Mormon Mexico

May 6, 2009 | 12 comments
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For some time now I’ve been planning a series of posts looking at the LDS presence in different countries around the world. But unlike what has been done elsewhere, I want to find and present information that gives a view of what life may be like for most LDS Church members in that country. I also hope to give an idea of the development of Mormon culture in the country, mention a few of the well-known or notable citizens of that country who are Mormon, as well as a brief idea of the distribution and development of the Church in the country.

In honor of the yesterday’s best-known Mexican holiday, Cinco de Mayo, I thought I would start with Mexico.

In the case of Mexico, as is true in several other countries around the world, the national census asks citizens about their religious affiliation, which yields a wealth of information about the active LDS Church members in Mexico. The religious information in the 2000 national census was published in 2005 by the Instituto Nacional de Estadística, Geografía e Informática in a book titled La Diversidad Religiosa en México (Religious Diversity in Mexico).

[Because the census is based on responses from those who identify themselves as LDS Church members, the number of members reported, just over 200,000, is about 25% of the membership numbers the Church reported for 2000, about the same as the estimated activity rate for the country (see the Mexico page on Cumorah.com)]

Mormons in Mexico

Here are a few notes from the report that give a sense for what Mexican LDS church members face:

  • Church members are concentrated principally in urban areas of the country–two-thirds live in cities of more than 100,000.
  • Church members are generally young. Nearly 60% of Church members are under 29 years of age, and just 6.4% are over 60, the lowest percentage of any religion in the census.
  • Virtually all LDS Church members over 15 know how to read, the highest level of any religion in Mexico except for the small Buddhist and Muslim groups. The 97.4% literacy rate among Mormons is also higher than the rate in any Mexican state or entity.
  • The educational level obtained by LDS Church members is also higher than the Mexican population in general. 20% of LDS males in Mexico and 15% of LDS women in Mexico have completed some post-high school educational program, while nearly 50% have at least some post-high school education. But education is still low compared to U.S. standards, since more than 30% have either no education or haven’t completed a high school education. [The education rate may have even improved from this, given that the Perpetual Education Fund was introduced after this census was completed.]
  • Despite the Church’s efforts among the indigenous populations in Mexico, less than 3% of Church members in Mexico speak an indigenous language, and only 3.3% of those that do speak only an indigenous language. Most of those that speak an indigenous language are in Yucatan and speak Mayan.
  • 40% of Mexican LDS Church members are single, the largest percentage among any religion in Mexico, while those who are divorced account for 5.1% of members, also a higher rate than the country as a whole.
  • Mexican LDS Church members have fewer children (2.3 children per woman) and fewer women are stay-at-home mothers than the rest of the population, but a higher proportion of students than other religions (which agrees with the higher education levels among Mormons in Mexico). Along with Buddhists and Muslims Mormon women are more likely to be in the workforce than any other religion.
  • Mormons also report higher income levels than any other religion in Mexico, probably because of the higher educational levels. 20% of LDS men make more than 5 times the minimum wage in Mexico (The minimum wage in Mexico for 2009 is 54 pesos per day, about $4 in US dollars. Adjusting for lower prices in Mexico (purchasing power parity) could as much as double that rate. Still, 5 times the minimum wage in Mexico is at best like earning $10,000 a year in the U.S.). About 45% of LDS Church members make between 1 and 3 times the Mexican minimum wage.
  • In about three-quarters of LDS families in Mexico, both parents are LDS Church members, one of the lowest rates among religions in Mexico.

Mormonism has a very long history in Mexico, going back to 1875 when seven LDS missionaries went to the country and the 1880s LDS settlements in northern Mexico meant to escape prosecution for polygamy. While members confronted both the Mexican revolution and the most unique schism in Mormon history, the “Third Convention” of the late 1930s and early 1940s (almost all members came back to the Church in 1946), both of these occurred decades before LDS Church membership in Mexico started to grow quickly in the 1960s and 1970s, so these incidents are outside the knowledge of most members.

Distribution

But the Mormon settlements in northern Mexico have had a lasting impact in the concentration of Church membership there. In general the Mexican states close to the U.S. border have a higher proportion of the population that is LDS than the rest of the country as a whole. However, there is also at least one polygamous community in Northern Mexico that identifies itself as Mormon, so the numbers in the census may be higher than Church activity shows.

Other areas with higher than average proportion of Church members include the Yucatan peninsula and the center of the country (around Mexico City), which includes another city with a high proportion of Church members, Nealtican, in the Puebla state (also more than 16% LDS). Other notable areas with LDS concentrations include the Gustavo A. Madero district of the Distrito Federal (I assume this is where the Mexico City Temple is), and the cities of Tijuana, Ciudad Juárez, Ecatepec, Mezahualcóyotl, Monterrey, Puebla and Mérida.

Despite these concentrations, there are still many areas of Mexico where missionaries can work. The census showed no LDS Church members in a little more than half of all cities in Mexico.

Culture

The poverty of Mexico has always limited the expression of culture there for everyone, and Mormons are no exception. I’m sure for those who live there some local LDS craftsmen and artists are at work, but only recently has the concentration of members in any area, along with the spread of LDS Temples throughout the country, made it reasonable for cultural goods to be distributed. An LDS Book publisher, Editorial Zarahemla, existed for nearly two decades publishing translations of books in English and a few new titles in Spanish, and selling to a network of individual sellers and small stores, but it has largely stopped publishing as the owner has moved on to other projects, including an educational effort.

Mexico also boasts a unique institution in the Museo de Historia del Mormonismo en México (Museum of Mexican Mormon History), located in a building near the Mexico City Temple.

