attend this event. But just knowing that it exists here makes me smile.

Still, it’s not just traditionalist priests and masked wrestlers who get noticed in California. As the LA Times points out, Hispanic influence is part of an accelerating trend in this city, as “the power positions held by Latinos in the Los Angeles area are multiple and manifest. Besides the Mexico-born archbishop… there is the mayor. The speaker of the Assembly. The sheriff. A county supervisor. Several members of the City Council, of Congress, of the Legislature, of the Los Angeles school board…. All told, the taking of power has been stunning in its breadth.”

And that power can resonate beyond Latinos. This brings me to one more tidbit that made me happy to be in California. A UCLA professor, Don Nakanishi, is leading a movement to make East LA, which is 97% Latino, a separate city. I don’t agree with his position, but I have to respect his goals. I especially liked his comments about becoming politicized as a young man.

In college, Nakanishi “joined ten Latinos in forming a group called Los Hermanos, Spanish for ‘the brothers’.” He later formed an Asian American student group and said of the process, “We learned from the Chicanos.”

Yes, people learn from Latinos here.


Saint or Commie?

As I’ve written before, I dropped out of the Catholic Church when I was a teenager. I haven’t become an atheist, although I see nothing wrong with that philosophy. It’s just that I prefer to keep my distance from religion. However, I’ve also been upfront about my belief that one reason Latinos don’t make bigger social and economic gains is our overreliance on the Church.

So perhaps I should excuse myself from a debate taking place across the Hispanic community, Latin America, and the Catholic Church. The cause of this debate is that old rabblerouser himself, Archbishop Oscar Romero.

For those of you who don’t know, Romero was the head of the Church in El Salvador from 1977 to 1980. During this time, he spoke out against the brutality of the government and the oppression of the poor. For having such crazy ideas, he was assassinated, presumably by members of a right-wing death squad. Following his death, a civil war ripped the country apart and killed tens of thousands of civilians, including members of my mother’s family.

In the thirty years since his death, Romero has been lionized as a martyr for the cause of social justice, or criticized as a dupe for communist agitators, depending on whom you talk to. The Catholic Church has been considering him for sainthood for years, but weirdly enough, they can’t seem to go ahead and canonize the guy.

The debate over Romero goes to the heart of the Church’s standing in Latin America. Is it an institution that upholds the traditions of the culture, even if those traditions include exploitation and enforced poverty? Or is it a force for peace and compassion, which is what that famous hippie Jesus espoused?

The perception of the Church in Latin America has a direct impact upon U.S. Hispanics. Many of us who are first-generation, for example, saw an organization that gave lip service to helping the poor, but supported corrupt regimes in our parents’ home countries. Priests like Romero, far from being supported, often earned Rome’s disdain. The dichotomy (some would say hypocrisy) was not endearing.

But Romero’s legacy may finally be thwarting the establishment culture that shunned him during his life. In a truly surprising moment, my mother’s home country of El Salvador has finally gotten around to acknowledging its most famous citizen.

The LA Times reports that “For the first time, the Salvadoran state is publicly commemorating Romero. Through most of this month, marches, concerts and debates have honored the priest.”

Furthermore, the country’s president, Mauricio Funes, recently asked forgiveness on behalf of the state for Romero’s assassination. Funes said, “This is something that should have been done a long time ago” and added that his government would “end the decades of silence” that have been Romero’s official legacy.

If El Salvador can finally acknowledge that Romero was killed because of his strong drive for justice, maybe the Vatican can get around to saying that he was a pretty good guy.

By the way, and at the risk of taking a cheap shot, it seems like the Catholic Church’s current issues prove that it’s not the best judge of morality and saint-like behavior. But then again, what do I know? I’m just an ex-Catholic.


Entering a Symbiotic Relationship

Not too often do I encounter multiple Latino-centric stories just days apart. But this bonanza of attention occurred this week. The reason is not happenstance, or a strange cosmic alignment, or even the majority culture’s abrupt realization that Hispanics aren’t going away anytime soon.

No, it’s because Soledad O’Brien has a book to push. The CNN correspondent has talked her parent company into rolling out the “Latino in America” series as part of her media campaign. The series has been going for awhile, but it hit its full stride this week, garnering a couple of banner stories on their website.

Now, I don’t know much about O’Brien. I watch as little television news as possible, because I can feel my IQ points dropping whenever anchors introduce more screaming heads to discuss politics. As such, I’m not qualified to to question O’Brien’s motives. But it’s clear that Latinos are getting a tiny spotlight only because it’s convenient for a major corporation, which is distasteful, or at best, a cynic’s delight.

