“Contrary to the dominant literature on Chicana/o social movements, Chicana/o religion and spirituality is not a hinderance to social action, but rather, it has often served as the driving force for self-determination and community empowerment throughout history. ”
Whereas the Black civil rights movement has largely documented its religious leitmotif, Chicana/o studies has long overlooked a spiritually centered social movement history. The lacunae is surprising considering the vast majority of Latina/os identify with some kind of religious identity. Unbeknownst to most, religion played a foundational role in the victories of the Chicana/o Movement. This dissertation is an intervention in the dearth of scholarly attention that Latina/o & Religious Studies has given to the religious experience of Latina/os in the U.S. Using oral histories and archival research, I explore three case studies that have come to define critical moments in the Chicana/o movement that were inspired by the deep religious fervor of the Latina/o community; The Church of the Epiphany, Católicos por la Raza, and Self-Help Graphics.
These case studies provide an overlooked narrative to the history of the Chicana/o Movement and underscores the longstanding relationship that Latina/os have with religion. This research also supports Robert Chao Romero's Brown Church theoretical concept that suggests throughout history, the Church has challenged marginalization and colonization in Latin America and the United States (Romero, 2020). By exploring these pillar organizations of the Chicana/o Movement, I intend to show that religion, in its myriad forms, was critically important to the success of the Mexican-American civil rights movement in Los Angeles during the late 1960’s. They show that self-determination and liberation are not just socio-political goals that exist in the secular arena, but can be considered a highly spiritual praxis as well.