Varieties of Religious Experience of Filipinos in America

Filipinos consider religion to be very important in their lives. Religious symbols, icons, gestures, and traditions are intricately interwoven into everyday Filipino life. Religion, specifically Catholicism, has been the lifeblood of the Philippines since the Spanish missionaries introduced it 400 years ago. It deeply permeates every aspect of Filipino life from the very visible manifestations in the display of Virgin Mary statues in the homes, rosaries hanging on the rearview mirror, and various faith-based gatherings and festivities, to the less visible and internalized belief systems, prayer life, and theology. Even Filipinos who are not practicing any religious faith or those who identify as religiously unaffiliated are still somehow inescapably influenced by religion. Traditions, beliefs, and core values, such as kapwa tao, bahala na, and pakikisama are profoundly intertwined with religion.

Even in the United States, over 7,000 miles away from the Philippines, and even those who are American-born and generations removed from the Philippines, religion and religiosity are still likely to be ingrained in their American lives. In the US, almost 90% of Filipino Americans identify as Christian, although only 65% identify as Catholic. In the current immigration patterns, Filipinos are the second largest source of Catholic immigration and a “mounting force in American Catholicism,” as Stephen Cherry put it in his 2014 book “Faith, Family, and Filipino American Community.” However, despite the numbers indicative of noteworthy trends, patterns, and changes, the research and the literature on Filipinos in America, let alone their religiosity, continue to be limited. There are undoubtedly remarkable differences among the generations when it comes to religious attitudes and behaviors. There are probably remarkable differences between immigrants and American-born Filipinos as well. In general, in both America and the Philippines, religious affiliation and churchgoing are dropping dramatically and even the highly religious Filipinos are not immune from such. The question that now presents itself is, with the differences, trends, and shifts, how is the Filipino identity, which is deeply rooted in Catholicism, impacted? With the reliance on religion as a source of spiritual and social capital, what impact does religion have on Filipinos, particularly the new immigrants? With American society increasingly becoming more secular and more individualistic, how will the religious and collectivistic Filipino culture react, adjust, and shape or reshape itself?

This researcher plans to explore and capture the stories and the narratives to further understand what religion means to Filipinos in America today. The numerical data are telling when it comes to Filipinos and religion but what is lacking is a more in-depth understanding of the complexities and the richness of Filipino religiosity. The researcher plans to interview and collect stories, reflections, and essays from a sizable cross-section of Filipino Americans of different backgrounds, circumstances, and settings to deeply understand the varieties of religious experience of Filipinos in America.

Tell Your Story (Calling for Contributors)

Filipino culture is a story-telling culture. The Filipino identity is shaped and continues to evolve by our deeply ingrained tradition of story-telling. In a culture that values our “shared togetherness” or our kapwa, sharing our stories with one another facilitates the strengthening of our common bond. We realize that our individual story is also the story of our kapwa tao and that we are truly interconnected and interdependent. We pass along and preserve the stories, the history, the wisdom, and the values that we uphold and cherish to our children and the generations to come.

For those interested in sharing their story, experience, and reflection on what it means to be Catholic and Filipino in America, regardless of your background and affiliation, Catholic or not Catholic, American-born or an immigrant, a first generation or second generation, daily communicant, ex-Catholic, semi-Catholic, married, single, divorced, widowed, student, professional, grandparent, grandchild, millennial, GenX’er, boomer, etc. I would love to hear from you. Whether you’ve deepened, recovered, or even lost your faith, I would love to hear how it has shaped who you are as a Filipino in America. There is truly something about our culture and our faith that is unique, complex, rich, and beautiful — something worth capturing and sharing with the rest of the world.

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