However, I’m going along with this ploy because some of their stories are actually pretty interesting. Rest assured that I’m not selling out. Oh, you’ll know when that happens, and it’s going to be sweet! But I digress…

In the here and now, I just want to point out that the CNN series gives updates on a couple of stories that I discussed in the previous months. There is more on the killing of Luis Ramirez, an immigrant bludgeoned to death in the street in Pennsylvania.

We hear about how Hispanics are the present and future of the Catholic Church, as if I hadn’t mentioned this fact months ago. Of course, CNN neglects to mention that this future may be short-lived as younger generations become less religious, but I’m sure that will be covered at some other point.

In addition, a few of CNN’s articles intrigued me enough that I may write separate posts about them in the coming weeks. I will refrain from going on, however, about the silliest article in the series. Under the bizarre headline “Americans More Familiar with Latinos,” we discover that “a new poll indicates that two-thirds of those surveyed now say they have at least some contact with Latinos.”

This makes me wonder about the one-third of Americans who have no contact with Hispanics, as well as ponder if we’ll see headlines proclaiming that Americans have finally accepted black people. Perhaps that will be in CNN’s next series.


If Only His Name Leant Itself to Some Obvious Joke

By now, you’ve heard about the scandal (if such a word applies) of Father Cutié. He’s the Latino priest in Florida who was recently caught with his hands stuffed in the bikini of a hottie on the beach.


Apparently, the priest has had a longtime affair with the woman, so Catholics everywhere are relieved that at least she’s a girlfriend and not a prostitute or underage minor or, of course, an altar boy.

Father Cutié has apologized for breaking his celibacy vow, and it remains to be seen what punishment the Church will dish out. This wouldn’t be big news except that the man is a young, charismatic guy with a media presence.

And of course, there’s that whole Hispanic thing.

As Time magazine points out, “America’s Catholic bishops… must realize that Cutié is more well regarded among Catholics than they are, especially among Latinos.” This means that if he’s run out of the Church, he just may take a lot of Hispanics with him.

Indeed, anecdotal evidence implies that Cutié’s parishioners are remarkably forgiving of his transgression.

“This wasn’t some dirty little tryst in the back of the parish residence,” said one of his followers. “It doesn’t appear to be just about sex. It’s about intimacy.”

I’d like to think that this newfound tolerance will show up in other areas, such as addressing the tendency of Hispanic Catholics to be homophobic and dismissive of women’s rights. But in reality, it’s not that Latino Catholics are finally saying, “Let’s lighten up with the arbitrary rules and be more understanding of human nature.” It’s probably just because male Catholics relate to the temptation that Cutié endured, and a lot of Latina Catholics think the guy is hot.

Regardless of the shallowness of its origin, however, it would indeed be ironic if the Catholic Church inched toward some kind of progressive stance because its Hispanic base got fired up.

And that has to be on the mind of the Church’s leaders. Time magazine goes on to point out that “a bigger problem for the Church may be Cutié’s Oprah-like standing in the Latino community — the only demographic where U.S. Catholicism is experiencing growth.”

That’s right. Hispanics, as I’ve pointed out many times before, are the present and future of the Catholic Church. Although I dropped out of the Church long ago, I still find it interesting that Latinos have such power over this massive institution.

Now if only we could spread some of that influence to politics, economic matters, pop culture, and social policy. Then we would be on to something.



Now would be the perfect time for me to find religion. As I’ve stated in previous posts, my recent downsizing has put me in a pissed-off mood that would likely be alleviated from the comfort that faith provides.

But it’s just not taking.

I’ve written about it before, but I’ll state it again. There is no kind of bitter ex-Catholic like a bitter Latino ex-Catholic. I spent the first twenty or so years of my life obsessing on God, and now I am spending the ensuing decades obsessing on how religion is messing up the world.
As you can see, Hispanics are not casually Catholic. You are either into it, or you recoil from it. The whole concept of being laidback about religion is alien to most Latinos.

My wife, who was raised Methodist, doesn’t share my preoccupation with religious dogma or interest in Dante’s “Inferno” or creeping fear that “The Exorcist” was actually a documentary. She is far healthier in her relationship to religion.

As a child, I skipped Mass just once. I had the flu that day, and as I sat on the couch hoping that God didn’t strike me down for missing church, I stared at the television in disbelief. Programs continued to play on TV, even during the time that we were supposed to be in church. I had always assumed that the television went off the air from 11:00 am to noon because, after all, nobody was watching because they were all in the pews. My mother had to explain to me that some people did not go to Mass, and I found this more shocking than discovering there is no Santa Claus. She was talking crazy. Who didn’t go to church?

