Category Archives: Hispanos

The Lazy Spic

10400503_18166125619_9115_nYesterday I worked a twelve-hour workday. The day before I had worked for thirteen hours straight. The day before was nine hours. I had taken exactly two days off in four months since I started my new job. I have worked on weekends and even when I have given my staff a day off, I have gone to the office or worked from home to finish a project or start a new one. My staff is always supportive and they have, on more than one occasion, asked me to take it slow, to pace down, and even encouraged me to take a day off. The Board of Directors of my organization expects me to work hard, but they have also encouraged me to practice self-care, to take time off, and to work at a healthy pace. I can show you emails, texts, and social media messages I have gotten from staff and Board members encouraging me and reminding me of practicing self-care. Yet, I continue to work.

Why do I do this? Sure, I love what I do. I thoroughly enjoy administration, management, strategic planning, and all that comes with this. But there’s a second, equally important reason why I work so much… and it is not because I am a workaholic.

The first new world in learned when I moved to New York City in 2000 was “spic.” There was a definition attached to this term. The spic is a lazy person; they live off of government handouts, they despise work, they are irresponsible, the have moved in droves to New York City and had made the space less livable, less desirable, less safe. The spic didn’t speak English and didn’t want to assimilate to the evidently superior “American” culture.

People – especially USAmericans – have been enraged with President Trump’s comments about how Puerto Ricans have not done enough to help ourselves in light of the major natural disaster we have just experienced. For Trump, we are lazy people who do not want to work collaboratively. This is what he was taught about our community in the New York City of his early childhood. For the USAmerican public, for the most part, these are atrocious accusations. For the Puerto Rican community, these are just the same comments we’ve been hearing since our community started migrating to the mainland in the 1950s.

Although I commend and welcome the rage that Trump’s comments have sparked among my USAmerican friends, you must understand that his comments are not made in a vacuum. Trump is talking about the lazy spic that I have been told I am.

As a Puerto Rican living in exile, you are taught that you are part of a group of people who are, at once, “job stealers” and “lazy people.” How is it possible that we steal “American” jobs and don’t work enough at the same time, I have no idea.

Perhaps for many of you it was a surprise that the President of the United States depicted the people of Puerto Rico as lazy people who do not help ourselves. However, this is what we have heard as a community since the 1950s when our people started migrating in droves to the USA due to the economic realities of the Island cause, precisely, by the USA’s policies towards its colonies. It is this message the one that is still ingrained in my head, to the point that I work and work and work, lest someone accuse me of being lazy and not doing enough.

This is not something I am making up. Neither is this something that happened a while ago and certainly not in so-called “progressive” spaces. On the contrary. This thinking that Puerto Ricans, and Latino people in general, are lazy is still alive. Take, for instance, what happened to me for four years while I served a progressive congregation in one of the most so-called progressive cities in the USA. A woman who self-appointed as the leader of the church would call my office at random hours of the day, just to check that I was there, just to make sure I had come to the office that day. She wouldn’t want to talk to me. She just wanted to make sure that I was there. Her excuse was that she had heard I had not been active in the community, or doing enough home visits to the folk in the congregation. She used her self-appointed status as a leader of the church to let me know that “there were concerns” in the church that I wasn’t being effective. Of course, like any good oppressor, she couldn’t notice the flaw in her argument: I had to be in the office so I could demonstrate that I was doing my job of being in the community and visiting folk.

When you are confronted with this reality every day, you learn to navigate the system. You know that you must be perfect, perform beyond what people’s perceptions of your abilities are, and work twice as hard as anybody else. No wonder the great Nuyorican poet Pedro Pietri wrote about our community:

They worked
They were always on time
They were never late
They never spoke back
when they were insulted
They worked
They never took days off
that were not on the calendar
They never went on strike

without permission
They worked
ten days a week
and were only paid for five
They worked
They worked
They worked
and they died
They died broke
They died owing
They died never knowing
what the front entrance
of the first national city bank looks like

