Loiza is a Puerto Rican town known for best representing the African traditions, a community of a mostly black population affected by profound racial discrimination and poverty. But, many Loiza residents strongly identify themselves in religious terms, strategically managing their individual, familial, gender, generational, local, national, and racial identities through a spiritual prism that effectively helps them cope with and transform their difficult reality. Based on twelve months of fieldwork, this study shows how believers experience their religion in its various dimensions. Writing as a native ethnographer, the author offers the personal religious histories of many of Loiza's residents, some of whom she follows northward to the United States as they re-create regional and political boundaries. Hernandez Hiraldo plays the role of participant observer, a social scientist with affection for her subjects, who shared the most important aspects of their spiritual lives with her. Her narratives reveal an unusually nuanced understanding of the role of faith in the lives of Loiza's people. Arguing that understanding and respecting the power of religion in this community are essential to addressing and remedying its social problems, Hernandez Hiraldo contests the characterization of Puerto Rico as a culturally homogenous country with a monolithic church. She analyzes the changing nature of Catholicism on the island and the challenges it faces from the community's other denominations, especially the Pentecostal churches, many of which are struggling to preserve their congregations.
Samiri Hernandez Hiraldo, an anthropologist who currently conducts independent research, is affiliated with the Program for the Analysis of Religion among Latinos. She has taught at Eastern Michigan University and the University of Michigan.