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The Saints of Santa Ana: Contesting the Boundaries of Mexican Ethnoreligious Authenticity

  • Author(s): Calvillo, Jonathan Eli;
  • Advisor(s): Bailey, Stanley R.;
  • et al.

This dissertation examines the influence of religious affiliation on the ethnic identity construction of Mexican immigrants in the U.S. The intersection of Latino ethnicity and

religion presents a timely topic given that significant segments of the Latino population

have shifted from Catholic to Evangelical adherence. These shifts in religious affiliation are being experienced in salient fashion in Santa Ana, CA, the research site for this project. Santa Ana is a dense urban center that counts a majority population that is of Mexican origin. The city continues to experience a diversification of its religious landscape. I argue that the social boundaries tied to these differing religiosities result in diverging and reconfigured ethnic identity projects. Catholics and Evangelicals both make claims to authentic ethnic identities, but they live out their ethnicity in notably different ways.

Three key differences emerge in how Catholics and Evangelicals conceptualize their ethnic identities. The manner in which both groups engage the ethnic enclave differs markedly; Catholics frame the ethnic enclave as a source of resources and a site to be sacralized while Evangelicals cast the ethnic enclave as a place to be reformed. Secondly, both groups employ differing discursive strategies in terms of how they identify themselves ethnically. Catholics are more confident in asserting themselves as Mexican, while Evangelicals argue for their legitimacy as members of the ethnic community via additional designations such as legal status, regional status, and panethnicity. Finally, Catholics and Evangelicals are engaged in a type of social policing wherein both groups contest the boundaries of ethnic membership. Catholics question the authenticity of Evangelicals as ethnics, while Evangelicals assert for themselves a moral identity as a means by which to elevate their place in the ethnic community. Beyond the religious sphere, my research carries broad implications for understanding Latino experiences of assimilation, civic engagement, and racialization. Ultimately, this work on first generation Mexican immigrants lays the groundwork for understanding the experience of subsequent generations, as well as that of other Latino groups in the U.S.

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