Columns Martin Marty: Sightings Opinion

Our Latino neighbors

Mural in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago | Photo Credit: Mary Anne Enriquez/Flickr (cc)

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Who is my neighbor? That question is asked of Jesus in the Gospels. “Neighbor” can mean someone who lives nearby, and this question about physical proximities and distances gets answered first by demographers. Television in our city, Chicago, once upon a time featured a weather person whose presence on screen was captioned “Vice President in Charge of Looking Out the Window.” Why? On one occasion he was reporting information about the weather as it was being delivered to him electronically. “A beautiful day,” he reported. Some listener/viewer who was experiencing heavy rains called in and urged him to look out the window.

I have “looked out the window” during small town Nebraska residence, where everyone in sight was German or Bohemian, and, later, in Sioux City, Iowa, where the Greeks and their church were our neighbors. Then on Chicago’s South Side, where blacks predominated. For over fifty years, foster children of Mexican descent were reminders and cultural influencers in our home, until we out-acculturated them. Today I can look west from our high-rise residence upon neighborhoods where all are Hispanic/Latino; south, where one sights African-American neighborhoods; or north, where most neighbors are white. (I look east and see only water!) Yet we “know” so little about fellow citizens, and often fellow believers. Today let’s focus on one large population in one large religious camp: Latino Catholics.

What follows is prompted by the cover story, “Latinos in the U.S. Church,” of a recent issue of America: The Jesuit Review of Faith and Culture (April 16). Its table of contents begins by enumerating three “takes”: first, “Your take: How does your parish reach out to Hispanics?”; second, “Our take: Time for a new Good Neighbor policy”; and third, ”Short take: The news media is still short on Latino voices.” America this week is not short on such—almost a dozen features follow. The issue is impressive, but also, in a certain sense, depressing to anyone who has visions of America like those in America. Long on analysis, the magazine, like most others we follow, makes one wonder what can be done to effect change. We seem to have settled for separate “churches” based on peoplehood, and take this for granted.

Graphs and statistics may not make for exciting reading, but they can jolt anyone who has a vision in which ethnic and racial differences are both affirmed and in some ways “catholically” (or Methodistically, Orthodoxly, etc.) transcended and put to positive purpose. So, Catholic figures, graphically presented: “58 million U.S. residents claim Hispanic/Latino heritage or 17.8% of the U.S. population,” while “Hispanics represent 33% of all U.S. Catholics.” Appended to that is a note: “But among all U.S. Hispanics raised Catholic, only 69% still identify with the Church.” The Hispanic-American world is young: the median age for all people in the U.S. is 37.9, the Hispanic/Latino figure only 28.4.

Stop! one can hear journalism professors—are there still many left?—whispering: don’t you know how boring statistics are? Yes, and we who cite them rightfully go to confession and confess. Still, we have to start somewhere, and America takes off from the “takes” with which it began. Antonio De Loera-Brust opens with “They are America’s second largest ethnic group, but have no common racial identity. They are America’s latest immigrant wave to transform the country, but some have lived in this land since before the United States existed … Within the Catholic Church, Latinos are on the path to becoming the new majority.”

On the last page (“Last take”) Juleyka Lantigua-Williams reflects on how difficult it is to cover Latinos. How to account for the fact, she asks, that Latinos, who “make up just 18 percent of the U.S. population … make up 33 perfect of the prison population”? After nearly two decades in the journalism business, she still struggles, she says, when covering Latinos: “My journalistic commitment to the facts has to be balanced with fuller depictions of many cultures that are constantly changing but are poorly documented by traditional methods.” She and America and other media with which I have some identification all get the message and keep trying to “document” the situation better, thus hoping to contribute, in their way, to positive change.

About the author

Martin E. Marty

"Marty" is one of the most prominent interpreters of religion and culture today. Author of more than 50 books, he is also a speaker, columnist, pastor, and teacher, having been a professor of religious history for 35 years at the University of Chicago.


