Society for Cultural Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
This paper explores “potentiality” in the context of Evangelical faith, rhetoric and practice among undocumented Brazilian migrants in the United States. Drawn from extensive fieldwork conducted among Brazilian migrants living in the Greater Washington, D.C. region (2013-4), I consider how Evangelical identity and forms of belonging significantly mitigated migrant distress, and enabled migrants to imagine lives beyond suffering, constraint, and marginalization. The paper progresses in two parts. First, I discuss one of the most common expressions of constraint migrants articulated—that of “feeling stuck,” articulated in English for emphasis. Alluding to exploitative work, family separation, and living undocumented, migrants often expressed feeling immobile, paralyzed. The second part of the paper describes how evangelical faith and belonging dramatically transformed this experience through imbuing migrant believers with an individual and collective feeling of “potentiality,” the ability to impact their environment by partnering with God. In theorizing the “potentiality” inherent in migrant evangelical practice, I invoke Cheryl Mattingly’s concept of “radical hope” among the severely and chronically ill, in which patients engage in “creating, or trying to create, lives worth living even in the midst of suffering, even with no happy ending in sight” (2010:6). For Mattingly, “radical hope” consists of powerful collective imagination in the context of intimate relationships of solidarity, care, and empathy. Evangelical identity and belonging similarly reoriented migrant experience of distress. Viewing themselves as partnered with God, and embedded in a dense brotherhood of Christ, migrants no longer “felt stuck,” but rather in control of their circumstances.