Mexican American Religions

Spirituality, Activism, and Culture

Mexican American Religions

Book Pages: 456 Illustrations: 33 illustrations Published: July 2008

American Studies, Chicanx and Latinx Studies, Religious Studies

This collection presents a rich, multidisciplinary inquiry into the role of religion in the Mexican American community. Breaking new ground by analyzing the influence of religion on Mexican American literature, art, activism, and popular culture, it makes the case for the establishment of Mexican American religious studies as a distinct, recognized field of scholarly inquiry. Scholars of religion, Latin American, and Chicano/a studies as well as of sociology, anthropology, and literary and performance studies, address several broad themes. Taking on questions of history and interpretation, they examine the origins of Mexican American religious studies and Mario Barrera’s theory of internal colonialism. In discussions of the utopian community founded by the preacher and activist Reies López Tijerina, César Chávez’s faith-based activism, and the Los Angeles-based Católicos Por La Raza movement of the late 1960s, other contributors focus on mystics and prophets. Still others illuminate popular Catholicism by looking at Our Lady of Guadalupe, home altars, and Los Pastores dramas (nativity plays) as vehicles for personal, social, and political empowerment.

Turning to literature, contributors consider Gloria Anzaldúa’s view of the borderlands as a mystic vision and the ways that Chicana writers invoke religious symbols and rhetoric to articulate a moral vision highlighting social injustice. They investigate the role of healing, looking at it in relation to both the Latino Pentecostal movement and the practice of the curanderismo tradition in East Los Angeles. Delving into to popular culture, they reflect on Luis Valdez’s video drama La Pastorela: “The Shepherds’ Play,” the spirituality of Chicana art, and the religious overtones of the reverence for the slain Tejana music star Selena. This volume signals the vibrancy and diversity of the practices, arts, traditions, and spiritualities that reflect and inform Mexican American religion.

Contributors: Rudy V. Busto, Davíd Carrasco, Socorro Castañeda-Liles, Gastón Espinosa, Richard R. Flores, Mario T. García, María Herrera-Sobek, Luís D. León, Ellen McCracken, Stephen R. Lloyd-Moffett, Laura E. Pérez, Roberto Lint Saragena, Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo, Kay Turner


“This edited volume utilizes multidisciplinary approaches to explore the infusion of Mexican American religions in political activism, literature, healing practices, and popular culture. Specifically, this work’s application of poly-methodic approaches emphasizes social scientific orientations without marginalizing traditional methodologies such as liberation theology and church studies. . . . [T]his text affords an expansion of interpretative lenses in which to examine the diverse religious experiences of Mexican Americans.” — Margarita Simon Guillory, Religious Studies Review

“Coeditors Gastón Espinosa and Mario T. García have produced a landmark collection of essays that document and interpret the evolution of Mexican American religion in the United States over the past six decades. . . . All in all, this volume is a welcome addition to the growing literature on the reality and meaning of Hispanic cultures for the ever-vigorous world of religion in the United States.” — Allan Figueroa Deck S.J., Catholic Historical Review

“Gastón Espinosa and Mario García have provided a much-needed compilation of essays from a fortunately growing bibliography. For too long academics have neglected the seminal topic of religion among Mexican Americans; as a consequence, generalists have had little access to effective materials to enliven as well as enlighten their classes. This new volume moves us in a more productive direction by furnishing a usable, broadly-founded, and accessible scholarly collection. . . . Not ordinary among such edited collections, an excellent bibliography and useful index conclude this work, one which should find a space in the library of all who are interested in this foundational topic.” — John L. Robinson, Journal of Church and State

“These articles are a good starting place for those exploring ways to think about religious expression by artists, writers, and social activists. The articles are well documented and theoretically stimulating.” — Joseph A. Rodriguez, Journal of American Ethnic History

“This is an important, timely anthology, given that people of Mexican ethnicity constitute the largest cohort of the largest minority group in the United States, Latinos, and that the role of religion in society has become such a major part of the public discourse. Moreover, the collection yields a number of interesting findings from contributors, including both some of the leading lights in the field and rising younger scholars.” — Julie Leininger Pycior, History: Reviews of New Books

“This thought-provoking and informative book provides a unique glimpse into the living reality of Mexican American religiosity. I expect it to be required reading for anyone interested in understanding religion in the United States.” — Justo L. González, Founding Director of the Hispanic Theological Initiative

“The conversation about Latinos and religion will never be the same thanks to this splendid, visionary book. It captures who we are as a people—diverse, yet on a shared spiritual quest that will have huge ramifications for Latinos and beyond.” — Demetria Martínez, author of Confessions of a Berlitz-Tape Chicana and the novel Mother Tongue

“This excellent book pushes the field of religious studies forward by challenging it to consider Chicano religious studies as a rich and fruitful field of scholarly and intellectual examination. A must-read for anyone interested in U.S. Latino, Latin American, and American religions.” — David Maldonado Jr., Director of the Center for the Study of Latino/a Christianity and Religions, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University

“This groundbreaking interdisciplinary exploration of Mexican American spirituality, activism, and culture will be a benchmark for all future studies on Chicano religions in the twenty-first century. I highly recommend it!” — Virgilio Elizondo, University of Notre Dame


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

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.

Table of Contents Back to Top
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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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4119-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4098-0
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