Posts Tagged ‘Catholic


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.



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.



Forgive me for being a bit tardy on this news item, as well as for straying – initially at least – from my professed subject matter.

But I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Bristol Palin, who is, as you know, the Republican VP candidate’s poor knocked-up teenage daughter.

Religious conservatives have rallied around the girl and said that her condition is nobody’s business, or that it is actually good news because it verifies Palin’s pro-life credentials. So as a thought experiment, let’s reverse the situation:

Say that Obama or Biden had a 17-year-old daughter who got pregnant and is keeping the baby. Would we hear from social conservatives how it’s irrelevant, or proof of the candidate’s humanity, or even inspiring?

More likely, we would hear how liberals don’t instill proper values in their children, or that they don’t respect traditional family values, or that their lax parenting proves their inability to lead the country, or that it all sets a poor example for young people.

My point isn’t that religious conservatives can be hypocrites, or that abstinence-only sex ed doesn’t work, or that this girl’s condition has become a campaign issue (although to be honest, all of that is true). Rather, this is my long-winded way of addressing the powerful and detrimental nature of religion in American culture.

So what has this, specifically, got to do with Hispanics?

Well, as you may or may not know, Latinos are the alpha and omega of Catholicism in the United States, and perhaps the world. Consider that in America, almost 70% of Hispanics are Catholic, compared to just 20% of the general population. Some countries in Latin America are as Catholic as Middle Eastern countries are Islamic.

Has all this religion helped the Hispanic community? I would argue that it has not.

The stranglehold that the Catholic Church has over Hispanic culture has bred a unique form of interdependence. Faith in God’s master plan has superseded faith in one’s abilities and talents. This latter type of perseverance – call it secular if you want – is more needed than ever in communities where deep-seeded problems demand creative answers. Instead, with all the issues facing the Latinos, prayer is the answer most often given as a viable solution.

For a more specific example, let’s look at the horrific graduation rate of Latino adolescents. It’s no surprise that Hispanic teens lag so far behind white, black, and Asian American students in actually getting through high school. The priority that Latino culture places on religion dwarfs the attention given to education (I will post more on this discrepancy later). Especially among immigrant parents, making sure that a kid does all his homework is not nearly as vital as ensuring his attendance at Mass (I will add that my mother was an exception to this mindset, which was to my great benefit).

Social conservatives love to proclaim that issues in barrios and hoods exist because the people who live there have grown too dependent on government largesse to fend for themselves. They may have a point.

However, their alternative has often been to push for more dependence on Christianity, a cultural force that, unlike government, isn’t accountable to voters. How else do we explain the dreaded faith-based initiative?

A natural objection to all my negativity is to point out the good that religion does. Indeed, many people have turned their lives around because of a newfound faith, and some of our greatest leaders (eg, Martin Luther King Jr.) were driven by religion. And in Latin America, numerous priests in Central America – to say nothing of the great Archbishop Oscar Romero – have sacrificed their lives for a greater good.

Still, at this point in history, is the net effect of religion in general (and Catholicism on Latino culture specifically) a positive? My belief is that it ultimately does more harm than good.

So I’m pleased to see that young Latinos, like the younger generation overall, are at least pausing to consider if all this praying is really worth it.

A report by the University of Notre Dame’s Institute for Latino Studies shows that Hispanics become less Catholic with each U.S.-born generation. This lines up with surveys showing that the number of nonreligious young people (those from 18-25 years old) has nearly doubled over the last generation (from 11 percent in 1986 to 20 percent today).

This should not be construed as a clamoring for atheism or a call to burn down all the churches. Rather, it is quite possibly Latino culture’s gradual realization of the need for balance.

And perhaps it is the recognition that going to church and worshipping really hard is not sufficient to raise our standard of living. Maybe Hispanics are learning that, you know, God helps those who help themselves.


Or Perhaps We Will Write in Bill Richardson’s Name

These are perplexing times for Hispanics, especially for those who are Catholic. Actually, that statement is ridiculous, because these are confusing times for everybody, unless there’s some really enlightened individual out there who has achieved inner harmony while the rest of the world roils uncontrollably.

But getting back to those Hispanic Catholics, let’s address a question: In an election year, do they tap into their faith to lead them to the conclusion that we should be concerned with the poor and the plight of immigrants (liberal ideas) or do they lose their collective mind over gays and abortion (conservative ideas)?

Now that the nominees are set, will Hispanics back Obama – the Democrat and (as you may have noticed) a fellow ethnic minority? Or will they turn against him because he surged past Hillary Clinton, that perennial Latino favorite?

Will they go for John McCain, whose efforts to appeal to Hispanics have thus far consisted of learning how to pronounce the word “fajita” correctly? Or will they lump him in with the build-a-fence, deport-everybody Republican crowd?

At this point, it seems like the decades-long lock that Democrats have on this constituency is intact, but weakening. People like my pro-life, anti-war aunt don’t exactly feel a kinship to either political party. Her opinions are not contradictory to herself, but they cause pollsters fits. 

Of course, being Hispanic is no longer synonymous with being Catholic. When I was growing up, encountering a Latino who did not know the rosary backward and forward was as rare as discovering an Asian person who was really into polka. That’s not necessarily true anymore, and I’ll address the de-Catholicization of Latino culture in a future post.

But in any case, it will be intriguing to see if religion and race mix in unpredictable ways this November. 

August 2019
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