Migrating Faiths: 5 Questions for Daniel Ramírez

It is my great pleasure to interview my dear friend Dan Ramírez for my post this month.  If it is possible to have friends in this business who are in the same field, who have probably competed with you for the same jobs, grants, and accolades, and still come out as friends....Dan and I are an example of how academia is supposed to work. Perhaps because through all the noise of academic prestige, Dan is committed to something beyond his own publicity, and you can't always say that about academics. Dan and most of the Latino/a religion scholars I consider friends, are committed to insisting that Latino/a Religion not be a sideline, a blip in the narrative of "American" religion.
photo courtesy of Evans Koukios
I know once you read Dan's exceptional book, Migrating Faithand assign it in your classes, you will also agree--This work can no longer be relegated as Dan mentions below, to the "silent archive."  Enjoy!

Hey, Arlene, always great to continue our tertulia of many years. Thanks for the questions.

Q1. .  “Migrating Faiths” makes many arguments about the nature of faith & Latino/a religious communities, one of the more understudied is the role of music in Apostolic faith life, can you tell us more about that?

Migrating Faith addresses the tone deafness in our several guilds and argues that we can no longer beg the absent or silent archive. This is especially important when considering subaltern religious traditions and communities that do not inhabit "textual" worlds, that is to say, that have been denied the opportunity to leave deep textual archives. By privileging written texts or traditional archives over others, we skew the narrative arc away from certain groups like migrating proletarians and uprooted peasants. The long day in the cotton or vegetable field or fruit orchard and the long night of testifying and preaching around campfires did not leave much time for the writing of sermons, diaries, and theology. What they did carve out time and space for, however, was music, much music—translated music inherited from missionaries, translated and original compositions by evangélico precursors, and music of Pentecostals' own creation. The musical archive provides an analytical window through which we can peer into early Pentecostals' souls and communities.  When we juxtapose the several musical traditions—and these often complemented as much as competed with each other—we can see some remarkable processes underway. Apostolics took great license in shaping evangélico hymnody to their needs and in sacralizing musical genres and instruments that their evangélico precursors and missionaries had previously dismissed as profane. Guitars and banjos were simply more practical and mobile than pianos and organs. It would have been hard to install an organ around a labor camp fire. The new corito tradition wrapped Scripture in popular musical forms. These simple and easily repeatable and mobile musical fragments allowed evangelicalismo finally to burrow deeply into the soil of popular religiosity (like Luther's hymns and Calvin's psalms).  Instead of converts and would-be converts having to learn the repertoire of tune indices (early Spanish-language Protestant hymnals included these), they simply had to recognize familiar chord sequences and musical forms: polkas, valses, huapangos, boleros, etc. Apostolics also took great license in hymn translation, subverting metaphors and performing bricolage. We can also see (or hear) an appropriation of African American music. The new sonic scape helps to explain how Apostolics earned the early moniker or epithet, "Aleluya" (like the English "Holy Roller). There are clear traces of this in the extant scholarly and official record of the 1920s, for example, in anthropologist Manuel Gamio's study of Mexican immigrant life stories. Anticlerical mayors and governors in Baja California reported up the official chain to Mexico City their suspicion that this new evangélico upstart was "una cosa de negros, traido de los Estados Unidos" (a thing of Negroes, brought over from the United States). There is even evidence of aleluya influence in the early career of César Chávez; he credited Apostolic farmworkers with inspiring his decision to make music central to his future labor organizing. Like faith, belief, and doctrine, Apostolic music migrated wherever bodies and hearts did. When those bodies were pushed out of the U.S. by xenophobia (e.g., the Great Repatriation of the 1930s and Operation Wetback of 1954), so too was the music. So, I guess the book is as much about migrating music as it is about migrating faith.

Q2. I think the book, like much of the literature on Latino/a religion, makes a rather explicit case that American religious lenses trained on the East coast and South are missing a huge story out in the Southwest. Where does your book fit in the larger “Religion in the West” story?

Whose West are you speaking of? For many of the historical subjects I write about the region in question was their North. Put another way, we can see Latino USA as the northernmost Latin American nation. In other words, not only do I propose an expedition through the long border swath from San Diego to Tampico, I also invite readers to follow the movement's expanding transnational circuits deeper into both countries. So, the borders are quickly scrambled in Migrating Faith. In the spirit of the many coritos and hymns about rain and water, may I suggest a hydrological metaphor? By examining the headwaters of the river we know on its northern banks as the Rio Grande and on its southern bank as the Rio Bravo and by tracing the topography of its course, we may have something to say about its flow into the Gulf of Mexico. Similarly, the long-overdue study of early Latino Pentecostalism emanating from the Azusa Street Revival can help us understand the effervescence and strength of contemporary revivalism in the hemisphere. So, yes, Migrating Faith seeks to help to fill the lacuna in scholarship on "Religion of the West," but by spending an equal amount of time south of the border, it also seeks to help to fill the lacuna in scholarship on Latin American religion. 

Q3. One of Apostolic Pentecostalism’s more well known characteristics are the dress codes, to what extent did Latinos/as adapt  or modify those codes? How do you deal with the material culture of the movement in your book?