Juan
Miguel
Milagros
Olga
Manuel
All died yesterday today
and will die again tomorrow…[1]

[1] Pedro Pietri, Puerto Rican Obituary, 1969

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Culture, ethnicity, Heritage, Hispanics, Hispanos, Human Rights, Identity, justice, Puerto Rico, race, racism, resistance, Sociology, United States, USA

Después del Huracán

ebb60db07e3f8f1493c405ca43b96ba6

Mi abuela Margot y mi abuelo Quino vivían justo frente al Río Guayo. El puente que une a la municipalidad de Adjuntas con la municipalidad de Lares está justo frente al que fuera su hogar. Era en este río en el que nos bañábamos en el verano. Cuando pasaba el huracán, era en este río donde nos hacíamos más familia y más comunidad.

Dice el dicho que después de la tormenta, viene la calma. Esto es quizás así; pero después de la tormenta también vienen los desafíos de cómo vivir sin las necesidades básicas a las que nos hemos acostumbrado. Después de la tormenta también vienen los días sin luz, sin agua, con comida limitada… vienen los días largos sin saber cuánto tiempo será antes de que la vida vuelva a la normalidad. Después de la tormenta viene el resuelve, como le llamamos en mi pueblo.

No es secreto que cada vez que hace un viento fuerte, la frágil infraestructura de Puerto Rico sufre. En mi barrio, digo yo que cada vez que alguien destornuda duro, la luz se va. El agua potable también es un reto. Esa viene cada dos días; a veces un poco menos seguida. Prácticamente casa cuenta con sus tanques de agua para recolectarla cuando está disponible y así mantener el suministro cuando se vuelva a ir. Cuando chiquito, teníamos acceso a una quebrada de la cual sacábamos agua para tomar. El agua para uso diario la traíamos también de allí, pero por tubos y con bomba que mi papá instaló. Había conexión al sistema de la AAA , pero no dependíamos de ella para abastecernos de agua.

Recuerdo que después de los huracanes, cuando tanto la luz como el agua se iban por semanas, trasladábamos algunas de nuestras rutinas diarias al Río Guayo. Allí, debajo del puente que une a Adjuntas con Lares, un grupo de mujeres – la mayoría de mi familia – sacaba barras de jabones, paletas, cestos y tablas para lavar ropa. Sentadas en piedras o en banquitos que sus maridos le hacían, las mujeres comenzaban a lavar las ropas de sus familias. Con cada estrujada de ropa, con cada movimiento de limpieza, comenzaban los chistes, las carcajadas, las noticias del día y los chismes de barrio. Con cada pieza lavada, se enteraba uno de los planes para las comidas comunitarias de más tarde, de las posibilidades de que la luz y el agua llegaran más tarde de lo esperado, o de dónde ya estaban vendiendo pan caliente…

La niñez recorría el puente y nos tirábamos al río. Las madres nos gritaban que nos quedáramos quietos porque algo nos podía pasar. Algún niño o alguna niña, siempre, nos arruinaba el día cayéndose entre las piedras y abriéndose alguna herida. En ese momento se paraban todas las actividades para darle consuelo primero y un buen regaño después – o quizás era al revés, no recuerdo – al niño o la niña lastimada.

Los maridos, mientras las mujeres limpiaban las ropas, se iban a seguir limpiando los caminos. Vivir en el campo significa dos cosas: siempre hay mucho árbol en la carretera cuando pasa una tormenta, y los caminos no han sido construidos de la mejor manera así que siempre estarán en necesidad de reparación. Recuerdo que mi papá se llevaba la guagua pick-up, su machete, su sierra y cualquier otra herramienta que fuera útil, coordinaba con otros y se iban por caminos que sabían que los gobiernos municipales y estatales no les darían atención. Así era como comenzaban a ayudar a que los vecinos se conectaran. Después del huracán, la comunidad se juntaba para levantarse.

