The Latino Catholicization of America

by Alex Gonzalez

This is an excerpt  for the essay “Abortion Won’t keep Catholic Latinos in the New Trump GOP” by Alex Gonzalez

Latinos are mainly concentrated in Southwestern states where in the next 10 years Latinos will become at least half the population of the states and subsequently, according to the US census by 2042, Latinos will be 80% of the entire southwest from Texas to California. As a result, any the growth of GOP, will happen only outside the East Coast in western states where Latino will soon become the majority.  A survey by Gallup in 2016 showed that while the “Most Democrat” states are in the East Coast, with California and New Mexico representing  the southwest. Among the “Most Republican” states, these are states scattered across the West, but these are state with small populations.

In the U.S.,  ethnicity is connected to religiosity and region; it is a ethnicity-religion-region triangulation. For example,  According to Robert Putnam’s book American Grace: How Religion Divides us and unites us,  when examining the religion and demographic makeup of the nation, all the religious ethnic groups cluster in specific areas. There is an overlapping similarities between the presence of a particular ethnic group and members of an ethnically rooted religions. This overlapping can be seen when we look at the map showing clustering of both ethnic and religious groups. The most visible are those who are self-identified as German-Americans and Lutherans churches. When we look at the map showing a concentration of German-Americans, we can see all 8 states in the upper mid-west populated by “German.” When we look at the population of self-identified Lutherans, 80% of the maps show the same states and counties of that self-Identity as German-Americans, where there are Germans, there Lutherans. And this trend holds up even after many generations have passed.

Also, Putnam argues that there is strong connection between the Scott-Irish and member of the Presbyterian churches who settled in the South predominantly. Thus, there is a strong connection that can be expected between the identity of the Presbyterian church Scott-Irish ethic identity in regions of the South across many states.

Catholics—Irish, Poles , and Italians—settled in mainly in industrial  states of the north east and the Catholic map shows overlapping between Italians-Americans Catholic with the greater concentration in Northeast and California. When the map of Latino Catholics is shown the concentration mainly in the 8 states in the Southwest–from Texas to California to Nevada and Colorado—and in south Florida. Here, too, the direct overlapping  between the Latinos population and  Catholicism is concentrated in one single continuous region is similar to that of ethnic German-Americans and the Lutherans Churches in upper Midwest or the Presbyterian churches with ethnic  Scott Irish’s  in the South.

This observation by Putman underscores that there is triangulation between religion, ethnicity, and region because groups like to stay together and attend religious services in churches that they are familiar with.  But, one little known fact is that, while there has been a “white flight” in the Catholic Church for the last 3 decades, Latinos have been the new pillar of the Catholic Church for the last 2 decades. According to Putnam, Catholics are about 25% of the US population, a proportion that has remained steady for 3 decades. But, American Catholicism has experienced a dramatic change. Over the last 3 decades, “Anglos”—non Latinos—Catholics have been dropping out and disengaging from the Catholic Church. During the same periods, the numbers of Latino Catholics has grown tremendously transforming the American Catholic Church.

According to Putnam, the American Catholic Church was “severely affected” in the 1960s by major reforms in Rome—the Vatican II. Thus, in recent decades as large numbers of ethnic whites Catholics (the grandchildren of early waves of white ethnic Catholics) were slipping out one door of the church, but a large number of Latinos have rushed in through another door.  Without the timely arrival of these immigrants and their offspring, the collapse of Catholic mass and Catholicism would have been stepper in America.   Thus, the combination of high losses of white ethnic Catholics, a young exodus, and low converts, the only thing that saved the Catholic Church was the arrival of Latino immigrants.  The transformation of church was so dramatic that of Catholics ages (18 to 35) 58% are Latinos, and ages (35 to 49) 34% are Latino.  This Latino presence within the Catholic Church makes it evident that the future of the church will be linked to the future of Latinos in America. And religious beliefs are linked to ethnicity.

Alex Gonzalez is a political Analyst, Founder of Latino Public Policy Foundation (LPPF), and Political Director for Latinos Ready To Vote. Comments to or @AlexGonzTXCA


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