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Gaining a Political Voice Via Religion

Faith and personal convictions can help immigrants fight for equality in the U.S., says a USC College sociologist.

By Eddie North-Hager
February 1, 2007

Gaining a Political Voice Via Religion

When millions moved out of the shadows and marched for immigrant rights last year, the nation was shocked that these people of little means from different countries could organize so effectively.

But USC College sociology professor Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo was not surprised. She had been studying Latino immigrants for two decades and knew one of the unifying factors that could make such an impressive social movement possible – religion.

“There’s a reason it’s called faith: People who bring their religious convictions seem to succeed despite the odds,” said Hondagneu-Sotelo, whose last book was Doméstica: Immigrant Workers Cleaning and Caring in the Shadows of Affluence (University of California Press, 2001).

Hondagneu-Sotelo had been meeting with a group of social scientists for three years to discuss religion and immigration. The group, created through the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture and the Pew Charitable Trusts, discussed how religion defines, affects and is incorporated into the immigrants’ fight for equality in human rights, culture and economics.

The results are documented in Religion and Social Justice for Immigrants (Rutgers University Press, 2007), a new book featuring 13 essays.

While the religious right’s stand against things like abortion and gay rights often grab more attention, Hondagneu-Sotelo said that there are various creeds that aid immigrants by pushing for a more inclusive social agenda.

“The book points to liberal and progressive religions that are more humane and responsive than the xenophobia of our times,” she said.

For example, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles was one of the groups to call for the march that brought 500,000 people to the streets of Los Angeles in May, Hondagneu-Sotelo pointed out.

In an essay she co-authored, the sociologist writes about witnessing interfaith groups that demonstrated together for border crossing rights involving the United States and Mexico.

A separate chapter by USC political science professor Janelle Wong and USC religion professor Jane Iwamura looks at the mix of evangelism and political activism within Asian American communities where those who attend religious services are more likely to become citizens and vote.

And USC anthropologist Janet Hoskins documents Caodaism, a new religious movement practiced mainly by the Orange County Vietnamese community that promotes religious unity and interracial harmony.