“Por el amor de Dios”: Why Agnostic Millennials Still Don Their Religious Jewelry

When Beatriz Martínez-Godas was growing up, Catholicism infiltrated every aspect of both her family and academic life. Her school, where generations of her family attended, was a Catholic private institution, like so many around Latin America and the Caribbean, and she took part in Sunday Mass every week donned a necklace in the shape of a cross.

“It’s so difficult, if not impossible, to separate religious traditions from cultural traditions for us,” she tells Emperifollá. Yet, like millions of millennials, Martínez-Godas is not religious, but continues to wear Catholic symbols everyday. “I think wearing religious jewelry is a way to connect with our families, a way to honor them, but also a way to stay connected to and cement our own individual identity.”

More than 60% of Latino millennials in the United States identify as Christian, of which more than 30% are Catholic, according to the Pew Research Center. For the 32% who identify as agnostic or atheist, jewelry is a bridge between their families and themselves, even when they reject the religion itself.  

“I have a lot to say about the role of the church and colonization, the ways the church is to blame for the regressive ways gender and sexuality and race are thought about in mainstream Latin American cultures,” says Verónica Bayetti Flores. “And still as an aesthetic choice, it exists for me as something that has shaped me as well.”

Bayetti grew up “culturally Catholic,” going to bautizos, bodas, and primeras comuniones, but never feeling identified with the religious aspects of it. Her mother, like her, rejects Catholic beliefs, but her father actively tried to get Bayetti to go to misa as a teenager. “It was too late,” she says. “We were all not used to it.”

Today, both women turn to symbols and accessories to keep their heritage in their life. Bayetti keeps velas around and wears her engraved virgencita necklaces “because it’s una reliquia de la familia.” For Martinez-Godas, the rosary she keeps around is a reminder that love surround her in the form of her family. 

“I get to choose to keep the beautiful memories and traditions that religion brought into my life,” says Martinez-Godas. “Without having to play into the hateful parts of religious institutions that drove me away from them.”

Frances Solá-Santiago

Born in Puerto Rico, based in New York City. She is the editor-in-chief on Emperifollá. Her work has been published in The New York Times, Rolling Stone, NPR, Glamour Magazine, Numéro, Refinery29, Remezcla, and Bustle.

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