I just received an email from Arlene Sanchez Walsh, associate professor of Latino church studies at Haggard School of Theology (Azusa Pacific University). Like me, she doubts Pew's conclusion that otherwise acculturated Latinos may resist worshiping with non-Latinos. As she writes:
The study claims that Latinos are staying in ethnic churches and contributing to a unique ethnic resilience in American religious life. They don't account for generational differences, though. They do mention that even English-speaking Latinos prefer to be in ethnic churches, but when you see the nationality breakdown, Latinos with very deep roots in the U.S. – such as Puerto Ricans and Mexicans – rank pretty low compared to newer immigrants (Dominicans, Central Americans, etc.) among whom generational changes have not been as long lasting. Though Pew states that ethnic churches are not merely products of immigration or residental housing patterns, the numbers I mentioned above would give rise to the common-sense reality that Latino immigrants, especially of the first and second generation, prefer Spanish Mass and tend to live in areas that are Latino. You have to look at third and fourth generations to get at a larger picture of acculturation.
Arlene's point is significant, especially during the current national debate on immigration reform, in which some claim that Hispanics represent a cultural threat because they refuse to learn English and integrate into American society. While a surface look at Pew's findings on Hispanic churches could support such a view, as Arlene points out, a deeper look seems to reveal a pattern of gradual acculturation much like that of previous immigrant groups. Time will tell, but we should be careful about reading nativist fears into the Pew study.