August 26, 2007

In awe of bologna and doritos

Eric Gorski, "Hispanic congregations adding English services to the mix", AP, 8/25/2007:

On Sundays at La Casa del Carpintero, or the Carpenter’s House, they’ve raised twin yellow banners for churchgoers that read “Welcome” and “Bienvenidos.”

As a complement to the regular 11:30 a.m. Spanish service at the independent Pentecostal church, where they’ve worshipped Papi for years, there’s now a 9:30 a.m. English one where the faithful praise God the Father.

While churches from every imaginable tradition have been adding Spanish services to meet the needs of new immigrants, an increasing number of Hispanic ethnic congregations are going the other way – starting English services.

It’s an effort to meet the demands of second- and third-generation Hispanics, keep families together and reach non-Latinos.

As Geoff Nunberg wrote, in an exchange about Samuel Huntington's Foreign Policy article "The Hispanic Challenge" ("Nativism clings to life at 100 or 101", 6/24/2004):

English is too useful and important to imagine that any immigrant group would be willing to turn its back on it in order to maintain a marginal, ghettoized existence.

Gorski's article makes this point explicitly:

... as the children of immigrants grow up, churches are recognizing that it’s either bolster Spanish with English or give up on the future.

and supports it with examples:

Walter Rubio was born and raised in Guatemala and moved to the United States when he was 12, in awe of bologna and Doritos. Now raising his own family, Rubio attends English services at the Carpenter’s House.

“It’s simple,” said the 35-year-old construction worker. “My son and my daughter, they lean more toward English. If they understand it better, they get a better blessing.”

One thing that seems a bit different from other immigrant communities whose language patterns over the generations I've observed:

Some second- and third-generation Latinos prefer Spanish as their language of worship. When a group of young adults lingered after the Spanish service at the Carpenter’s House, their small talk was in English, not Spanish.

“We grew up going to Spanish services,” said Abdiel Quiles, 28. “It just feels like home.”

[Karen Davis writes:

Might a preference for Spanish as "language of worship" be similar to the longing among some Catholics for Latin masses: a combination of "you're not supposed to understand" and "this is the way it was done when I was a child"? Old Church Slavonic isn't even a form of Russian, yet it's clung to in the Russian Orthodox Church out of tradition.

I had a similar thought. But apparently these people do understand the Spanish services, though they prefer English for their own use. A traditionalist impulse must be part of their motivation, though, as oddly as that seems to sit with the immediacy of pentecostal culture.]

Posted by Mark Liberman at August 26, 2007 08:03 AM