Latino Atheists Search for Community in Chicago

We talk about the importance of reaching out to minority atheists all the time, but more often than not, “minority” as we use it just means “black.” Latino atheists are usually ignored in that context.

WBEZ’s Aurora Aguilar spoke with some Latino atheists in Chicago about their transitions into atheism and what they’re searching for:

Jose Alvarado (Aurora Aguilar – WBEZ)

Many Latinos, for example, have an unwavering belief that praying to their patron saint, La Virgen de Guadalupe, can fix all. Jose [Alvarado] says they’re believing in something unproven by empirical evidence. Latinos say “Adios,” or “Go With God,” without meaning it as a blessing. These examples become routine. Jose wishes there was more active awareness of religion and how it affects the lives of its followers.

He says that it’s hard for poor, poorly educated people to really understand and explore their religion.

“When my parents got home from work late because they had been working 10 plus hours a day, there isn’t any real time to delve into the finer points of what’s really in the Bible. The way that it’s set up culturally, it’s not something people do on a regular basis, to think critically what their cultural beliefs are,” he said.

It’s a great piece and one that’s very timely, too. A poll released last year by the Pew Hispanic Center found that 14% of U.S. Hispanics were religiously “unaffiliated” — and, of that group, half of them said that religion plays little to no role in their lives:

Right now, only one group exists specifically for Latino atheists in Chicago. But the demographic is getting larger and it won’t be long before they become a larger segment of all of the local groups. The sooner that happens, the better.

(Thanks to Heidi for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Jennifer

    This fragmentation along ethnic lines is concerning. Black Atheists, Latino Atheists; not a good thing for our community. We need to be above the need for this kind of separation. Can’t we all get along based on our non-belief and learn from each other about our cultural differences and just accept everyone as they are? I know there is a tendency to want to be around people like yourself, but isn’t non-belief enough common ground?

  • The Other Weirdo

    People seem to think that their experiences and reference points are so unique that nobody, not ever, nuh huh, will ever understand them and that’s why they need to separate themselves into black atheists, latino atheists, gay atheists, whatever. There is some truth to that, but only in so far as it relates to specific cultural differences which, in the grand scheme of things, are completely irrelevant. Sure, how you get a black person in US to admit he/she is an atheist may be different to how a white person would do it, but at the end of the day, it’s still admitting you’re an atheist.

  • GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    “Adios a dios” means “farewell to god”.

  • ortcutt

    In the United States, we’ve done a very poor job building a civil society. Even in urban areas, people feel like there are few common spaces of meaningful interaction, and suburban and rural areas are even worse. We don’t need more atheist groups. We need some sense of community in our communities. Churches and their conservative allies have been part of this cultural impoverishment, because they don’t like the competition. They want to be your exclusive social life and your community.

  • Kengi

    A good first step would be not calling the unique culture and needs of minority groups “completely irrelevant”. With attitudes like these, it’s painfully clear why these groups not only form, but why they are needed.

  • Kengi

    Why do atheists have to form a group? Why can’t we all just consider ourselves humans? Isn’t being part of the same species enough common ground? Why can’t we learn from each other about our religious differences?

    Gotta love people who separate themselves into a group for mutual support who then complain about other people who form groups for support. If the needs of a group of people are unique enough, they naturally form into a group for that kind of support.

    Why don’t you attend a meeting of one of these organizations so you can learn something about them? If you do, make sure you just listen. Don’t tell them that, based on your experience of not being like them, you know better than they do what their needs are.

  • TiltedHorizon

    I hate needless qualifiers. I’m Latino & I’m an Atheist, I’ve never considered myself a Latino Atheist. Should I be posting at the “Ateo Amistoso”?

  • sane37

    hence the need for more Atheist groups

  • The Other Weirdo

    Wow! Not even remotely what I said.

  • chicago dyke

    i’m sorry some people don’t understand the need for ethnically or culturally specific groups. first of all, nothing is stopping Latin atheists from going to an “atheists of chicago” meeting that is not ethnically specific. i bet a bunch of them do. secondly, it can be hard to speak freely in front of people who don’t share your specific cultural experiences; there is often the fear that what you may say will sound offensive or uninclusive. finally, there is a lot to be said for being in a room or group of people just like you.

    do you oppose gay bars? meetings of democrats? mommy groups? gay AA? sometimes a person wants to focus on the specifics of a particular condition with similar people, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

    i’m modern enough to hope these meetings are open to all, so that non-Latins can learn about the Latin atheist experience as well. but i have been a part of a lot of groups of people according to one definition or another, and i will testify that there is a benefit to them, for the people who participate.

  • TiltedHorizon

    Thumbs down? Really?

