Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Cristero Diaspora: Mexican Immigrants, the U.S. Catholic Church, and Mexico's Cristero War, 1926-29

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Cristero Diaspora: Mexican Immigrants, the U.S. Catholic Church, and Mexico's Cristero War, 1926-29

Article excerpt

The author examines the connections between Mexico's Cristero War, a bloody church-state conflict that raged across west-central Mexico from 1926 to 1929, and the great wave of Mexican emigration to the United States that occurred during the same period. Although historians have generally treated the Cristero War and Mexican emigration as two distinct and unrelated subjects, a rich array of archival evidence from both sides of the border demonstrates that thousands of Mexican immigrants during the late 1920s supported the Cristero cause from the United States. By elucidating the geographical and political interconnections between the Cristero War and Mexican emigration and exploring the instrumental role played by the U.S. Catholic Church in placing religious exiles from Mexico within immigrant communities, the author demonstrates the development of a diaspora of Mexican Cristero supporters across cities and regions in the United States.

Keywords: Cristero; Cristero War; Mexican migration; National Catholic Welfare Conference; religious diaspora

In summer 1926, Mexico's Catholic loyalists- known as crlsteros - took up arms to defend the Church against the government's anticlerical reforms, setting off a devastatingly violent war that ravaged west-central Mexico until a cease-fire was called in July 1929. Simultaneously, Mexican emigration to the United States intensified during the late 1920s, as new waves of emigrants, exiles, and refugees left the war-torn area. As the war continued, entire towns in central Mexico emptied, and cities and towns across the United States filled with a steady stream of new arrivals from the Cristero region. Soon, tens of thousands of these immigrants had begun to publicly express support for the Cristero cause.

After late 1927, it was as though the religious conflict itself had crossed the border. In San Antonio, 500 Mexicans marched in front of the consulate to express their disapproval of the government's anticlerical restrictions. In El Paso, some 35,000 people, many of Mexican origin, followed Mexican and American priests in a vast religious procession through the city. In Los Angeles, 10,000 people- most from the city's Mexican community- waved Mexican flags and colorful banners as their bishop denounced the government of Mexico. In Chicago, some 500 parishioners of the Mexican Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe listened raptly as a visiting bishop railed against the anticlerical leaders of their homeland, then marched, singing and waving religious placards, to their newly built, larger parish church (see figure 1).

Such events were part of a larger phenomenon: during the late 1920s, Mexican immigrant communities across the United States confronted, interacted with, and enacted the religious conflict in their homeland in a variety of ways. A diasporic network of Cristero supporters-including labor migrants; exiled priests, nuns, and prelates; middle-class lay activists; and militants - collaborated (and sometimes competed) with each other as they participated in public and private activities that included religious ceremonies and spectacles, political demonstrations and marches, the formation of associations and organizations, strategic collaboration with religious and political leaders, arms smuggling, espionage, and even military revolts.

Certainly, not all Mexican emigrants during the Cristero War years identified with the Catholic side of the conflict. Indeed, an equal - or even greater- number of Mexicans in the United States expressed support for the anticlerical reforms of the Mexican government, whereas many thousands more remained apolitical.1 Nevertheless, even if the population of Cristero supporters was a tiny minority within the larger Mexican immigrant community, it was a vocal and politically active one- and one whose story, which has largely escaped scholarly examination, can add greatly to the scholarship on three fascinating topics: Mexico's Cristero War, Mexican immigration during the 1920s, and the role of the U. …

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