Well, it's evident from the photographic evidence that most hermanas paid a lot more attention to their hair than Kim Davis…. Sorry. Cheap shot. But it is striking how the search for respectability or the representation of respectability can be seen in the record: individuals, youth groups, congregations, convention ministers and attendees, and even congregations working together in agricultural fields (temple construction fundraising projects). Hats on men and women were very common in the beginning. I'd call it a stylish modesty. Of course, as in most Pentecostal movements, women bore the burden for "santidad" (holiness). So, the female body became the site of signification. One of the fascinating and telling markers is the veiling one. Male pioneers imposed this symbol of piety, in order to distinguish Apostolics from their white and black counterparts. Of course, women were complicit in this arrangement. Thanks to pioneer José Ortega's obsessive photography, we have a decade-by-decade record of the evolution of this telltale marker of gendered Apostolic identity. They began looking like other post-Victorian Evangelicals, but by the second decade began to take on uniform bonnets and outfits. The influx of poorer immigrants in the 1940s resulted in a standardized veil, black for married women and white for unmarried women. (Some leading pioneer women never relinquished their modest church hats; this suggests a class distinction.) Then things took an unexpected turn when enterprising women, cued into the glut of Spanish mantillas caused by Vatican II's reforms for Catholic women, took velo aesthetics to a different level, creating a cottage industry in the process. Color dyes followed. Now, women purchase velos to match their clothing and accessories. So much for the sanctified machismo of the early years. There's a dissertation to be written here. There is also one to be written about Apostolic foodways, fellowship, and hospitality.

Q4.As I like to tell all up and coming academics, and to quote my favorite t.v. show, “The Sopranos,” You’re only as good as your last envelope.  So, what are you working on next?

  Migrating Faith takes the story up to the late 1960s, owing to important generational transitions in leadership in both countries and important macroevents like the expiration of the Bracero guest labor program (1942-1964) and the 1965 immigration reform. Pentecostalisms of Oaxacalifornia will take up the story from that point, when the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca began to figure prominently in the flow of labor migration. This unique migration flowed through the agricultural regions of Sinaloa and Baja California states, up to the border cities of Mexicali and Tijuana, and over into California and beyond (I've enjoyed delicious oaxaqueño mole negro in New Jersey!). The new geographic coinage reflects activists' views of the expanse of territory from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in southern Mexico to northern California. The 2000 and 2010 censuses of Mexico revealed a relatively high percentage of Pentecostals and evangélicos in Oaxaca and other southern states. I think circular labor migration had a lot more to do with this than missionary enterprise; certainly, proximity to the U.S. can't explain this. So, this second book takes up where Migrating Faith leaves off, and adds an additional layer of analysis, in order to examine the intersection between indigenous identity and cambio religioso (religious change). Methodologically, I borrow heavily from ethnography.

Q5. Most people who read this blog have little idea about who we are, so I guess it's time to mention that we have known each other for nearly 20 years! I believe it was the 1997 American Academy of Religion meeting?  For the longest time, we have had lunch or dinner at one of these convos for nearly that long!  So I feel comfortable in asking you the following questions:
Favorite color:
Pet peeve:
Favorite Movie:
and most importantly:  Flour or corn tortillas

Favorite color: Blue, navy and light. That's probably why I chose Yale and Duke.
Pet peeve: There must be a special corner in Hell for that person who first tossed cheddar cheese on top of a plate of Mexican food and then passed it off as authentic. Favorite movie: Young Frankenstein (We had no TV at home, and never went to movies. This was one of the first movies I saw in college. It made breaking the taboo very enjoyable. Never tire of it. My younger brother Jonathan and I can mute the movie and perform the entire dialogue.) Flour or corn tortillas: Depends if they're handmade or not. Corn for menudo and most guisados. Flour for chorizo con huevo burrito. We were raised with mostly handmade flour tortillas (a precious childhood memory that my older sisters do not share), although our roots were in western Mexico, where corn predominates. There's another dissertation that awaits writing: the transition from corn to flour (to manufactured) tortillas in Mexican American society. What happened?!     


Daniel Ramírez brief bio

Daniel Ramírez (Ph.D., American Religious History, Duke University) is an Assistant Professor of North American Religion at the University of Michigan, and author of 16 publications in the field of American, Latino, and Latin American religion. His forthcoming book, Migrating Faith: Pentecostalism in the United States and Mexico in the Twentieth Century (University of North Carolina, October 2015) examines the transnational and cultural dimensions of revivalism within a migrating labor diaspora. His second monograph project, "Pentecostalisms of Oaxacalifornia," continues the analysis through the more contemporary time period of oaxaqueño migration and through the added prism of indigenous experience and identity.

In December 2013, the Hubbard Library of Fuller Theological Seminary inaugurated the Apostolic Archives of the Americas, a project convened by Ramírez to create a repository for Latino and Latin American Pentecostal historical collections. Dr. Ramírez serves as Board Vice Chair of the Wesley Foundation, the college chaplaincy program based at the First United Methodist Church in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He also serves as Board Chairman of the Lewis Stallworth Charter School, a largely African American and Latino primary-through-middle school in his hometown of Stockton, California.


Gerardo Marti said…
So glad to see Dan's work highlighted -- nicely done! Already ordered!
Anthony Petro said…
I love the "whose West" conversation! Looking forward to teaching this book in my American evangelicalism course.
Martha Barragan said…
So happy and thrilled to have read this article and to also have have the privilege of knowing Dan Ramirez. I was one of his many Sunday school students back in the day and I remember him teaching us about how this whole evangelismo movement started! I'm so happy to see that the research he had been doing for some time has birth this wonderful book. Can't wait to get my copy in my hands! I hope that our paths cross again. Thinking of you brother Danny and wishing you many more blessings!