This is not to say that I blame my mother for my upbringing. In fact, she showed the kind of trust and parental responsibility that more adults should display.
When I was sixteen, it was time for me to sign up for confirmation classes. Presented with this opportunity, I took a moment to deliberate and then, as if I were choosing chocolate over vanilla, I told my mother that I didn’t want to be confirmed.
“Why?” she asked.
“I just don’t believe it,” I said.
She nodded and said, “No one can make you believe anything. If you don’t want to do it, then you shouldn’t do it.”
I didn’t recognize the magnitude of her support until later years, when even the most ardent atheistic of my friends admitted that they had been forcefully confirmed in the church of their parents’ choosing. My mother had the right idea: If you don’t believe it, move on.
No, I don’t hate the Catholic Church. Rather, like many Hispanics, being raised Catholic has left me with a spiritual nagging that forces me to ponder the big questions, fruitlessly, when all I really want to do is analyze the odds of my team making the World Series (by the way, those odds could be better).
Neither am I an atheist. It is far too definitive of an answer for me, so clear and simple in its certainty that I have to be skeptical of it. If forced to describe myself, I go with “secular Buddhist agnostic,” and this mish-mash appears to suffice. Or perhaps I am a rationalist like Bill Maher, he of the biting wit and self-satisfied smirk.

Still, the fact that I even address Catholicism in these posts is telling. I can’t seem to let it go.

Of course, there are reasons beyond my own neurosis to revisit this topic. The interplay between Christianity and Hispanic culture has larger societal ramifications.

For example, as I mentioned in a previous post, younger Hispanics are turning away from the Church. What does this mean to the future of Latino culture? Will it be less Catholic, or are these norms so ingrained that there is no altering them, regardless of their direct relevance to the latest generation?

Going further, one could also ask what this means to a country that is, like it or not, getting more Latino. Will this have an impact on, for example, the scary stat that just 39 percent of Americans believe in evolution?

By the way, let’s set aside the point that a better way to phrase the question is, “Do you understand evolution?” rather than making scientific fact a question of belief.

In any case, I don’t know if the poll results are broken down by ethnicity, but I have to assume that several Hispanic Catholics continue to distrust Darwin, even if the Church (to its credit) has said that the theory of evolution is not a threat to spirituality. Will Hispanics still be weary of science in another decade?

If so, it makes me want to cross myself and say a Hail Mary.


Where’s My Rosary?

When my wife and I were married over a decade ago, we had the ceremony at a Methodist church. That we had it in a church at all was more about practicality than an indication of the depth of our religious feelings. A couple of hundred guests weren’t going to fit into an outdoor tent or in some other preferred secular location. So we went with my wife’s childhood religion.

This logistical decision did not go over well with some of my distant relatives. They were older and had been raised in the Catholic crucible of El Salvador, and their opinion of the ceremony was summed up by their non-attendance. I found out later that one great aunt said, “If they’re not getting married in a Catholic Church, they’re not really getting married.”

While my relatives’ reaction may have been extreme, it is not rare in Latino societies.  Hispanic culture and Catholic dogma are so intertwined that it is often difficult to separate them. If you haven’t noticed, this has become one of my favorite themes on this blog.

There are good explanations why Latinos are fanatical about the pope.

The historical reason is because the Spaniards brought their religion with them on the point of a sword when they colonized Latin America. Natives who knew what was good for them quickly abandoned their old gods and hailed Jesus. Over the course of a few generations, this forced conversion morphed into sincere belief.

The contemporary reason is that the Church serves as a bridge for immigrants to their new country, a way for them to ease into assimilation and carry some of the traditions with them. Even for first- or second-generation Hispanics, the church often serves as community foundation and social epicenter in a way that is rarely seen anywhere else in this country (with the possible exception of Baptists in the Deep South).

But there are problems with the Catholic Church’s hold on Latino society. For starters, any culture that emphasizes religion so much is bound to be less interested in more secular matters – such as the importance of education or the value of political clout or the practicality of having many children.

In addition, Hispanic Catholicism has a strangely fatalistic viewpoint, seen in the mindset of many Latinos who think that being poor is their destiny and that they’ll be rewarded in the afterlife. Believing that God will take care of everything is one of the chief reasons that Latin American countries, and immigrants from those countries, have such a high tolerance for being pushed around.

There is also the weird disconnect between real-world behavior and Church priorities. In Hispanic culture, the mere act of stepping into the Church is often sufficient to prove one’s moral standing. Growing up, I knew gang members (or at least wannabes) who were praised as “good boys” solely because of their attendance at Church. Their presence, of course, was mandated by their parents, who cared little about what their kids did at other times of the week, as long as they were in the pews on Sunday.

Of course, there is one more negative consequence of Catholicism’s hold on Latino culture. Apparently, every painting by a Hispanic artist must have, at minimum, three images of La Virgen de la Guadalupe (seriously, is this a law or something?).


Despite these issues, however, Hispanic Catholics are not on the same theological plane as heavy hitters such as Christian fundamentalists or Hasidim Jews or Islamic theocrats. Latino Catholics are, for the most part, able to acknowledge the outside world and at least tolerate others.