En algún momento del día, cuando ya las ropas estaban limpias, se reunían las mujeres para cocinar. Las ollas eran de tamaño enorme, como para alimentar a un ejército. Se cocinaba lo que hubiese: arroz, habichuelas, gandules, bruquenas del río, chopas del lago, pollos, puerco, guineos, ñames, yahutía, malanga, chayotes, plátanos, huevos… En fin, lo que hubiese por allí se hacía de comida para todos y todas. Después de la comida salían las sillas y las mesas, el juego de dominó estaba listo. Esta era la parte favorita de mi abuela paterna: el juego de dominó. No había en todo Castañer una persona más fanática del dominó que mi abuela Margot. Sus hijos e hijas le temían en la mesa. Ninguna o ninguno la querían tener como pareja de juego, porque si perdías la mano de dominó, ella te desheredaba. ¡Doña Margot no jugaba con su dominó! Abuela gritaba, se emocionaba, se vivía el juego desde el comienzo. Verla jugar dominó con una estrategia nítida, desarrollada por años de devoción a su juego favorito, era toda una experiencia.

Para mí, de niño, el tiempo después del huracán era más como una película de acción y de aventura. Era el tiempo en que la familia y la comunidad se unían. Era el tiempo de jugar debajo del puente del Río Guayo y comer en familia. Era el tiempo de ver las estrellas en el cielo al final del día, cuando se abría el firmamento y se iluminaba el cielo raso con un millón de estrellitas que nos recordaban tanto la fuerza de la naturaleza como el tesón de un pueblo que se levanta su dolor para alcanzarlas.

Leave a comment

Filed under familia, Heritage, Hispanics, Hispanos, Huricaine, Identidad, Identity, Latino, Puerto Rico, Recuerdos, tradiciones

While Waiting for News of My Family After Hurricane Maria

69735502People have asked me how I’ve been able to function these past few days. It has not been easy. My parents, sister, and I had been estranged for years. When I was diagnosed with cancer, they reached out. My husband and I visited with them for the first time on December 25th for their Christmas party. We’ve been in communication ever since.

As the hurricane approached, we stayed in communication through text. Then I called a few days before to check up on them. My mom was calmed and not too worried. Cellphone signal had came back just the day before I called. They still had no power in the neighborhood, but the water was back. They were prepared; they had water, food, fuel, and an electric plant. My sister – who works for the Department of the Family of the Commonwealth – had visited a shelter and checked up on her clients. They were ready to face the hurricane. The last I heard from my mom was a reply to my text saying: “yes, I am calmed.”

Those are the last few words I have from my family. I have not heard from them yet.

I have read news reports that tell me my neighborhood is fine and that there are no registered deaths in my hometown as of today. I read about the efforts to clear the roads and make sure that people have access to larger towns to get supplies. But there are no ways to get in touch with the outside world. How does the word go out about what’s happening? People from the metro area in San Juan who have family in Adjuntas go down to check up on them and then share what they had seen and heard on social media as the limited access to cellphone coverage allows them to.

But now going back to the question: How have I been able to function?

I have compartmentalized my self. Having to communicate in English helps. It is not my language. It is not my soul. It is not what connects me emotionally to the world. I focused on the tasks. I focused on the routine (of not having a routine), and pay attention only to the work in front of me. I have the news in the background and read the texts and news that I get constantly. But those are in español, those do not belong to the workplace. Those belong to mí.

I have compartmentalized my life in the past few days. Sure, I have shared news with coworkers and friends who ask. I have even shed a tear or two while doing so. I have tried to perform what is asked of me by the US society: calmness, be collected, show little emotion when talking about such things, etc. Like always, I have learned how to perform according to the social rules of the social mores of the society I live in. I have completely disconnected myself from all, creating walls that separate the mí from the me.

When I am home, or when I am speaking with a close friend, or when I am alone in my office and listening to the news, I cry. I let it all go and finally feel mí.

I know that my family is fine. Something within me tells me so. I also know that it will be probably weeks before I hear from them. I, too, am from those areas in the world where nobody cares about you; where the government has nothing to gain but votes every so often, where “charities” have no good faces or locations for photo-ops. I am from the place where the only thing that helps us is ourselves: the community who stands up, puts on their boots, picks up their machetes, brave the remainder rain and winds, and goes out to join one by one as they clear paths and help restore their comunidad. That resiliency is what helps me function. I am a jíbaro, and jíbaros don’t give up.

