The mainstream (mis)perception of Latino religious expression often falls somewhere between the stereotypes of elderly Catholics at prayer in a darkened cathedral and boisterous Pentecostals, neatly pressed and singing and shouting their prayers in Spanish. But Latino Christians are as diverse in their spiritual life as they are racially and culturally. Below are six examples of ways American Latinos have expressed their faith.
1. Gang Intervention. In the 1980s, Catholic priest Greg Boyle joined with the mothers in his barrio parish to go beyond the walls of the church to develop an innovative ministry to East Los Angeles gang members. Their work sparked Homeboy Tortillas and other pioneering business initiatives to help young people escape la vida loca, offering a new model for church involvement with gangs.
2. The Option for the Poor. The theology of liberation rose out of Latin America and became a part of spiritual life for many Latinos in the U.S. Starting in the 1980s, offering hospitality and assistance to those fleeing the wars in Central America became the way God’s redeeming love became incarnate in lives of many Latinos and other progressive Christians.
3. César Chávez and the Grape Boycott. The social consciousness of many Latino Christians dawned with farm- worker strikes and the grape boycott organized by César Chávez and the United Farm Workers in the 1960s. Chavez’ mix of devout Catholicism and Gandhian nonviolence sparked the largest Latino social movement in the history of the U.S. and inspires Latino activists around the country to this day.