Religion and Ethnicity

  • Hinojosa, Felipe. Latino Mennonites: Civil Rights, Faith, and Evangelical Culture, 2014.

This weeks readings largely remained in the south but transitioned to a much more focused demographic. Felipe Hinojosa, in Latino Mennonites: Civil Rights, Faith, and Evangelical Culture, addresses the story of Latino’s involvement within the Mennonite faith. His interest is not merely to provide a narrative but to explain the complex relationship that Latinos had with other minority groups within the changing and developing twentieth-century, evangelistic Mennonite religion. Hinojosa’s intent is to refocus the discussion surrounding latino religious activism by fleshing out its relationship within the religious community with other racial groups. From the civil rights movement to Cesar Chavez and the farmworkers movement, Hinojosa moves between a very specific group or lens to very large or broad issues.

Hinojosa provides a narrative that illustrates the push and pull of both conflicting ethnic/racial cultures as well as religious trends. The struggle for Latinos to locate their culture within the Mennonite faith is juxtaposed with the struggled between the Mennonites Anabaptist roots with the influence of evangelicalism. This text illustrates particularly well that a religious group or denomination often struggles with a plethora of religious and cultural influences simultaneously. Furthermore, these various influences interact with each other to produce varying responses and outcomes. Whether it be the relationship between the Anabaptist roots and Latino machoism or the feeling by many Latinos that the MMC was under representing them within the Mennonite faith, the arcing narrative from 1930 through the 1980s truly shows the “confluence of cultural [and religious] flows” that impacted the direction and growth of the Mennonite denomination.

One of the important themes from Hinojosa’s text is summarized in a statement from a Mexican American women who attended the first Cross-Cultural Youth Conference (CCYC). Ever so poignantly she articulated that “I learned a lot of things…I learn that this is Black power, and Chicano power, Red power, and any kind [of] power, but [that[ the best kind is Jesus power” [116]. To what extent does a religious faith/denomentaiton encourage an adherents cultural or racial identity and to what extent does that identity become subsumed in the larger belief structure? Hinojosa notes that in the following years CCYCs, they were never as ethnically or racially focused as the first one in 1972. Perhaps the transition within and through the Mennonite served to further entrench and strengthen the ethnic identities of these latinos and latinas.

My own research on Mormon conversions in the nineteenth century is, in part, concerned with this same narrative. To what degree does conversion or movement into a new faith change the individual? That could mean economically, politically, socially or culturally. While the large majority of Mormon converts were not racially or even largely ethnically different from those already within the faith, the model the Hinojosa offers of tracking and identifying the ways in which these groups maneuvered within the denomination is enlightening and informative. How did the Mormon hierarchy adapt or accommodate different ethnic groups and how did these groups maintain their cultural identities? While my initial reaction is that the narrative is nowhere near as complex as Latino Mennonites in the twentieth century, it is still worth investigating and exploring within my sources.

Religion and Ethnicity

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