Breaking the bread, sharing the wine : religion as culture and community in the civic life of Filipino-Americans

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Cherry, Stephen

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At nearly 2.5 million people and growing via native birth and immigration, Asian American Catholics are an important part of the demographic transformation of American Catholicism. Among the Asian groups making the greatest impact are Filipino- Americans who are the second largest Asian American population and represent the second largest source of Catholic immigration to the United States, second only to Mexico. Woefully understudied, little is known about Filipino-Americans and the ways in which Catholicism impacts their community. Drawing on ethnographic data collected in Houston, Texas as well as survey analysis of the Social Capital Community Benchmark survey, this study explores the dynamic relationship between religion and civic life among first-generation Filipino-Americans. Contrary to what may be anticipated from the social scientific literature on Asian American Catholics in general, Filipino-American Catholics participate in civic life to the same degree as Protestants, if not more. Although the Filipino-American community may currently face internal concerns that can detract from civic participation, religion plays an important role in overcoming these obstacles and mobilizing active civic lives. Focusing on four sets of extensive religious resources: 1) religious institutions, specifically the Catholic Church, 2) involvement in church through active weekly attendance, 3) involvement in church through other activities not associated with regular attendance such as Bible studies, and 4) involvement in religious groups such Couples for Christ and Palitaw that are not affiliated with a church, the findings of this study point to Catholicism as a dynamic and vibrant faith that bridges the spaces between culture, home, and civil society. It also highlights the more intimate and intensive resources found in these home devotional and prayer groups that inform and shape not only how Filipino-Americans define community but build it and engage it in the United States and the Philippines simultaneously.