Leave a comment

Filed under Español, ethnicity, familia, Heritage, Hispanics, Hispanos, Huricaine, Identidad, Identity, Latino, Puerto Rico

I March For My Niece

My niece, Emely, is nine years old. She is bright, and funny, and loves to read, and loves math, and wants to become a singer and actress. A couple of years ago she had a list of books she wanted me to buy for her. Of course, as a bibliophile, I complied and bought all the books she asked me for and more. When I visited her again, she told me about one of the books I had given her.img_7249

I still remember when Emely started school. Since Emely grew up in a Spanish-speaking household, when she started school she didn’t speak English. She learned the language from her teachers and her classmates. On one occasion, when I asked her to speak Spanish with us and use English for other conversations in order to help her stay bilingual, she said something that shook me to my core. “Spanish is UUUUGLY!” she said. With a heavy heart, I asked her why she said that. She said that everyone in school said it. Spanish is ugly. English is beautiful.

I have talked with Emely about the importance of learning as many languages as she can. I have told her about the importance of using both English and Spanish to communicate, and to take any opportunity she might have in the future at school to learn other languages. I have told her how proud we are of her. I have continued to make sure that she is proud of her Mexican heritage and that she understands what it means to be a USAmerican too. I have shared with her my own Puerto Rican culture and heritage and have encouraged her to adopt what she might want to adopt from it. I have shared with her how wonderful it is to have a non-traditional family, and what a blessing it is that she has a wonderful, supportive, caring mother, and two dads, and so many uncles and aunts, and siblings who live in different homes, and a madrina and a padrino who care deeply for her.

img_7149Today, as a white supremacist, xenophobe, and sexual predator took the oath of office as President, I worry about Emely and her future as a Latina woman growing up in the USA. I know I cannot protect Emely or her brother all the time. I also know that her parents’ immigration status prevents them from providing all the protections that she – both of them, my niece and my nephew – deserve. But there are some things I can do. I can join the RESISTANCE and stand up for my niece.

And so, Emely, I will march tomorrow, Saturday, January 21st. Emely, I will answer the invitation from other women around the USA and the world to stand up to injustices against women. Even though you might be too young to understand, I will march because I love you, because I respect you, and because I believe in you as a woman.

There are also other reasons why I march in solidarity with my niece tomorrow. These are not the only ones, but here are some reasons to march:

I march because I believe that my niece Emely’s brown body is hers and only hers. No one, no matter what position of authority they might have, even if it’s the Presidency of the USA, has the right to touch your brown body, let alone grab it violently and without permission.

I march because I believe that you have the right to education, and that you have the right to make choices as to how far you want to take your education and what profession to pursue or not pursue. You have the right to access a job that is suitable to your abilities and your passions, and to be paid fairly and at the same rate than any male who will do the same job.img_9337

I march because, when the time comes for you to make choices about your body, it should be you, and only you, who make those decisions. Because your brown body is yours and deserves to be respected and honored. Because your brown skin is beautiful, and normal, and is neither “exotic” nor a stereotype to be paraded at the whim of those with power.

I march because I know that your parents can’t be exposed to deportation and because I want to continue being your uncle, not having to be your foster parent should something were to happen to my brother- and sister-in-law.

I march because I believe that, although you have been raised Roman Catholic, you should have the right to make the decision that makes YOU comfortable. I march because, if in the future you want to wear a hijab, you should be able to do it without fear of intimidation. I march because if in the future you choose not to believe in anything, you should not be punished for having no religion.

I march because I believe that you should feel safe in wearing whatever the hell you want to wear in public. I march because I believe that you should feel safe walking down the street and that no one should be cat-calling you, or intimidating you, or threatening your life and safety.

