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European-origin Catholics who had migrated to the region. Mexicans were a thing apart. According to López, even today, of the 2.6 million students who attend Catholic elementary and secondary schools nation-wide, about two-thirds do so in the East and Great Lake regions. Only about 18 percent are found in the entire “West,” which includes all of California and the Southwest.67Thus, the largest immigrant group in the nation and the one that forms, along with its descendants, the fastest growing component of the American Catholic population, has not had access, yesterday or today, to the mobility escalator that served other Catholic groups in the past. In the contemporary period, the Mexican experience can be fruitfully contrasted with that of Cuban exiles who arrived in South Florida in the 1960s and 1970s. Cuban parishes were promptly established in the archdiocese of Miami, and Cuban priests and bishops quickly found their way into the U.S. Catholic hierarchy. Schools run by such orders as the Jesuits and the Christian and Marist brothers were transplanted from Cuba to educate the offspring of the exiled middle-class popula-tion. As shown in the previous chapter, as well as in a number of prior studies, this education yielded impressive results in terms of fostering both academic excellence and educational achievement, as well as pre-serving bilingual fluency among Cuban Americans.68Nationwide, about one-quarter of children of Catholic families attend parochial schools today, while children of Latin American (mostly Mexican) families do so at the rate of only 4 percent. This figure is probably a high estimate for the number of Mexican American children who attend Catholic schools in Los Angeles, the largest archdiocese in the nation, whose membership of Mexican origin now exceeds 50 per-cent.69While the Catholic hierarchy of that city has spoken repeatedly
Religion | 341in defense of immigrant rights and while American bishops nationwide have given unmistakable signs that they are aware of the decisive role of Latin American immigrants and their descendants for the future of the church, that awareness has translated so far into mostly symbolic ges-tures. The resources and services made available by Protestant churches to foster the educational success of immigrant groups, such as Koreans, have been largely absent from Catholic parishes serving the Mexican American population. This absence may have something to do with the loss of close to a quarter of this population that has left the church to embrace various Protestant denominations.The American Catholic Church was built by immigrants and consoli-dated its institutional strength by promoting their integration and social mobility. Its future may well depend on overcoming the historic stale-mate with the Mexican Catholic tradition and becoming, once again, an effective agent in the incorporation of these migrants into American society. The growth and consolidation of particular churches in the American religious marketplace have been closely linked, yesterday and