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What happens when a new group of migrants enters not just the social and economic life of a city, but also its religious institutions? Deborah E. Kanter, the John S. Ludington Endowed Professor of History at Albion College, takes us through the dramatic demographic transformation of Chicago through the eyes of Catholic parishes and Mexican churchgoers in her new book Chicago Católico: Making Catholic Parishes Mexican (University of Illinois Press, 2020).

Catholic churches simultaneously served as a refugio for newly arrived Mexican immigrants to connect with their culture and mexicanidad, while also being sites of Americanization for their U.S.-born children. As the Mexican community in Chicago outgrew its original ethnic enclaves, it expanded into new neighborhoods and mixed into traditionally Slavic parishes.

Ultimately, Latino laypeople made these new parishes their own in a process of ethnic succession that continues to define local churches today. Contrary to the mainstream trend in Chicano studies that has deemphasized the role of religion in Mexican American culture, Kanter foregrounds the Church as the center of everyday life for many Mexicans in Chicago throughout the twentieth century. Full of rich detail and personal stories collected from oral interviews, the book illustrates the centrality of local parishes in the creation of Latino Chicago.

Jaime Sánchez, Jr. is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of History at Princeton University and a scholar of U.S. politics and Latino studies. He is currently writing an institutional history of the Democratic National Committee and partisan coalition politics in the twentieth century. You can follow him on Twitter @Jaime_SanchezJr.

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