- Faith, Family, and Filipino American Community Life by Stephen M. Cherry
An expanded version of the author’s doctoral dissertation in sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, this book is a major contribution to the burgeoning literature on new Catholic immigrants in the United States. As the bulk of scholarly studies has focused on Spanish-speaking, especially Mexican, immigrants, Cherry’s work draws much-needed attention to the “silent minority” composed of Asian-American immigrants, in particular Filipino-American Catholics.
The book is divided into eight chapters. After the introduction, appropriately titled “Faithfully Filipino and American,” explaining the genesis of the book and its basic theme, namely, the contributions of first-generation Filipino-American Catholics to the American church and American society through their family life, church activities, and civic engagement (chapter 1), the book offers a bird’s-eye view of the history of the Catholic Church in the Philippines, the presence of Filipino Catholics in the United States, and the Filipino familial frameworks (chapter 2). The following five chapters detail the intra-church and civic activities of first-generation Filipino migrants in Houston, focusing on their community organization, characterized as a “community of communities” (chapter 3), their conflicts and divisions, especially in Bicol USA and Couples for Christ (chapter 4), their activities to build up church community, especially through Simbang Gabi – a nine-day celebration leading to Christmas day – and the San Lorenzo Ruiz de Manila Center (chapter 5), their service to society, especially though the annual Alief Health and Civic Resource Fair (chapter 6), and their political activities in defense of life and family (chapter 7). For those who do not have time to read the entire book, the concluding chapter 8, “Growing Presence and Potential Impacts,” offers an informative summary of the book’s findings and conclusions regarding how Christian faith and the Catholic Church as well as the Filipino family frameworks and values serve as the central motivation [End Page 69] and guiding principles for first-generation Filipino-American immigrants in their church life and civic engagement.
That Cherry’s book fills a huge gap in the scholarship on Asian-American Catholics, especially Filipinos, is beyond doubt. Apart from Joaquin Gonzalez III’s Filipino American Faith in Action: Immigration, Religion, and Civic Engagement (2009), there has been little detailed or extensive study on Filipino-American Catholics, a lamentable lacuna given the fact that among Asian Americans, Filipinos, the overwhelming majority (83 percent) of whom are Catholics, constitute the largest national group (about 3.5 million, roughly 5 percent of the foreign-born American population). Cherry’s decision to focus on first-generation Filipino-American Catholics in Houston proves highly felicitous as the steadily growing community of these post-1965, not yet fully assimilated immigrants provides an excellent example of how they have reshaped the American Catholic Church and contributed to the welfare of American society.
With regard to the American Catholic Church, as the second largest Catholic immigrant group (after the Spanish-speaking one), Filipino-American Catholics contribute significantly to its numerical growth. Furthermore, the dwindling number of native-born American clergy has been boosted by the ministry of one Filipino bishop, nearly a thousand priests, and over two hundred nuns. In addition, the contributions of Filipino-American lay leaders, especially women, are highly significant. Finally, weekly Mass attendance among first-generation Filipino-American Catholics is very high (some 86 percent), and their particular form of Catholicism – largely charismatic and devotional – is a welcome contribution to the spirituality of the American Catholic Church.
With regard to civic engagement, Filipino-American Catholics challenge the common thesis among scholars of religion that the highly centralized structure of the Catholic Church, despite its strong emphasis on the necessity of social service, prevents Catholic immigrants from participating fully in civil society. Cherry’s study of the first-generation Filipino immigrants in Houston unravels what is called the “Catholic puzzle” – heavy emphasis on social action in doctrine and little civic engagement in practice. These Filipino Catholics are shown to have highly...