Preserving Crucial Moments of Mexican American Religious History

(May 7, 2020)

In 1969, a group of Mexican Americans came together to found Católicos for La Raza, an organization that protested the Catholic Church’s neglect of poor and Latino communities in Los Angeles. Led by Ricardo Cruz, a Chicano rights attorney and pivotal figure of the movement, 300 activists marched to the St. Basil Catholic Church in a “midnight mass” protest that aimed to unmask the inherently racist nature of the religious institution, one in a series of demonstrations at the contested church.

Documents pertaining to that historic moment are among the thousands at the Chicano Studies Research Center (CSRC) at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) that will be preserved thanks to a new project focused on religion, faith, and spirituality in Mexican American social history. The three-year archival preservation undertaking will protect the invaluable materials that make up the community’s spiritual patrimony, including over 14,000 photographs and slides; 125 audio recordings; and nearly 250 linear feet of documents.

Made possible by a $349,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the “Religion, Spirituality and Faith in Mexican American Social History, 1940-Present” initiative will process both recently acquired and legacy collections in CSRC’s archive. That trove contains resources on faith-based organizations, such as Católicos for La Raza; Homeboy Industries; and Church of the Epiphany, as well as individuals whose contributions in the religious realm often overlap with art, social justice, and the civil rights movement.

Among them are Chicano photographer Oscar Castillo, known for capturing barrio life and political protests in 1960s and 70s Los Angeles and South Texas; and Sister Karen Boccalero, a Franciscan nun and printmaker who founded Self Help Graphics, a community arts center for Chicano and Latinx artists that still exists and operates today.