  • Carmelita Spats

    Very well said! When I go home to Mexico or Spain, I find a community of atheists that “gets” what it is like to grow up blaspheming in Spanish when everyone around you is Catholic…We make religious jokes that outsiders might not understand due to language/cultural barriers…For example, a running joke is to ask another nonbeliever, “¿qué padre te tocó?” which has a double meaning for those of us who were educated in Catholic schools in Latin America…Another example would be yelling in frustration “¡hostia!” or “¡me cago en dios!”…Both expressions have cultural, historical, emotional, connotations that are not easy to just translate. We also enjoy discussing the latest blasphemous articles/books from Latin American authors who deal in church/state issues in Latin America…I don’t think American atheists would be interested in discussing and laughing at the drawn out, heated, verbal, battle between the curdled bishop of Guadalajara and Mexico City’s mayor over gay marriage/god belief.

  • Drew M.

    I’m Latino and I agree with you wholeheartedly. Have an upvote.

  • TiltedHorizon

    Thank you. An upvote for you to balance the pending downvotes likely to come. Plus a million more (if I could) just because I love the avatar. One of my favorite movies of all time.

    “Hello my name is Inigo Montoya, You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

  • Bridget Gaudette

    Being a Latino atheist gives you a different and important perspective about the part that religion plays in various culture. Some, like mine and yours have a very high level of religiosity, why? Maybe Latinos need some focused outreach.

  • Bridget Gaudette

    In a perfect world yes. But some highly religious groups need focused outreach to get them out of the closet and WE NEED VISIBILITY in our neighborhoods.

  • Bridget Gaudette


  • Bridget Gaudette

    Admitting you’re an atheist is not the issue. It’s how the rest of the community that you grew up in reacts to you. For blacks it’s seen as a cultural rejection and having had our culture stripped from us a few years ago we tend to hold tight to what we have now. Black atheists go against that culture and the results are consistently difficult: ostracized, uncle tommed. Others might have difficulty. Blacks do have difficulty.

  • beautifulblackatheist

    I’m hoping to attend one of their meetups this Spring.

  • Bridget Gaudette

    Actually you did. You said, “cultural differences which, in the grand scheme of things, are completely irrelevant. ” There’s not irrelevant.

  • Everyday Coolin

    Thanks CD.

  • D Frederick Sparks

    you gotta love people who aren’t part the groups in question saying to the people who are part of the groups in question and who are exercising THEIR judgment that black or latino atheists gatherings are good for THEM that they are somehow wrong about that. If the paternalism and privilege inherent in that doesnt smack you on your own forehead…then I don’t know what to say

  • D Frederick Sparks

    and the naivete and myopia or sheer cluelessness involved in saying “isn’t non belief enough” is prima facie evidence that it is clearly not

  • beautifulblackatheist

    If you don’t consider yourself a Latino Atheist good for you. Don’t discount those who do. People attend and support these groups because they’re necessary. Latino Atheists of Chicago is one of those groups.

  • beautifulblackatheist

    The Rodney King mentality didn’t work in L.A. and it’s ineffective in the Atheist community. I’m wondering.. .with all of the Atheist infighting in the Atheist community.. .are you sharing this sentiment there also?

  • beautifulblackatheist

    I couldn’t believe I read that Lol sometimes people like hearing the sound of their own voice.

  • TiltedHorizon

    I am not a ” Latino atheist”, I am atheist who happens to be Latino. There is significant commonality in being “sin dios” (godless) so much so that culture becomes secondary to the need to NOT feel alone. Seems I have “a different and important perspective about the part that religion plays in” my culture, yet no one appears ready to hear it. How ironic.

  • TiltedHorizon

    “People attend and support these groups because they’re necessary”

    Define “necessary”, the fact that I am participating in a non-Latin specific atheist forum seems to indicate that it is not as necessary as you may think.

  • Jose Alvarado

    Being a Latino Atheist does not disqualify participation in any other group just as being tall or enjoying basketball does not disqualify Yao Ming from attending an Umpa-Loompa meeting to discuss their issues (if he can help and is interested in their issues). The first person to attend the Chicago Latino Atheist meeting was simply a caucasion guy looking to meet with and learn about Latino culture and our issues. I am indebted to him to this day as I was about to close the meetup before he showed up. There are many subgroups who have no window into atheism and therefore think of atheism as a “white thing” and/or despite their own skepticism of the church do not feel they can connect. The more exposure the longer reach we can get. The more diverse, the more resilient the movement to bring rational discourse to the world’s problems.

  • Jose Alvarado

    I don’t think it is infighting but rather the normal deliberation about society that takes place with groups and people that are non-dogmatic. I foresee even greater deliberation among atheists as we tend to not be followers. I was at the Ethical Humanist society a few times where the discussion turned heated over a controversial topic. Getting atheists on the same message is like herding cats. People who think atheism is just another religion would be surprised at how lively and how diverse atheists actually are in almost every respect.