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  • Jesus and neighbors from Mark 12:28-34 = Matt 22:34-40,46b = Luke 10:25-28. But did Jesus actually utter these passages? No he did not as per rigorous historic testing. See for example:

    “Gerd Luedemann

    Luedemann [Jesus, 85f] suggests that Mark was handing on the tradition he had received without any significant change, but he sees the two fold summary of the law as a reductionist and anti-cultic development from the early Christian community, rather than as a saying of Jesus.

    But then there is the parable of the Good Samaritan, Luke 10: 25-37 which does pass rigorous historic testing by most contemporary NT exegetes but not all: e.g.

    Professor John P. Meier, Theology Department at Notre Dame

    In “The Historical Jesus and the Historical Samaritans: What can be Said?” [Biblica 81 (2000) 202-32] Meier opts for the authenticity of this parable:

    Along with many critics, I consider it more likely that, while the Parable of the Good Samaritan shows the redactional style and theology of Luke in its final form and placement, it is not simply a creation of Luke but goes back to his special L tradition. The introductory dialogue between a lawyer and Jesus on the two commandments of love (Luke 10,25-29) seems to be Luke’s recycling of a tradition also found in Mark 12,28-34 || Matt 22,34-40. The exact nature of the source Luke is using (Mark? Q? L?) is debated by scholars. In any case, Luke’s need to refashion an older tradition to make it a suitable introduction to the Parable of the Good Samaritan and the fact that nevertheless the introduction does not perfectly fit what it is supposed to introduce probably indicate that the parable itself is an earlier tradition taken over by Luke and reworked for his larger theological and literary plan. Whether the parable goes back to the historical Jesus is more difficult to say, though Christian piety and sentiment, if not hard-nosed critical arguments, certainly favor the idea.

  • Latino imprisonment is explained by the fact they commit crimes at a higher rate than whites. They don’t commit as much crime as blacks, however.

  • Not sure where you obtain the reasoning for you racist statement. When was the last time you checked court dockets, public defender funding, and rural law enforcement practices? It would alarm you how often race determines how the court system treats the accused. It took a public outcry for the judge to revoke bail on that racist nutter who took the lives of four black people in Nashville.

  • Your Lying Eyes!!! Back in the 50’s when the United States was majority White, the crime rate was OVER THE MOON! Murders, rapes, home invasions, car jackings and the like were so much more prevalent then than today. Get your facts straight! Diversity is a Strength, don’t you know. Just look around. It’s almost reminiscent of that Disney Land Ride — “It’s a small world”. Don’t you just feel the love???!!!

    Noel Ignatiev has it right — “The key to solving the social problems of our age is to abolish the White race.”

    “The goal of abolishing the White race is on its face so desirable that some may find it hard to believe that it could incur any opposition other than from committed White supremacists.”

    “We’ll keep bashing the dead White males, and the live ones, and the females too, until the social construct known as the White race is destroyed. Not deconstructed, but destroyed.”

    “Treason to the White race is Loyalty to Humanity.”

  • My factually accurate statement is based on data from the FBI and the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

  • Too bad you never actually saw such data and are just quoting white supremacist sites. Making up stuff is your thing.

  • Your factually inaccurate statement is based on two agencies that self report. And the Bureau of Justice Statistics doesn’t get full support for data collection. AND…according to the BJS Arrest Data Analysis Tool, you are wrong.

  • The author hit on one of the problems as he looked around the city and described and located the different ethnic neighborhoods. Integrated neighborhoods allow for more integrated churches.

  • There are statistics on the rate of arrest and imprisonment but no data on the rate of crimes commited (i.e. not caught). The rates of arrest and imprisonment (including length of sentence) for minorities are disproportionately higher due to geography and socioeconomic factors (including systemic racism and ethnic bias). That being said I agree that minorities commit crimes at a higher rate but there is a link to poverty, which affects minorities more.

  • That applies to arrest and imprisonment, controlled by law enforcement and the courts. For example, whites use drugs at similar rates compared to minorities but get arrested and sentenced less often and usually lighter sentences. The classic example of the recent past is the cocaine v crack fiasco.

  • It’s crime reports and a survey of crime victims. Harsher penalties for crack cocaine, which Democrats and black leaders supported, were in response to the massive amounts of violence associated with the crack trade.