I march because I believe that you should be free to choose to love whomever you want to love, just as I love your uncle who gave me the blessing of being welcomed by this wonderful family that now both you and I, as outsiders, call “nuestra familia.” I march because I believe that you should love as many people as you wish to love and not being condemn for it.

I march because, if I march today, I know… I know… that by the time your Quinceañera comes, this will be a safer place for you and all your loved ones.

I could continue listing reasons to march, Emely, but I can’t. My eyes are filled with tears – you know how much I cry – and I can’t write anymore. But be sure, sobrina, I will march for you. I march for you, mi querida sobrina. I march because I know that staying home is not an option.

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, discrimination, ethnicity, familia, Feminism, Heritage, Hispanics, Hispanos, History, Human Rights, Identidad, Identity, immigration, justice, Latino, niña, niñez, niño, Peace, race, racism, resistance, Social Movements, United States, USA, Women rights

La iglesia que sueño

Es indiscutible que la iglesia perfecta no existe. De hecho, creo que es indiscutible que nunca podremos encontrar una iglesia que llene todas nuestras expectativas. Habiendo sido pastor de varias congregaciones – hispanas, anglo-americanas y étnicamente diversas – puedo dar fe de que es imposible el crear congregaciones que logren complacer a toda persona al mismo tiempo. Siempre es posible encontrar congregaciones que llenen las expectativas sobre uno o varios aspectos de lo que consideramos una iglesia perfecta. Pero en definitiva, no podremos crear una congregación que llene todas las expectativas, todo el tiempo y de toda la gente.teologia-de-la-liberacion

Ahora, habiendo dicho esto, también es importante escuchar cuales son las características que las personas creen importantes para una congregación que sea la más apropiada para ellas. Esto no quiere decir que lograremos crear tal congregación. Es solo un ejercicio de soñar con nuestra congregación ideal.

Cuando me mudé a la ciudad donde vivo actualmente y ya que tenía la oportunidad de pasar del púlpito a los bancos, era el momento ideal para buscar una congregación hispana, que llenara mi necesidad de adoración en español, con una comunidad de gente con la que me pudiera identificar mejor. Visité varias comunidades y elegí una. Como he dicho, ninguna es perfecta, pero encontré una comunidad que me aceptó, que me gustó y en la que me he sentido cómodo. De todos modos, sueño con una comunidad de fe que sea más progresista, que realmente refleje mis valores y teología. No sé si sea posible encontrarla, en especial sabiendo la cantidad limitada de congregaciones hispanas en donde vivo, pero sigo soñando con una iglesia que sea más adecuada para mis necesidades.

