David A. BADILLO, Latinos and the New Immigrant Church. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006. pp. 275. ISBN 0-8018-8388-1.
Reviewed by Segundo PANTOJA, Borough of Manhattan Community College/CUNY, New York, NY 10007

The introductory reader interested in understanding the background to Latinos’ Catholic roots and their ramifications until the present will benefit from Badillo’s narrative and concrete illustrations of how Hispanics have become part and parcel of Catholicism in the U.S. He travels as far back as medieval Spain and traces the main features of Catholicism’s transplantation to the New World. The chapters are developed chronologically and guide the reader to present-day issues regarding Latinos in relation to the Catholic Church. The background on antecedents and evolution is essential to understand some of the reasons why Latino and Anglo Catholicism have some areas of incompatibility. Readers can appreciate that Latin American religiosity has adapted considerably to the US context, without being totally assimilated. There are things that change with time, but others seem unalterable. Lay involvement in parish administration illustrates the former and the overriding centrality of and devotion to Mary proves the latter.

Badillo analyzes the relationship of various nationalities to the institutional church. He examines these interactions as they happened in their countries of origin and follows Mexicans as they moved to the Southwest and Midwest, Puerto Ricans as they moved to New York, and the Cubans to Miami. Latino Catholicism acquired a different flavor in each locale depending on several factors, principally the timing and the history leading up to the incorporation of the various immigrant groups. Thus, one learns about the historically significant role of San Antonio as the nucleus of Latino Catholicism whence initiatives have radiated to the entire nation; Catholic New York is marked by the strong links between New York’s archdiocese and Puerto Rico after 1898, while Miami’s context is shaped by the aftermath of the Cuban Revolution. Badillo also documents the impact on Catholicism of practices stemming from the fluid communication and mobility of new immigrants. Transnational exchanges of ideas and goods make Catholicism in the U.S. more like Latin America’s and Catholicism in Latin America absorbs U.S. influences; the Charismatic Renewal Movement is one example among several cited by the author.

The lessons from the interactions between the Catholic Church and Latinos reveal patterns of long-delayed acceptance and halfway assimilation. Latinos’ spheres of action have been restricted to the parish level and the home. Opportunities for leadership have lagged behind the potential indicated by their numbers. Where Latinos have become protagonists, it has been mostly by default (demographic change or what the author calls “residential succession”), not because of the Church’s solicitation; they become local decision makers as they fill the empty pews, as it were.

The evidence of over a century’s worth of Latino Catholicism in the US demonstrates the dedication of religious men and women to Hispanics’ spiritual and material needs. Throughout the country and over time, male and female religious orders, such as the Claretians and Redemptorists, as well as diocesan clergy have made efforts to tend to Latinos in cities and rural areas. The historical record shows that church personnel’s praxis among Hispanics has contrasted with and countered the rejection evidenced by a few clergy and many lay Anglo brethren. In particular, the chapter devoted to Archbishops Lucey, Spellman and Stritch demonstrates the positive roles played by these leaders, who were at the helm during periods of rapid Hispanic growth and dramatic church transitions (1940s-1960s). Lucey in San Antonio, Spellman in New York, and Stritch in Chicago adopted “innovative approaches to ethnic change [and] recognized that the key to regenerating parish structures for the future benefit of the Church lay in successfully managing the entry of Latino immigrants” (66).

The bulk of Badillo’s work is devoted to “the big three” national-origin Latino subgroups, namely the Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, and Cubans. However, Badillo must be credited with having made an effort to include in the last chapter a discussion of the Latin American immigrant groups arriving since the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. The chapters dealing with Mexicans are among the best in this collection. The historical narrative is focused and flows smoothly. The author weaves deftly the actions, decisions and consequences of individual and institutional actors. Badillo evinces here an expertise that owes much to his previous work on Mexicans in the Midwest, such as Latinos in Michigan and “The Catholic Church and the making of Mexican-American parish communities in the Midwest” (Mexican Americans and the Catholic Church, 190-1965. Dolan J.P. and Hinojosa, G., 1994).

The author makes incursions from time to time into Latinos’ relationships with non-Catholic practices and institutions, but such descriptions and discussions are mostly to compare and contrast with the main theme, Catholicism. One of Badillo’s arguments is that many initiatives of the institutional Catholic Church towards Latinos have been in response to the perceived or real competition from Protestants.

Badillo’s Latinos and the New Immigrant Church is ambitious in its scope. This collection of essays covers a vast amount of historical ground. However, Badillo also draws from other social science disciplines in his attempt to present a comprehensive account of the Latino Catholic religious experience. These two dimensions make the book a valuable reference and introductory work, for he draws from a wide range of scholarship on Latinos, from immigration to urban to cultural studies. The reader familiar with the social histories of Puerto Ricans and Cubans might find some passages redundant, but overall, there are advantages to having these histories in a single volume.


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