As for those relatives who boycotted my wedding, they have gone about their Church-centric lives. They still attend Mass so frequently (i.e., at least once a day) that they have earned the Spanish appellation of “las cucarachas de la iglesia.” This is a poetic way of saying that even cockroaches don’t live in the church pews as much as they do.

I presume that the originator of the phrase was Catholic. Also, he apparently didn’t attend a very clean church.


Muy Fabuloso

First, let me thank Raul Ramos y Sanchez for his thought-provoking comment on my previous post.

Second, let me give you a warning. If you should ever walk down the street of a major American city with my wife, you should not (by her own admission) listen to her she asks the innocuous question, “What’s over there?” I speak from experience. Her curiosity about hidden doors and blinking marquees has mistakenly led us into shady dives from coast to coast (imagine my surprise at walking into an S&M bar in Hollywood).

One evening, “what’s over there” prompted us to enter a covert LA nightclub, where the doorman smiled and waived the cover charge. I had assumed he did so because it was Ladies Night. But when we walked in, I saw that he had not let us in for free because of my wife. It was because of me. It was a Latino gay bar, and the doorman assumed that I was a non-straight who had brought along my hipster female friend. To make things more interesting, a talent show for drag queens was just starting. What could I do but order a beer and watch the performances? My wife and I agreed that the Christina Aguilera was pretty close to the real thing.

I was not surprised that Hispanic gay men might establish a safe house off the beaten path. Loathing of gays shows hydra-headed persistence within Latino culture. We are the society, after all, that defined the word “macho.” The old-school standards for strong Hispanic males include getting into brawls, avoiding the kitchen, and womanizing at will. They do not include an affinity for techno music and an interest in Jennifer Lopez’s wardrobe.

As such, possibly the worst insult that one can lob at a Latino male is the dreaded M-word. To call someone a “maricon” is to take the nearest English equivalent (“faggot”), triple its intensity, add several layers of hatred and disgust, and square the result. In my generation at least, nobody jokes about this word or uses it lightly.

In contrast, American gay activists have adopted the words “queer” and “dyke” in an attempt to rob them of their degrading power, similar to the way in which many African Americans throw around the fabled N-word. It’s a subject of fierce debate whether these tactics work or are self-sabotaging, but in either case, I’m pretty sure nobody in Latin America is even trying that with “maricon.” In fact, being gay in Latin America ranges from affront to God (we’re talking about heavily Catholic countries) to active death warrant in the small villages of Central and South America.

I was talking with the Bitca about the level of homophobia in Hispanic culture. She said, “But you’re not homophobic” and added that this is one of my very few redeeming qualities. Then she said, “So I guess sometimes you’re an individual and not just a stereotype after all.” I thanked her for her high praise.

But she got me thinking.

The passage of Proposition 8 in California, which bans gay marriage, received ample support from Obama backers. Much of the coverage of this oxymoronic outcome has focused on the high percentage of black people who shouted, “free at last” when they voted for president and then muttered, “damn the homosexuals” as they revoked a basic civil right.

But California has a high number of Latinos (ask any right-wing demagogue for verification of this fact), and Obama was hugely popular with them (see my previous two posts on this). It is indeed a sad fact that a great many Latinos mimicked their African American brethren on Election Day.

To be specific, 53 percent of California Hispanics voted for the proposition. While this is not an overwhelming majority, it still tops the percentage of overall voters who approved of the ban (52 percent). It is also contradictory to their supposed enthusiasm for a liberal president.

Is it possible that my old boogeyman, the Catholic Church, is somewhat responsible for the invincible strain of homophobia in Latino culture? To the surprise of absolutely no one, the answer is yes. Hey, is the Pope homophobic… I mean, Catholic? Yes, that’s what I meant.

Statistics from Hispanic Business show that 64 percent of Latino Catholics voted for the proposition. Just 10 percent of non-religious Hispanics voted the same way.

So it’s not just burly macho hombres who hate gays that are tipping the vote. It’s quiet, polite Latina grandmothers who are willing to overlook Obama’s pro-choice tendencies, but can’t bring themselves to acknowledge that gay people have rights. Let’s be clear: When pundits talk about social conservatism among the otherwise Democratic-friendly Latino population, this is what they’re talking about.

However, despite the fact that homophobia is strong in Hispanic culture, Latino gays still find ways to burst out from underground. These manifestations range from the intellectualism of the great Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas to the pop-culture pabulum of Hank Azaria dancing around in “The Birdcage.” And what would a gay-pride parade be without at least one Carmen Miranda impersonator?

It’s a broad range of expression. Perhaps it’s hopeful, or maybe it’s pathetic. I can’t tell you, because I’m just a guy who walks obliviously into gay bars. 

May 2019
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