The Latina/Latino or Latinx people are a very complex people! Friends, in order to talk about worship and praise, we must first understand our cultures, our people and our ways of living – and then we can think about our worship. Who are we and how do we see each other? What happens at that worship space has to do not only with our faith, but with who we are culturally, socially and economically, how we were made by the definitions of others and how we respond to it all.
We are a result of a colonization. When we think about our culto a Dios, worship to God, we must remember that the very word culto comes from the Latin word colo. Colonization! We are a product of the colonizing of our land, of our memory, of our symbols, of our culture, of our expressions, of our vocabulary, of our traditions, of our bodies, of our rights and wrongs, of our religious dimensions, of our origins, of our projects and of what to be Christian is all about. All these dimensions happen together and go through phases of adjustment and harmonization, as well as conflicts and maladjustment.
WE ARE A COMPLEX BUNDLE OF BELONGINGS
First, we are mestizo in every aspect of our identity composition.
The term mestizo/mestizaje has been defined a few different ways. Virgil Elizondo defines mestizaje as “a locus of theological reflection.” Fernando F. Segovia says that it is about “two places and no place on which to stand.” And Sixto J. Garcia says that mestizo is about the “sources and loci of Hispanic theology.”
We understand God and ourselves from this complex space. We are a multiplicity of people. The notion of Hispanic/Latino is not fit to describe us. We are a whole continent; we are indigenous people and people from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Dominic Republic, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Antigua, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Nicaragua, Panama, Honduras, Bolivia, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela and other countries.
Religiously, we are members of indigenous religions: Santeria, Candomblé, Umbanda, Quimbanda and many African religions. We are Catholics, Protestants and Pentecostals. We are Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus. We are New Agers, atheists and belong to other religions and a whole complex system of so many sources. We are men and women, straight and gays, transgender and queer people. We are a mixture of religions, cultures, peoples, languages and identities. We speak about 448 languages! How are we going to classify ourselves?
We are documented and undocumented people, made of broken families. We are rich and poor thrown into a lucha de clases.
Divided into generations, with different experiences of this country. No definition will hold our multiplicities and moving sense of ourselves. However, we are entitled to define ourselves as we wish! It is our lives that are at stake and we do with our identities what we want! Our definition has to do with the expansion of the sources we use to define ourselves; it has to do with our lived experiences. We won’t let other people classify us, we will define ourselves as we want and need.
Thus, one thing for us to be aware of is that we are much more and many more than we imagine. So consider yourself part of a much vaster web of communities and peoples.
Second, we are ourselves a people made of immigration.
We come to this country not because we want to. When I was a pastor in Massachusetts, 99 percent of the congregation I served came to the U.S. because they needed to find work. Not because of dreams or eagerness to be in the land of the free and the brave. Nowadays people come because of persecution, because of strangled economies, gangues and narcotrafico.
Rogelio Saenz wrote in the El Paso Times, “According to the University of Georgia’s Selig Center for Economic Growth, the U.S. Latino purchasing power is $1.3 trillion, larger than the $1.2 trillion purchasing power of African-Americans and the $825 billion of Asian-Americans. The Latino purchasing power is projected to reach $1.7 trillion by 2020.”
With our people here, we are doing what the global market should be doing: redistributing money. Undocumented people send about 50 billion dollars back to their home countries. The World Bank estimates that it might be closest to 120 billion dollars.
Third, we are a people who live in, at and around the borders.
Borderlands is our own place to live, a place made of displacement, of otherness, of periphery. A place through unbalanced systems of inequality, be it social, racial, gender, sexual or economic.
Virgilio Elizondo, in his book “The Future is Mestizo: Life Where Cultures Meet,” says: “The borderlands between the U.S. and Mexico form the cradle of a new humanity.”
Gloria E. Anzaldúa, a Chicano thinker and author, writes about the borderlands. She says the borderlands is a multiple place where Latinx, men and women, heterosexuals and homosexuals, and a vast number of displaced people live. In this place we carry both the country we come from and the country we live in, the past and the present, creating a multiplicity of horizons and experiences and feelings. Where do we belong? Where is our home? When we feel, is this feeling mine or somebody else?
The borderlands is a place of hybridity, with displaced cultural racial ethnic, sexual and gender assumptions. It affects our very definitions of ourselves and we must continue our inventory to cast away all of the demonic definitions of ourselves that have nothing to do with ourselves!
Fourth, we are a people living in exile.
When we look at the Bible we can relate to the people of Israel and other peoples who lived in exile. Many biblical scholars make correlation between the diasporas of the Bible and the diasporas of our people, between points of intersection in Israel’s desert wanderings in Exodus and the Mexican migrants’ desert journey. Austin Seminary’s Gregory Cuellar is one of our best scholars in this country doing this work.