¿Cuál es la iglesia que sueño? Pues una iglesia que sea así…

  • Una iglesia que no tengo miedo en tomar posiciones teológicas progresistas; que no se amilane de decir las cosas como son y de condenar el pecado de la soberbia, de la corrupción, de la intolerancia, del racismo, de la xenofobia, de la homofobia, de la violencia, de la transfobia, de la misoginia, del sexismo, de la opresión. En fin, una iglesia que tenga una voz profética.
  • Una iglesia que no le tema a la innovación litúrgica; donde se pueda ser flexible y expansivo con la liturgia. Una iglesia donde la rigidez se deje atrás y se de paso a la innovación, a una liturgia dinámica, a una liturgia apasionada, a una liturgia contagiosa y atractiva.
  • Una iglesia que haga uso del lenguaje inclusivo, donde “Dios” no sea solo presentado en forma masculina, sino que se utilicen todas las imágenes bíblicas para la Divinidad; una iglesia donde se hable del Dios que es como una Madre, como una Doncella, como una Mujer Parturienta, como una Viuda que busca una moneda… En fin, una iglesia que reconozca la naturaleza expansiva de Dios.
  • Una iglesia que no tenga miedo de confrontar la injusticia donde la vea; que se muestre solidaria con las personas marginadas, que se muestre solidaria con quienes sufren, con las personas en necesidad, con la niñez, con los inmigrantes, con las minorías étnicas, etc. Una iglesia que se enfrente a la supremacía blanca con valentía y que la denuncia como lo que es: pecado.
  • Una iglesia que esté bien fundamentada en sus principios cristianos pero que también participe y se nutra de las muchas tradiciones religiosas que existen. Al mismo tiempo, que sea una iglesia de vanguardia con respecto a la ciencia y la educación, que estas sean utilizadas para enseñar la grandeza de la Divinidad y no que se deje llevar por la falsa dicotomía de “ciencia contra religión”.
  • Una iglesia que se atreva a ser política – en el sentido de denunciar políticas públicas que afecten a los grupos más oprimidos mientras también deje bien clara su posición con respecto a políticas públicas de beneficio para toda la sociedad.
  • Una iglesia que atesore la tradición musical de los himnos antiguos mientras también incluya, celebre y cree nuevas formas musicales.
  • Una iglesia que atesore la tradición teológica mientras a la vez acepte la naturaleza siempre expansiva del conocimiento que ofrece el Espíritu de Dios.
  • Una iglesia que utilice más de una versión de la Biblia en español; que entienda que cada traducción es una interpretación y que no todas las interpretaciones son iguales ni apropiadas para todas las veces.
  • Una iglesia donde se proclame la Palabra de Dios en los sermones y no que se ofrezca un mensaje para sentirse bien; una iglesia que confronte, que enseñe, que rete, que desafíe a la feligresía a vivir su fe y no solamente a creer.
  • Una iglesia que celebre; que celebre la diversidad, que celebre la vida, que celebre a Dios, que celebre las culturas, que celebre la música, que celebre la Creación, ¡que celebre todo el tiempo!
  • Una iglesia que sea también bálsamo y refugio para quien busca dirección en su vida.
  • Una iglesia donde la niñez que llegue sea tratada como parte integrante de la misma; que se escuchen niñas y niños jugar y llorar en el santuario, que las madres y los padres se sienten en la libertad de correr tras sus hijas e hijos, donde la voz de la niñez es celebrada, escuchada y empoderada.
  • Una iglesia donde la mesa esté abierta; donde el pan y el vino nunca se acaben ni estén restringidos solo para un grupo; donde regularmente se invite a la gente a participar de la mesa de gratitud – eucharistía – y donde el llamado a compartir esta mesa sea contextualizado para el momento en que se vive; donde los elementos reflejen las comunidades donde se celebra, o sea, que no sea solo pan y vino, pero tortillas y tostones y pan dulce y casabe y jugo de naranja y de jamaica y de coco y café y mate y…
  • Una iglesia donde se sienta el Espíritu vivo de Jesús.

En fin, no sé si esta iglesia llegue a existir, pero espero que alguien por ahí escuche y, si es posible, que acepte el llamado de comenzar a hacer realidad la iglesia que sueño.

1 Comment

Filed under Dios, Español, familia, Hispanos, Identidad, iglesia, Latino, Teología

How Mary of Nazareth Helped Me Regain My Faith

“Caridad, Guadalupe, and novenas are not part

of my more immediate tradition.

Yet they are part of my culture.

Does that mean that,

like my native ancestors five centuries ago

when faced by the initial Catholic ‘evangelization,’

I must renounce my cultural heritage

in order to affirm my Christianity?

I do not believe so.”

Dr. Justo González, theologian

 

268913_10150368732015620_6162879_n

Original icon of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Ponce, Puerto Rico. This icon came from the town of Guadalupe, Spain, and has been venerated in the Island for years before the Mexican manifestation of the Virgin of Guadalupe was revealed. 

The Mother of God. The Queen of Angels. The Star of the Seas. Help of the Afflicted. Mystical Rose. Refuge of Sinners. All these and more are devotional titles for Mary, the mother of Jesus of Nazareth. She is not very prominent in the gospel stories, and is very much absent from the rest of the New Testament writings. Yet, for millions of Christians around the world, Mary of Nazareth is a central figure in their spiritual lives. Her image is present in the iconography of Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, Anglican, Coptic and many other Christian traditions. Her image is even utilized by syncretic traditions such as Santería, Candomblé and sometimes Folkloric Spiritism. However, for those of us who grew up mainline Protestants – especially those of us who grew up in Africa, Asia or Latin America – the mere thought of having an image of the Virgin Mother was cringe-worthy.

