Latino Pentecostal Identity: Evangelical Faith, Self, and Society

Latino Pentecostal Identity: Evangelical Faith, Self, and Society

Latino Pentecostal Identity: Evangelical Faith, Self, and Society

Latino Pentecostal Identity: Evangelical Faith, Self, and Society

Synopsis

Of the thirty-seven million Latinos living in the United States, nearly five million declare themselves to be either Pentecostal or Charismatic, and more convert every day. Latino Pentecostal Identity examines the historical and contemporary rise of Pentecostalism among Latinos, their conversion from other denominations, and the difficulties involved in reconciling conflicts of ethnic and religious identity. The book also looks at how evangelical groups encourage the severing of ethnic ties in favor of spiritual community and the ambivalence Latinos face when their faith fails to protect them from racial discrimination.

Latinos are not new to Pentecostalism; indeed, they have been becoming Pentecostal for more than a hundred years. Thus several generations have never belonged to any other faith. Yet, as Arlene M. S nchez Walsh articulates, the perception of adherents as Catholic converts persists, eliding the reality of a specific Latino Pentecostal population that both participates in the spiritual and material culture of the larger evangelical Christian movement and imprints that movement with its own experiences. Focusing on three groups of Latino Pentecostals/Charismatics -- the Assemblies of God, Victory Outreach, and the Vineyard -- S nchez Walsh considers issues such as the commodification of Latino evangelical culture, the Latinization of Pentecostalism, and the ways in which Latino Pentecostals have differentiated themselves from the larger Latino Catholic culture. Extensive fieldwork, surveys, and personal interviews inform her research and show how, in an overwhelmingly Euro-American denomination, diverse Latino faith communities -- U. S. Chicano churches, pan--Latin American immigrant churches, and mixed Latin American and U. S. Latino churches -- have carved out their own unique religious space.

Excerpt

The first encounter I had with Latino Pentecostals occurred when I was very young, around six or seven I would guess. I was sitting on a sofa in the living room of my great-grandmother’s house, and I saw what appeared to be a band of people in white with tambourines marching down the street. They were going door to door and handing out tracts. Not knowing who they were or what they wanted, I ran to the door to see these people all dressed in white, something not normal in my East Los Angeles neighborhood. As soon as I approached the door, my mother picked me up and hid me underneath the sofa, away from the leering eyes of the Pentecostal missionaries. I was quite upset, because even at that early age their dress, their demeanor, held some interest for me. I stayed hidden safely until they left. I remember my mother and great-aunt telling the missionaries, thanks but no thanks. A little while later, the Catholic Church gave my family an anti-proselytizing placard that they still have on the front of their door near the doorbell. I asked my mom why she hid me; what I remember of the conversation revolved around the fact that the “aleluyas” often came around from one of the two Pentecostal churches that were around our block and that they were particularly interested in children, so my mother, doing her duty, hid me away.

Years and years of driving past the “Gospel Temple” on Townsend Avenue and sneaking away to get a peek at “El Aposento Alto” on Michigan and Hicks Avenues only whetted my appetite about who these strangers were. The women wore long skirts, often no makeup, and looked very severe; the men wore suits and ties, and everyone, including children, carried a Bible. The music was loud; often I could hear sermons preached at a fever pitch. I kept these memories and did little with them until I was in graduate school years later. I needed a topic for my dissertation, and, furthermore, I needed to think about specializing in a field so I would be marketable as an academic. Never did I imagine writing about this subject for so long, speaking to audiences about it so often, and having it become part of my life, if quite by accident. It seems that those missionaries who arrived on our doorstep nearly thirty years ago ended up capturing more than just my interest.

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