Before Spanish colonization and the introduction to Roman Catholicism in Mexico, most indigenous peoples believed in gods and goddesses, forces of nature, and human sacrifice. One of the first religious traces of conversion was after the Spanish conquered Tenochtitlan, now modern day Mexico. This dates back to Juan Diego, a native saint who converted to Christianity and was said to have seen La Virgen de Guadalupe on December 12th – now a day of celebration for many Mexicans. Mexicans see this as something very significant to their cultural identity; La Virgen represents a clash of two worlds – colonizer and colonized.
For senior Rubiceli Gomez, Roman Catholicism is what she grew up identifying as.
“I went to church growing up because that’s what I thought I was supposed to do, and even here [in the United States], I just went because other people went, like my friends,” she said.
According to the Pew Research Center, about 16% of foreign-born Latinos switch their religious identity after arriving to the United States. This differs from 36% of native-born Latinos, who are less likely to affiliate with the religion of their youth. The Pew Research Center indicates that of the former Catholics, religious switching in the Latino community goes two ways – converting to Protestantism or becoming atheist or agnostic.
“I stopped identifying with a religion once I was exposed to other cultures and their beliefs and felt like I was not forced to just stick to one,” says Gomez. “I chose to grab a bunch of other people’s beliefs and made up my own. I believe that there’s a higher something somewhere in the universe, but I can’t tell you that it’s Jesus or Allah, or anything. It’s more meaningful to me that way.”
On a survey done by the University of Notre Dame, researchers saw a common pattern in the church and bible being an extension of family, confirming the thoughts of author Ken R. Crane who presented these exact ideas in his book, Latino Churches: Faith, Family, and Ethnicity in the Second Generation.
“Latino congregations are places where the cultural notions of family are enacted and celebrated,” stated Crane. Because of this, family participation directly correlates with religion – family being one of the more significant values in Latino culture.
“It was a time when my family would get together and talk about everything – family things, each other, aunts talking about other people’s kids – that’s what I liked the most,” said Gomez.
Junior Citlalli Arias agreed, citing how religion has impacted her life growing up,
“Looking at the culture we have, it’s always based off religious things, like Dia de Los Muertos, quinceañeras, baptism, first communion, confirmation,” she says. “It kinda makes up your identity if that’s what you grew up on, especially with my family.”
Though religion does play a role in Latino identity, Arias believes that religion shouldn’t be viewed as an essential role to completing it.
“If you’re Latino and you decide not to be religious, it won’t make you less of a member of the community,” said Arias. “You can’t let small things define your entire Latino identity.”