Aztlan, Anew: U.S. Latinos Leave Catholic Church to Seek Ancestral Heritage
"What we’re doing is praying with our feet, with our bodies."
Centzi Millia, a 31-year-old Aztec dance instructor prepares for an afternoon class, wrapping her long blonde dreads into a bun and gathering small children into a circle. “We honor the Mother Earth with our bare feet, and the vibrations we create — the Mother Earth as a living being feels those vibrations.”
The dance starts in a flurry of drum beats and the bass jangling of Ms. Millia’s chachayotl, the thick anklets of Aztec danzantes made of rattling seed pods.
"It was actually at Knott’s Berry Farm, of all places, that I discovered the danza,” Ms. Millia says after class, sitting in the sunlight of Kuruvunga Springs, a remnant site of the ancient Tongva people nestled between Santa Monica Boulevard and Wilshire. “My parents would say those were the dances our people used to do, but that’s as far as they would tell me.”
Eighteen years later, Ms. Millia is one of several Aztec dance teachers in Southern California. A child of Mexican immigrants, she represents part of a trend among Latinos in the U.S. who are shifting away from the Roman Catholic Church. Though the Church still holds sway among new immigrants from Latin America, the children of these immigrants have been turning toward forms of Protestantism or are choosing not to affiliate with any type of religion.
However, Ms. Millia and some of her second- and third-generation peers raised in traditional Catholic households have left the Church not to follow any alternate form of Christianity or atheism, but to pursue the spiritual paths of their pre-Christian ancestors. As she pursued dance, Ms. Millia’s elders taught her how it was reshaped and used as a tool by Spanish conquerors to lure the local people away from their native, or indigenous, beliefs and toward Catholicism.
Instead of dancing for Mother Earth, Ms. Millia says that dances became offerings to the Virgin Mary. The special days of celebration for the native people became Catholic holidays. These kinds of revelations pushed her away from the church.
Romero Inspires “An Unlikely Range of People”
Colleen Scheck, senior producer
"Let no one be offended because we use the divine words read at our mass to shed light on the social, political and economic situation of our people."
These are the opening lines of the last sermon given by Archbishop Oscar Romero before his assassination 30 years ago today. This past weekend over 10,000 Catholics participated in a commemorative procession in San Salvador.
In this two-part BBC documentary, Central American correspondent Julian Miglierini reports on the complex legacy of Romero that today “inspires an unlikely range of people from devout grandmothers to secular hip-hop artists.”
This image of villagers standing under a mural of Romero is one of a handful captured by Miglierini’s producer during their reporting. The man and woman standing third and fourth from the right, now adults, are the children in the mural, adapted from an iconic photograph taken when the Archbishop visited Los Sitios Arriba.