University of Notre Dame study examines Latino life in Chicago area

by Michelle Martin

CHICAGO (CNS) — A two-month study conducted by the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame should give researchers a more complete picture of the religious experience of Chicago-area Latino families.p. It should also yield information about other areas of their lives and how Latinos are viewed by other ethnic groups.p. To get the information, researchers are sitting down for hourlong, face-to-face interviews with 1,500 Latinos — 500 in Chicago, 500 in Berwyn and Cicero and 500 in other suburbs — and with 800 non-Latino area residents, said Sylvia Puente, director of the institute’s Metropolitan Chicago Initiative.p. The reason for the large sample of Berwyn and Cicero residents is that the study’s main sponsor is the Berwyn-based MacNeil Foundation.p. “We want to let the voices and experiences of Latinos in the Chicago metropolitan area speak for themselves,” Puente told The Catholic New World, newspaper of the Chicago Archdiocese.p. She noted that the survey addresses the assets and strengths Latinos bring to the community as well as the challenges they face and how they are viewed by their neighbors.p. A lengthy portion of it addresses religious and faith issues, said Edwin Hernandez, director of the institute’s Center for the Study of Latino Religion.p. He said it concentrates on the religious identities of Latinos in Chicago; how connected and committed Latinos are to their religious congregations; how often — and in which directions — Latinos change religious denominations; and what social services Latinos receive from their churches and what services they provide through their churche.p. The battery of questions includes everything from how often respondents attend religious services to how much time and money they give to whether their congregation has ever helped them or a member of their family find employment or meet other needs.p. The answers will provide more solid data on whether the oft-cited estimate that just over 70 percent of Latinos are Catholic holds up, Hernandez said, and will give a more accurate picture of how and why Latinos change religious denominations.p. At the same time, respondents are being asked to identify by name and location any churches that they have attended over the past year. That will provide the institute with a sample of religious institutions for a more in-depth study of Latino churches, scheduled to begin this fall, Hernandez said.p. The Chicago area offers a fertile field for Latino studies. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Latino population jumped by about two-thirds between 1990 and 2000, with about 1.5 million Latino residents at the end of the decade. Chicago also is home to the largest number of Mexican immigrants in the United States outside of Los Angeles.p. “We know that they are here, but we never ask why they came to Chicago and what their experiences here have been,” Puente said.p. The archdiocese’s Office for Hispanic Ministry estimates that already, about 40 percent of Catholic worshippers in Cook and Lake County are Latino, and since they are young — the majority are under 26 — that proportion will grow.p. Nationally, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Hispanic Affairs projects that a majority of U.S. Catholics could be Hispanic by 2050.p. However, that doesn’t take into account what some Hispanic church leaders see as a worrying trend of various Protestant congregations trying to woo Hispanic Catholics away from the church.p. Hernandez said that is one area on which both the household study and the congregational study will focus.p. “We will have a very accurate estimate of how many Latino Catholics and Protestants there are, and of which types,” Hernandez said. “In the questions about switching, there’s also a battery of questions about why.”p. The survey was started at the beginning of July and was expected to be concluded by the end of August. A month into the field research, Puente said she had no definitive answers, but had heard some interesting anecdotes from the interviewers.p. “They say that the people they’re talking to know the names of their congregations, but a lot of them don’t know the names of their pastors,” she said.

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