In addition to these efforts at creating a Mormon culture, several Church members have made an impact on the Mexican culture itself. Jeffrey Max Jones, a descendent of early LDS missionary Daniel Jones, became a Senator in the Mexican national legislature representing his home state of Chihuahua, where he grew up in the Mormon colonies in that state. Also from the colonies was Robbie Pratt, a track and field athlete who represented Mexico in the 200 Olympics in Sydney, Australia. Another athlete is Luis “Louie” Gomez, a Major League Baseball shortstop who played for the Minnesota Twins. And, LDS Church member Gaspar Henaine Perez, aka Capulina, is well known as a now-retired comedic actor and clown. [I’ve now learned this is NOT true.]

I hope you will agree with me that the above is a very different picture of LDS Church members in Mexico, one that will, I hope, help you understand better our fellow Church members there. Better yet, I hope that others know more details and can add information about what it is like to be an LDS Church member in Mexico.

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12 Responses to Mormon Mexico

  1. queuno on May 6, 2009 at 1:38 pm

    How do the Colonies different from, say, D.F.?

    The classmates I had at BYU from the Colonies didn’t come off as “Mexican”, per se. (I know I’m treading into dangerous stereotypical territory here.)

  2. jjohnsen on May 6, 2009 at 2:19 pm

    Great post, very interesting. Are the polygamist Mormon compounds down there legal, or is it similar to the situation in the U.S.?

  3. Bruce in Montana on May 6, 2009 at 4:30 pm

    A 14 year-old young man from Colonia LeBaron has been kidnapped by members of a drug cartel demanding a ransom. There’s an article in the trib.

    No, polygamy is not “legal” in Mexico. It has a history of being more tolerated but that could change at any time.

    There are a lot of fundamentalist Mormons in Mexico but I’m not aware of any “compounds”.

  4. Dave on May 6, 2009 at 4:58 pm

    Very interesting, Kent. The literacy, education, and income statistics are particularly surprising — because I have not heard them reported before, not because it is surprising that membership in the LDS Church would have a positive impact on education and related measures.

  5. Kent Larsen on May 6, 2009 at 6:13 pm

    Queuno (1), the colonies (Mormon colonies such as Colonia Juarez) are principally made up of those of historical LDS background–families from the Northeastern US or Britian. DF is the “Distrito Federal” – basically Mexico City, where LDS Church members are a minority.

    Does that answer your question?

  6. Kent Larsen on May 6, 2009 at 6:21 pm

    Bruce (3), you are right. According to a local Spanish-language news report I read yesterday, some 500 people from Colonia LeBaron stayed overnight in the public park in the center of the state capital of the state of Chihuahua, also named Chihuahua, as a protest against the lack of action by the authorities in the case.

    Unfortunately, his case is not unusual. Drug-related violence by narco-traffickers near the U.S. border (using guns obtained in the U.S.) is a huge problem, and one that has turned Mexico into the most dangerous place for journalists in the hemisphere.

    I’m afraid the drug trade to the U.S. is largely at fault.

  7. Kent Larsen on May 6, 2009 at 6:24 pm

    Dave, I also found them fascinating. I’m surprised that no one has caught on to these statistics. The publication I used has been available since 2005, and I suspect that similar publications have been available for previous censuses in Mexico.

    Since many censuses outside the U.S. collect religious information (The U.S. believes that collecting the data might be a violation of the establishment clause, as I understand it), I’m looking forward to seeing similar information in other countries, when I do other profiles.

  8. Bruce in Montana on May 6, 2009 at 8:23 pm

    Since Mexican Mormons, fundamentalist and mainstream, tend to be a little more affluent than the average citizen…there’s probably going to be more crimes committed against them by the drug cartels.
    It’s a bad situation down there.

  9. Dan on May 6, 2009 at 9:20 pm

    I’m curious what Romanian statistics look like.

  10. Kent Larsen on May 7, 2009 at 4:41 am

    Dan (9), if you are curious, then look for the data! I don’t speak or even read Romanian, so its unlikely that I will be able to puzzle through a Romanian report quite as easily, let alone find the report. If you do speak Romanian, look for such a report!

    I have no idea if a report exists, or even if they ask the “What is your Religion” question in their census. But if they do, its bound to be interesting.

  11. BRH on May 12, 2009 at 8:56 am

    To Dave (4) and Kent’s response (7): The statistics give no reason to conclude a causal relationship between membership in the Church and educational attainment. It could be the case (as I anecdotally observed while a missionary) that better-educated individuals are more open minded and hence more willing to speak with missionaries. Hence our proselytizing effort self-selects better educated individuals, and this explains the higher educational attainment observed; rather then membership in the Church having that effect. It seems to me that the heavy emphasis missionaries place on *reading* the Book of Mormon might explain higher LDS literacy rates in Mexico similarly–our methods only appeal to Mexicans who *can* read.

  12. Kent Larsen on May 12, 2009 at 12:08 pm

    BRH, the 2000 census in Mexico indicates that more than 90% of the population can read. Among Mormons that rate rises to 97%. While I agree with your observation that correlation doesn’t necessarily imply causation, I’m not sure that your explanation is likely to account for the entire difference either. The principle problem with your response is its assumption that the majority of LDS Church members are relatively new, and therefore the Church had no impact on their educational choices. While it may have been true that the Church membership was mostly new members at one time, that is increasingly less true, since the Church has been active in Mexico for more than a century (and the more recent strong growth started in the 1960s and 1970s, 30 years before this census), and growth rates have dropped off for the past decade or so. I’m no statistician, but there seems enough in the growth pattern to give me some doubt about the idea that members were mostly well educated or inclined towards education before joining the Church.

    Regardless, FWIW, the post did not imply causation in the way that it was worded, at least it doesn’t appear to me to imply causation now that I re-read it a week later. However, you are correct that Dave’s comment does imply some causation.