Religion plays key role in lives of immigrants

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“Religiosity isn’t the first thing people think of when they think of why would someone want to come to the United States,” said Steven Hoffman, UTSA’s Assistant Professor of Department of Social Work, one of the authors in his dissertation “Religiosity and Migration Aspirations among Mexican Youth.”

“And I’m not suggesting it’s the only reason or the primary reason, but it would be something to consider…having a close connection to a religious community may be something that does play a factor and tips the scales one way or another,” stated Hoffman.

After living in Chihuahua, Mexico for two years and falling in love with the people and the culture, Hoffman wanted to include Mexican youth and migration into his doctoral studies.

During his doctorate program in 2008 at the University of Arizona, Hoffman joined Dr. Flavio Francisco Marsiglia, foundation professor of Cultural Diversity and Health in the ASU School of Social Work, and Stephanie L. Ayers, associate director of research of the ASU Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center, in their study of religiosity in youth from Mexico.

The study focused on “(advancing) knowledge specifically about internal and external religiosity and their influence on youth’s migration aspirations.”

Internal religiosity means having a more personal relationship with God or the divine that does not necessarily require belonging to a specific church or organization, while external religiosity means sharing your devotion to God or the divine with a community by participating in church activities, as well as going to mass on a regular basis.

They predicted that as one’s religiosity increases, whether its external or internal, the desire to work or migrate to the U.S. will decrease.

The students were asked a series of questions to measure how devoted they are to their external or internal religiosity, to measure their socioeconomic status and their relationship with their parents.

The data was collected in 2007 from 474 single, Catholic high school aged students enrolled in 252 alternative high schools in Guanajuato, Mexico. Not to be confused by the typical alternative schools in the U.S. for juvenile delinquents, alternative schools in Mexico are more unique.

Hoffman explained, “They were created to serve youth in rural locations that did not have access to what would be considered a typical high school.” Videos, rather than a formal teacher instructing in the presence of a class, did most of the educating.

The results showed that as external religiosity increases, the desire to work or live in the U.S. decreases.

However, contrary to the hypothesis, the results also showed that as the internal religiosity increases, the desire to work or live in the U.S. and plans to migrate increases.

Hoffman believes, “with the internal religiosity, having a strong sense of ‘I have this good connection that is not necessarily tied to a church, but because of my confidence in my relationship (with God), I think I will be protected or blessed and keep this connection with me when I travel.’”

Hoffman’s study is unique to its kind. “It looked at migration and religiosity before the individual migrated, if they ever did… people have looked at the impact migration has on someone’s level of religiosity,” said Hoffman.