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Latino Pentecostalism, a review essay by Amos Yong

Migrating Faith: Pentecostalism in the United States and Mexico in the Twentieth Century is in some senses more expansive but in other aspects narrower. Both books overview the first century of North American Latino Pentecostalism although Ramírez is focused not on the Latino AG across the USA but mostly, if not only, on Mexican apostolic churches and groups in the Southwest and borderlands territories. Taken together, readers will not only get a solid discussion of the trinitarian-Oneness spectrum in North American Pentecostalism but also receive insight into North-South Latino linkages, with Ramírez’s exposition of USA-Mexican transnationalism on the Western frontier paralleling Espinosa’s retelling of the Puerto Rican presence and activity in the Latino AG on the Eastern seaboard. Ramírez goes deeper in elaborating on border crossings over the hundred years and hence highlights the apostolic Pentecostalism facilitated by migration in its various permutations. He talks about the Bracero guest workers program in the mid-twentieth century or developments and initiatives before and after that led laborers to cross the border in supplying the demands of the market. He also talks about the so-called Operation Wetback in the mid- to late-1950s and in other times and periods that were reactions to the perceived threat of the Mexican illegal workers. The latter resulted in cycles of mass deportations, sometimes of citizens unable to provide documentation, but almost always including the fragmentation of families. This trauma had to be addressed by the churches. So just as the more renowned and widely published scholar is intentional about bringing to light and therefore correcting the record about the Latino Pentecostal contribution in the ecclesial (AG) and political domains, Migrating Faith documents apostolic origins and transformations on the transnational, political, and economic ground on both sides of the US-Mexican border in ways that stretch the lenses of Pentecostal studies beyond nation-state categories and conventional political scientific and political economic analyses.

Yet if Espinosa’s historical and political interests open up to an interdisciplinary approach, Ramírez’s consciously interdisciplinary endeavor includes Chicano/Latino studies and religious history, borderland studies, transnationalism, and migration, all as brought to bear on North American religion in general and Pentecostalism in particular. Congruently on the methodological front, whereas the slightly earlier book relies on archival materials but also oral histories (Espinosa draws from interviews with almost two dozen individuals, some from research originally conducted for his doctoral thesis in the mid-1990s), the later work, while similarly resourced, also retrieves the stories of these largely otherwise forgotten actors via attentiveness to their testimonies, songs (coritos), and hymnody of welcome and hospitality. There is an appendix of apostolic discography although no identifiable website or accompanying DVD of apostolic singing or musicking, unfortunately. Such an analytical framework foregrounds the creative, affective, and imaginative dimensions of Pentecostal orality much acknowledged in the scholarly literature but little investigated or analyzed. In this respect, Ramírez allows apostolic history from the migrant (both legal and not legal) margins to be “heard” not just “seen” as it recognizes and attempts to follow the triadic and interrelated acoustemology of “corporeality, musicality, and emotion” (p. 166) operative along the migrant trails rather than rely solely upon the visual optic of documentary evidence. To be sure there is an anti-Catholic tenor in the apostolic repertoire, but that is also consistent with the broader ecumenical solidarity (aside from the more sectarian Luz de Mundo apostolic group) that brought Pentecostals, trinitarian and Oneness alike, and Protestants together amidst the Roman Catholic hegemony, at least as perceived in Latino communities for much of the earlier century.

In the end then, both volumes recount histories that beg for further theological analysis. Pentecostal ministers, ecclesiarchs, and academics ought to familiarize themselves with this side of the North American Pentecostal experience in order to reconsider the implications for Pentecostal spirituality and theology, not just vis-à-vis the political dimension but certainly also for ecumenical and doctrinal purposes. After 100 years, we might wonder why such trans-ethnic dialogue and rethinking has not commenced (the paternalism of white AG leaders described by Espinosa actually explains this matter), but better late than never.

Reviewed by Amos Yong


Preview Latino Pentecostals in America:

Publisher’s page for Latino Pentecostals in America:

Listen to Gastón Espinosa discuss Latino Pentecostals in America on the Aqueduct Project’s God Talk podcast:


Preview Migrating Faith:

Publisher’s page for Migrating Faith:

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Category: In Depth, Summer 2016

About the Author: Amos Yong is Professor of Theology & Mission and director of the Center for Missiological Research at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena. His graduate education includes degrees in theology, history, and religious studies from Western Evangelical Seminary and Portland State University, Portland, Oregon, and Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts, and an undergraduate degree from Bethany University of the Assemblies of God. He is the author of numerous papers and over 30 books. Facebook

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