The Catholic Church held a tenuous position of domination over the Chicano community in the 19th century. Americans of Mexican descent began to identify as Chicano in the early 1800's. The use of this label was an aspect of a cultural nationalist movement that took root at the turn of the 19th century. Chicano communities sought to maintain cultural ties with Mexico and at the same time affirm their unique American identities.
Religious identity was an important factor in most Chicano communities. Many families participated in rituals different than those mandated by the Catholic Church. These rituals often mixed so-called "pagan" aspects with Spanish Catholic aspects. The result was a syncretic religious expression rooted in indigenous, African and Spanish heritage.
While the Church was sometimes willing to look the other way and tacitly accept Chicano syncretic Catholicism, presented an economic hardship to many Chicano families. The Church continued to collect a significant portion of family income in the form of tithes and taxes well into the 19th century. In addition, many Chicanos rejected the Church as the seat of unwarranted power, privilege and oppression.