The Saints of Santa Ana: Ethnic Membership and Religious Identities in the Barrio

pic1Dr. Jonathan Calvillo, CGCM faculty associate, has been awarded Louisville Institute’s First Book Grant for Minority Scholars. The title of his project is “The Saints of Santa Ana:  Ethnic Membership and Religious Identities in the Barrio.” This project examines the influence of religious identities on the ethnic community membership of Mexican immigrants in the U.S. The intersection of Latino ethnicity and religion presents a timely topic given that significant segments of the Latino population have shifted from Catholic to Evangelical adherence. These shifts in religious affiliation are particularly pronounced in Santa Ana, CA, the research site for this project. Santa Ana is a densely populated city of 330,000 residents with a majority population of Latino origin. The city’s religious landscape has become increasingly diverse. I argue that the social boundaries tied to differing religiosities result in diverging and reconfigured ethnic identity projects. Catholics and Evangelicals both make claims to authentic ethnic identities, but they live out their ethnicity in notably different ways. Three key spheres of contestation emerge between Catholic and Evangelical conceptualizations of ethnic membership: The modes of actualizing membership in the ethnic enclave, the discursive strategies of ethnic self-identification, and the dynamics of ethnic authenticity policing. This project speaks to the role of faith communities in providing modes of societal membership for immigrants. Beyond the religious sphere, this project carries broad implications for understanding Latino experiences of assimilation, civic engagement, and racialization.

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