Keeping up with the Garcias

463395691 544ba72a9eHere’s a quick memo to the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference and the Assemblies of God and the Democratic Party and lots of other people.

It’s time to connect the dots in The New York Times, again. We have a story with a big religion ghost in it and the Times knows it (and so does the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life).

Here’s the lede from reporter Sam Roberts:

Step aside Moore and Taylor. Welcome Garcia and Rodriguez.

Smith remains the most common surname in the United States, according to a new analysis released yesterday by the Census Bureau. But for the first time, two Hispanic surnames — Garcia and Rodriguez — are among the top 10 most common in the nation, and Martinez nearly edged out Wilson for 10th place.

The number of Hispanics living in the United States grew by 58 percent in the 1990s to nearly 13 percent of the total population, and cracking the list of top 10 names suggests just how pervasively the Latino migration has permeated everyday American culture.

Garcia moved to No. 8 in 2000, up from No. 18, and Rodriguez jumped to No. 9 from 22nd place. The number of Hispanic surnames among the top 25 doubled, to 6.

So read that, then flash back to an earlier Times story — with stops along the way at the Pew Forum studies on the growth numbers for Hispanics and then for Pentecostal Christians.

Those Hispanic names signal other changes, of course. It would be wrong for this simple Times story to mention all of them. But some commentary would have been nice.

Let’s see, politics or religion, religion or politics. Can anyone tell the difference anymore? Which will it be?

I vote for religion. So back up a few months and the Times tells us:

The religious identity of Hispanics will affect politics, the report says. The Hispanic electorate is largely Democratic (63 percent), despite being conservative on social issues like abortion and homosexuality. But Hispanic evangelical Protestants — whose numbers are growing — are twice as likely as Hispanic Catholics to be Republicans. This is a far greater gap than exists between white evangelical Protestants and Catholics.

About one-third of Catholics in the United States are now Hispanic.

… The study also found that conversion is a common experience for many Hispanics. Nearly one in five changed either from one religion to another, or to no religion at all.

The biggest loser from all the conversions is the Catholic Church, while evangelical Protestant churches are the beneficiaries. Thirteen percent of all Hispanics in the United States were once Catholic and left the church. Of Hispanic evangelical Protestants, half are converts — mostly former Catholics. Hispanics born in the United States are more likely to convert than are foreign-born immigrants.

So we are back to the only story that really matters in American politics right now, a story that is much bigger than the whole evangelical crackup thing. And that is the splintering Catholic vote. The Catholic bishops know what is going on and there does not seem to be anything they can do about it at — at the pew level. That’s a story.

Personal note: GetReligion will remain open during Thanksgiving and the days ahead, but we are all moving around a bit (I am sure) and I am headed back into a zone where WiFi is not that common. So hang in there with us. It may take time to respond to messages and comments.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Brian Walden

    Oh man, where can I get one of those statues of Our Lady of Guadalupe? Actually, it’s probably best I don’t know, my wife would kill me.

    Anyway, with regards to the Catholic crackup, the bishops may indeed not be able to do anything about it for this election. Fortunately Catholic time moves slowly. If the bishops simply go back to teaching the faith and implementing Vatican II the way the Holy Spirit intended, then in a few generations Catholics will again vote as a block (at least when it comes to moral issues).

  • Roberto Rivera

    There’s another element to the story: a generational one. Each succeeding generation of Hispanics is less likely to be Catholic than the one that preceded it. If you think about it, much of the growth of the Catholic Church in the U.S. is being fueled by Mexican immigration — Mexicans are more likely to be Catholic than other Hispanics — both legal and illegal.

    “Why?” is a question with many proposed answers, one of which is that Evangelical protestantism is seen as assimilatory in a way that remaining Catholic isn’t. Another possible factor is exogamy: between 40 and 50 percent of second-generation Latinos (i.e., the children of immigrants) marry non-Latinos, who are less likely to be Catholic.

  • Julia

    The Catholic crack-up occurred when Catholics joined the mainstream some time ago. Formerly, most Catholics were union workers or hoped to become union workers and were perfect for the Democrats. Now 3rd & 4th generation Catholics are just as likely to be lawyers or CEOs as anybody else – and their voting patterns demonstrate this.

    However, now Pentecostals and Evangelicals are targeting Hispanic Catholic immigrants, so the current Hispanic immigrant story might turn out differently than the German, Italian, Irish, Polish Catholic immigrant experience. To my knowledge, none of those prior groups were targeted for conversion by Protestants. My grandparents indicated that they were shunned rather than sought out by Protestants for anything, much less conversion.

  • AmaniS

    To me the question is more of why are so many leaving the Roman Catholic church? With so many hispanics that are coming into the country why are so many Catholic schools closing(even in your highly hispanic areas)? How do the RCs planning on keeping their numbers if they can get them early?

  • Roberto Rivera

    To me the question is more of why are so many leaving the Roman Catholic church?

    Statistically-speaking, “so many are leaving the Roman Catholic Church” isn’t accurate. The Catholic Church in the U.S. is growing even with a non-insignificant number of its members converting to various forms of protestantism, especially the Pentecostal variety.

    With so many hispanics that are coming into the country why are so many Catholic schools closing(even in your highly hispanic areas)?

    There’s no evidence that Catholic schools are closing “even in your highly hispanic areas.” On the contrary, as Mark S. recently wrote, the closings are most pronounced in non-Latino inner-city areas where African-Americans are the majority. In these areas, the departure of the Black middle-class has, in my estimation, deprived Catholic schools of many of their potential students.

  • Stephen A.

    I can attest to the phenomenon of large Catholic Church closings here in New England. In my mid-sized city of 100,000, three major Catholic churches have closed in the past decade and merged with other parishes. Others are barely surviving. This, despite a large Hispanic immigrant influx, something that one would think would help save these churches.


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