Becoming Mexican American: Ethnicity, Culture, and Identity in Chicano Los Angeles, 1900-1945

By George J. Sánchez | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 7

The Sacred and the Profane:
Religious Adaptations

It is becoming increasingly evident that the Latin races within our gates will retain their hold on the faith of their fathers only in so far as we help them to cling to it. We can no longer wait for them to come to us, we must go out to them and "Compel them to come in."

—From the 1922 Annual Report of the Associated Catholic
Charities of Los Angeles 1

On Sunday mornings during the 1920s, Los Angeles' central Plaza came alive with the sights and sounds of Mexico. La Placita, as it was affectionately called, was home to the city's oldest Catholic church, where Mexicans from throughout Los Angeles came to worship. The Plaza, however, also contained contradictions reflecting the complicated character of Mexicans' religious life in the United States. Just across from the Catholic church Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Angeles, Methodists had erected their own house of worship, the Plaza Methodist-Episcopal Church, located on the Plaza specifically to entice Mexican immigrants to join the Protestant fold. With its doors open to Olvera Street and a Spanish-speaking minister in charge, the Methodists were able to lure a number of Mexicans away from the faith of their fathers and mothers. 2

Although religion is only one of the many outward manifestations of the transformation of immigrant culture in Los Angeles, it can serve as a significant indicator of larger forces affecting Chicano life during this period. Religious identity, however, is a particularly elusive and complex problem to investigate historically because of its private and individual nature. While it is clear that life in the United States was dominated by secular concerns, the role religion played in the minds and hearts of Mexican immigrants is less discernible. But by exploring some of the more outward manifestations of this identity, one can better understand the impact of the institutional practices of the Catholic Church and the various Protestant denominations and attempt to reconstruct belief systems and traditions characteristic of Mexicans in Los Angeles.

The relationship of ethnicity and religion is still a relatively unex

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