Since we are living in exile, sometimes we feel we have no agency. And we are often called many names. We are accused of being illegal, rapists, people carrying illness, illiterate, stupid, irrational, barbarians, semi-savages, a people in process of becoming human and so on. These forms of definition serve to give reason for the rationalization to teach, brutalize, violate and steal us.
This sense of being exile, along with the sense of being detached and away from the land, makes us weak. This sense of displacement weighs on us as if we don’t have a proper sense of thinking or behaving properly, thus making us in need of learning how to be humans or civilized people, always in need of guidance or help. As a displaced people, our experiences are made negative, our bodies explored, our lives expendable. President Donald Trump has called us rapists, murderers, robbers and worse things!
But we say no! We are NOT the result of your mistakes! We are NOT the scapegoats of this society along with Muslims, blacks, gays, lesbians and transgendered people! Go deal with your own history, and know that undocumented people are fundamental for the functioning of this economy the way it is. Go do your homework to understand that!
Fifth, we are more.
These definitions are not negative, but positive; through them we can find strength. Besides these gifts, we have more:
We have familia. Mostly, our sense of ourselves comes from a sense of familia, of being together. We support each other, we gather together, we have a sense of a village but we also have a sense of the individual. There is something of the African notion of ubuntu that pertains to who we are: I am because we are, we are because I am. We have a heightened sense of the individual: “Soy como soy y no me parezco a nadie” (according to Roberto Escamilla), and a strong sense of group and familia.
We have a sense of individuation that goes against the individualism in U.S. society. Individuation means the strengthening of the self, of self-confidence, of empowerment. This is what we do. Individualism is the search for one’s own desires that are detached from a larger sense of connection with the larger society.
Passion and fiesta. There is a sense of life that permeates our life and our death. Mexicans teach us to celebrate death fully and with passion! Life and death are manifestations of intensities that most of the time are not understood in this country. We are exaggerated, we touch too much, we love to dance and we live beyond borders. We have fiesta for everything; we celebrate everything!
Daniel Ramirez wrote, “The more problematic thing is the English rendering of fiesta as party. It is that, but much more. Celebration also fails to do justice to the term. It is communal, and can have both sacred and profane elements to it.”
There is a spirit, a dancing Latinx spirit, one that is made of multiplicities – of European, African and indigenous multiplicities.
Liturgy is the preparing of a fiesta, a celebration of God and ourselves – or better said, of God with ourselves. What is ours in this fiesta? What is borrowed? What does our celebration as fiesta tells about who we are and what world we live in?
WE HAVE RICH FACETS THAT BUILD OUR THEOLOGY
Our worship and sense of God is based on solidarity. We need each other to make God make sense in our lives.
We have an eschatological hope. We affirm our present by way of affirming our future. Our future defines our present. The Eucharistic celebration is this movement between present and future, as an appetizer of the future.
We have our thinking mixed the poetical. The poetic is this opening to wonder, to highlight the senses of the quotidian in our life and faith.
We have our faith grounded in the prophetic, challenging the status quo. We have so many challenges in life, but the prophetic provides radical resistance against the forces that try to keep us down. Everything says we won’t make it, but by the Spirit of God we say we will!
We have the gifts of our cultures, food, language, songs, dance, forming a vast sense of identity always in movement.
We have theologians who have helped us think about theology. Our theology is made in conjunto, together!
We have mujerista theology, a theology developed by Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz and others who tried to create a canon within a canon as to find space beyond the patriarchal and hierarchical structures of the Bible and our churches and faith.
Our bodies, they teach us, are sites of God’s revelation. When we read the Bible, we read it as a liberating in text, offering resistance to the powers that be, working from an eschatological perspective.
We are always struggling for liberation against oppression, having in Jesus, an undocumented child who became our liberator, dying in the cross in solidarity with those who are still placed unjustly at the crosses of the American continent.
Our theology is a theology of resistance, a theology that includes political work that offers subversive ways of engaging the word of God and the world of God. As Pablo A. Jimenez says in his essay in “Pulpito: An Introduction to Hispanic Preaching,” the eschatological aspect of our faith has to do with the bridging of different worlds: English and Spanish speaking worlds, North and South, now and then, past and future.
When we preach we preach to a multiplicity of cultures. Our setting is always a multicultural setting.
Our liturgies, our faith, our lives, entail the creation of the Kingdom of God in our midst.
In our worship, we celebrate a fiesta, a fiesta of God in our midst, transforming us in many and multiple ways. In our worship services we pray for what is hurting us, for the daily complications and difficulties of life. In our prayers we create a new world, made of faith and hope. Our hymns and coritos are expressions of our longing, our search and our hopes!
We are this and much more. Come worship with us!
Cláudio Carvalhaes is a liturgist, theologian and artist from Brazil. A teaching elder in the PC(USA), he is professor of worship at Union Theological Seminary in New York City.