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  • The Church in the Barrio: Mexican American Ethno-Catholicism in Houston
  • Gene B. Preuss
The Church in the Barrio: Mexican American Ethno-Catholicism in Houston. By Robert R. Treviño. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006. Pp. 328. Preface, illustrations, maps, tables, appendix, notes, bibliography, index. ISBN 080782996X. $59.95, cloth. ISBN 0807856673. $22.50, paper.)

It is a long-held tradition that Tejanos are Catholic, muy católico, due to ubiquitous household altars, numerous devotions to the Virgin of Guadalupe, increasingly expensive quinceañera celebrations, the popular Christmas posadas, colorful matachines dancers, and pilgrimages to sacred sites. Yet, Robert Treviño states that official Catholic Church policy and teachings often conflicted with its parishioners' daily religious practices and beliefs. In The Church in the Barrio, he explores the role of Catholicism in Mexican American Houstonians' lives in the twentieth century. His efforts result in an admirable exploration of both Mexican American cultural and religious history. [End Page 563]

Treviño, an associate professor of history at the University of Texas–Arlington and assistant director for UTA's Center for Mexican American Studies, statesboth cultural prejudices within the Church's leadership and the small Mexican American population in Houston frustrated the Church's efforts to catechizeMexican American parishioners correctly. Despite the efforts of the Houston diocese, "Mexicans defined for themselves what it was to be a good Catholic and a decent human being" (p. 59). Indeed, he argues, Mexican American Catholics sought to maintain a separate identity instead of being subsumed by the larger Houston Catholic community. The first four chapters provide a historical background for Houston's Mexican American community, establish a conceptual foundation for understanding the "ethno-Catholicism" prevalent in the community, and identify the clergy and diocesan prejudices and concerns about the growing community. The book's strength, however, is the chapters that detail the struggles Houston's Catholic Mexican Americans made to preserve their identity within various parishes and the diocese in general. The chapters focusing on the Chicano movement and its effects upon the Church's hierarchy, socially active priests, and laity are especially informative.

The Church in the Barrio makes an excellent companion to Arnoldo De León's Ethnicity in the Sunbelt: A History of Mexican Americans in Houston (Texas A&M University Press, 2001). Treviño's book is well written, and the author made good use of diocesan archives in Houston, Austin, and San Antonio. More importantly, Treviño's book raises as many questions as it answers. For example, what is the lasting significance of Patricio Flores, the Houston priest introduced in Treviño's book? Patrick Flores later went on to become the first native Texan Archbishop of San Antonio, making him the first Mexican American archbishop and the highest ranking Mexican American in the Catholic hierarchy. When Flores retired in late 2004, Pope John Paul II elevated the Houston diocese to an archdiocese. How will the change affect Mexican Americans in the Houston area? Another Houston priest noted at the end of the book, Father James A. Tamayo, became the first Mexican American bishop of the Diocese of Laredo in 2000. What knowledge and experience from Houston's community will translate to the Laredo diocese? How will the canonization of Juan Diego (the Mexican Native American who witnessed the apparition of the Lady of Guadalupe) to sainthood in 2002 affect Mexican American Catholicism? Were Mexican American men involved in the Knights of Columbus? Treviño does not include the group among the other men's societies he lists in the book. In addition, did Mexican American women's participation in social and service groups like the Guadalupanas represent a greater role in parish life than is currently understood? Scholarly works such as Robert Treviño's Church in the Barrio raise many questions that demonstrate that "new religious history" is a field that can produce a rich harvest.

Gene B. Preuss
University of Houston—Downtown


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