Religion at the Corner of Bliss and Nirvana: Politics, Identity and Faith in New Migrant Communities

Article excerpt

Review of Religion at the Corner of Bliss and Nirvana: Politics, Identity and Faith in New Migrant Communities by Lois Ann Lorentzen, Joaquin Jay Gonzales III, et. al. Duke University Press, Durham, NC: 2009.

This book takes a close look at the influences and contributions various church and religious organizations make to the acclimation and acculturation of migrant groups, especially in the San Francisco area. Interestingly, this is not a one-way journey; communications and travel by migrants is cross-national. The stories are amazing; the interconnections are endless.

This edited volume grew out of a four-year project conducted by researchers from the Religion and Immigration Project (TRIP) at the University of San Francisco. The geographic location of study began in the greater San Francisco area but spread rapidly to the respective migrants' countries of origin including China, the Philippines, El Salvador and Mexico to name a few. "Although there is a tremendous range of ages in our ethnographic and family interview samples ..., the majority of our adult participants are first-generation immigrants of low socioeconomic status who have relatively little formal education and who have either minimal or no skills in speaking and writing English" (p. xi). Research methods are carefully explained in the introductory remarks.

According to the authors, there is an assumption that immigration is a one-way street however this assumption needs to be changed. Migrants, either legal or illegal, frequently move back and forth between their new country (in this case the United States) and their country of origin. Relationships span international boundaries and problems of citizenship and deportation complicate those relationships.

For instance, the book describes poor youth who are born to Salvadorian parents in the United States who often join gangs to create an identity and a niche for themselves. They feel neither like Americans nor Salvadorians and they use gang membership to bridge that gap. The United States government response to gang members' offenses has been deportation to El Salvador, even when the gang members are U.S. citizens. Having been brought up in the United States, gang members find themselves in a strange country, with few language skills; once again, they resort to gang membership for community.

Since most of these gang members have been identified by tattoos covering much of their bodies, a number of churches have joined forces to provide a tattoo removal service. Former gang members are required to perform ten hours of community service before participating in the removal procedures, which are painful and often take as much as a year to complete. …