Joe's Reviews > On the Move: A History of the Hispanic Church in the United States

On the Move by Moises Sandoval
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Mar 25, 12

bookshelves: theologica, latinoa
Read in February, 2012

Sandoval’s work on the history of the Hispanic Church in the US is marked by a balanced and insightful outlook. He is not interested in reducing the history of Latin America to inadequate generalities. Rather, his work is an informed and enlightening background that is both broad in scope and focused in purpose. Sandoval attends to the different regional areas of Hispanic presence in the United States, though he keeps the plight of Mexican Americans primarily in focus. He works his way through the history of Spanish conquest, American conquest, and the internal development and strengthening of Hispanic identity in the US. He presents a view of the Church that is both critical and positive and his assessment of the Hispanic Church in the US has a notably high outlook towards the future.
Beginning with the history of the Spanish encounter of the Indigenous in America, Sandoval is critical of the Spanish conquest but he is gentle in his review. The reality was unbelievable brutal. Sympathetically, he maintains that a large part of the death of natives was due to the introduction of diseases from Europe to which the indigenous simply could not withstand. Although this was the case, many of the indigenous population died from over-work and genocide. He says that the Spanish made poor judgments about the natives based on the disparity in culture and language between them and the Europeans. The Spanish brought to the Americas their two most important tools – conquest and mission. In terms of mission, Sandoval is critical of the success of evangelization despite what some historians claim. The missions were tied to the conquest mentality and where they succeeded, the Church often departed and left the natives alone. Although the faith thrived in many places, Sandoval asserts that a new religion was formed – one that mixed the essentials of Catholicism with spirit and traditions of the indigenous.
The “American conquest” followed on the coattails of the Spanish one and is just as atrocious. As the US declared war on Mexico to take its land, hundreds of thousands of resident Mexicans instantly became foreigners in their home land. Their entire future was plagued with the “crime of being Mexican.” Sandoval cites a claim that there were more lynchings of Mexicans in the West than blacks in the Old South. There are not adequate statistics to support either side of this claim. Racism, oppression, and institutional violence became the norm of the powerful “Americans” against the “former Americans.” Though there were some success and developments in the Hispanic Church, by the end of the 19th century Hispanics had no institutional voice in the Church. Ignored and underserved, Hispanics survived on popular religion. In parallel fashion, black slaves survived on “spirituals” etc.
The systematic oppression of Hispanics in the United States became a one-sided social contract for Mexicans. They could accept the social terms of this contract and agree to work as underpaid laborers, or they could “return” to Mexico, even though some families and communities had dwelled in New Mexico, Colorado, and California for hundreds of years. Sandoval is critical of the Catholic Church through the 19th and early 20th centuries. Bishops were often idle against the violence and the institutional oppression. It was only after Vatican II that the first Hispanic bishop was appointed in the U.S. This idleness towards the plight of Hispanics transferred into an activism motivated by the idea of “Americanization.” Sandoval calls this attempt of the Church to make Hispanics into Americans a failure. The old perspective of the “stew-pot” suggested that by accepting the new language, culture, and social status, Hispanics would integrate into the Church and society at large. Few in number, Latino priests were restricted from ministering to their native peoples. Sometimes Latino priests have been assigned to Euroamerican parishes. Ministry to Hispanics was simply ignored. Even in schools, Hispanic seminarians were being rejected in subtle and sometimes not so subtle ways. Despite the oppression in the early 20th century, Sandoval sees a subtle victory. Hispanics throughout the states were gaining social, economic, and political ground. Furthermore, Hispanic ministry and theology was developing a formidable presence in the Church.
Although Sandoval is critical of the failures of the Church, he is not hesitant to point positively to signs of hope. Despite the fact that the Church has been slow to address the imbalance of leaders, priests, bishops, and funding in general for Hispanic ministry, there have been important developments. In 1970, the Church ordained the first Mexican American bishop, Patricio Flores. He was a huge proponent of support and defense of the poor. Since then, there have been many Hispanic bishops and priests ordained for ministry. Although in no way proportionate to the number of Hispanic Catholics. Hispanic ministry has already contributed to the development of the Church with the Cursillo movement, Marriage Encounters, and with Basic Christian Communities. Just as immigrants have always done, Hispanics are renewing the Church. They have been called a prophetic presence by Bishops of the Church for their family values, anti-materialism, and devotion to the Church. Sandoval concludes his work on this high note of positivity claiming that Hispanic ministry has the potential for revitalizing the society of the world’s richest nation, and in fact it is already at work doing so.
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