Growing into a Latina Atheist with Little Representation

I am a Mexican American woman with a wide array of interests. As I’ve gotten older, my tastes in food, music, and television have changed. I am happy to say that I defy the stereotypes.

An important thing that makes me stand out is that, much to my family’s dismay, I am an atheist. I still remember the look of disappointment on my family’s face when I said that I was not baptizing my oldest child.

Following Hispanic or Latinx social media pages and groups can feel a bit lonely as some love to mention religion a lot. As a former Catholic and current atheist, the lack of representation of Latinx atheists is an unusual one.

The More I Learned About the World, The Less Relatable Religion Felt

Like most Mexican Americans, I was raised Catholic. I was baptized, had my confirmation, and even had a special quinceañera mass. My very religious maternal grandmother lived with me, my mom, and my sister for a few years. I didn’t want to disappoint my grandmother, so I didn’t complain about going to 8AM mass on Sunday mornings. As she moved back to Mexico, I began attending college, where I started to learn about other beliefs and religions. I took the time to research them and realized that I was a Catholic in name only, just to please my family. Thankfully, by that point, my family would only attend church for weddings or very special occasions.

My Study Abroad Travels Pushed Me Further from Religion

During my junior year of college, I did what many people only dream of doing. I flew across the world to study abroad in Spain. For five months, I became immersed in the culture and visited a lot of beautiful cathedrals. I loved the architecture but felt no interest in going to Mass. I spent time getting to know the culture and people instead. As I spoke with my Spanish classmates, I learned that Spain had a more relaxed attitude towards religion compared to Mexico, where my family is from. Today, nearly one-third of people in Spain are either atheists, agnostics, or non-believers, according to El País.

During Spring Break, I flew to Rome, Italy, and ended up visiting Vatican City. “Lucky” for me, Pope Benedict made a public appearance. Most Catholics would be amazed and excited, but I just felt uneasy. It’s a bit hard to explain since it was over ten years ago, but it was a gut feeling. Although I am thankful I saw the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel from an artistic and historical standpoint, I didn’t feel the religious connection that I was expecting.


Having a Catholic Wedding Just to Please My Family

When we first got married, my husband and I had a small and quick ceremony at City Hall with immediate family members. My side of the family found it odd that I didn’t have a Catholic ceremony, and a strange nostalgic part of me started thinking about the cheesy telenovela (Latin American soap operas) endings with the main characters getting married in the church. I talked it over with my husband and we decided to have a wedding mass and reception.

Planning this whole wedding was incredibly stressful from start to finish. We had a beloved family member passing away, issues with other family members, and having to juggle two different cultures was overwhelming. When the day arrived, being inside the Catholic church had no effect on me. I was on the verge of an anxiety attack most of that day. The whole experience convinced me that the religious part of my life was over. It was a big relief, to be honest. I just hope that one day, my husband and I can renew our vows the way we want to, with no religion involved.

The Lack of Representation in Mexican and U.S. Latinx Media

According to the Pew Research Center, one in five Latinx Americans have no religion. These numbers are growing. Each year, more of us are leaving religion and more of us who are parents are raising non-religious children.

Despite these changes, atheists, agnostics, and non-believers are practically invisible in pop culture, especially in telenovelas or other Latin American programming. When you watch a Latin American TV show or movie, there will usually be an image or a mention of Catholicism. An example would be in the Disney Pixar animated feature, Coco, where Miguel’s abuelita destroys his guitar and immediately performs the sign of the cross.

The lack of diversity is also noticeable when it comes to other religious groups as well. Latin Americans are not only Catholic. They may identify as atheist, agnostic, Jewish, Mormon, Muslim, or a lesser-known Indigenous belief system or faith.

Not being represented, or at the least acknowledged, makes it feel like we are inferior and/or invisible. Thankfully, Latinx programming in America is slowly diversifying. Although the only Latinx character I can recall that identifies as atheist is Oscar Martinez from The Office (U.S.), I remain hopeful we will see more representation soon. I just hope Mexican media and other countries will diversify as well.

In conclusion, those of us who identify as atheists, agnostics, or non-believers exist whether others like it or not. Not believing in Dios (God) does not make me more likely to commit a crime or do unspeakable acts. In fact, I don’t need a deity hovering over me to make me a good person. I am going to raise my daughters with a love of learning and appreciation of different cultures. I just hope that they will see a more accurate religious or non-religious representation of Latinx people by then.