My religious background is a bit confusing. I often say, for simplicity’s sake, that I grew up Protestant. But, like everything in life, the reality is a bit more complicated. My father was raised in the Northern Baptist Convention (now the American Baptist Churches, USA). My mother, on the other hand, was raised in the Kardesian Spiritist household[1]. Although, by the time that my sister and I were born neither one of our parents were practicing their respective faith traditions. By default, we were “Christians”, but no last-name was attached to it. However, there is something that has followed me since my birth.

I was born a few days after the due date. Usually this is not that big of a concern. However, in my case, when I was born I could not breath and the doctors weren’t sure if I was going to survive. As my mother tells the story, she was eagerly awaiting to welcome her firstborn, but the nurses kept mumbling and didn’t bring the kid to her. After several hours, the doctor approached my mom to let her know that I was in critical condition and they could not bring me to her side. Her first glimpse of my face was through the glass window of the maternity ward in the hospital. In addition, she became ill with a cold, and due to my delicate state, she was discharged without even being able to hold me while the doctors kept me in the hospital for almost a month. When I was discharged and due to my mom’s illness, the doctor indicated not to nurse me as I was still too frail to be exposed to any possible infection. While I was in the hospital my mom did what many parents in religious countries would do: she brought my first pair of shoes – the ones that I had never had the chance to wear – to be deposited at the feet of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This took place at the Shrine of the Virgin of the Rosary in the town of Sabana Grande in Puerto Rico. There, my mom asked the Blessed Mother to look after her firstborn and, as many mothers both from the Bible and beyond have done, she promised God and the Virgin that I would be their servant forever.

I kind of “blame” my mother’s actions for the fact that I am an ordained minister today. Without my consent, she already made the decision for me. But that’s something for another time.

Often times my parents would send me – who was always very interested in spiritual matters and in religion in general – to the Roman Catholic Church in my hometown, the parish of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal in Castañer, Puerto Rico. Often times, these visits to Sunday Mass were with our neighbors as my parents would not necessarily come with us. I do have some memories of these visits. I also remember visiting my maternal grandfather’s séance on Sunday afternoons and seeing my grandpa lead the community in worship as their Medium. Every now and then we would also visit a home prayer meeting at my paternal grandparents’ home with the Baptist community. And thus, my religious upbringing had a little bit of three “flavors” of experiencing Christianity: Roman Catholic, Protestant and syncretic.

Around age 10 or 11 and after having been invited to a Vacation Bible School at the Baptist congregation in my neighborhood of Yahuecas in Adjuntas, Puerto Rico, I started to regularly attend Sunday services with my sister. This went on for some time until my mom started coming with us and eventually my dad joined us. Later, the whole family was involved in the life of the church and we were all baptized (or in the case of my dad, re-baptized) in that congregation.

Upon my entering in the Baptist tradition, I learned about the Protestant’s rejection of images, idols and icons for worship. I was taught to reject these as useless items that distracted us from worshiping the true God who is neither wood nor plaster but Spirit. I was taught to memorize every Bible verse that warned against the use of idols or images or anything similar in worship. Moreover, I was taught that those who used idols in worship were really worshiping the Devil, without even knowing it. What I learned was that they were kneeling before idols and not before the true God as it was instructed in Scriptures.

Fast-forward several years. I have entered seminary with the intention of pursuing ordination in a mainline Protestant tradition. Although I was not quite sure whether that tradition would be the one in which I grew up, the American Baptist denomination.

Before seminary, a friend who had served as a Presbyterian minister and was now entering the Episcopal Church, introduced me to the wonders of the liturgical world. For the first time, I had the chance to actually understand the history, the meaning, the power of images and icons and movements and sounds and smells in the life of the Church. In addition, while in seminary, I met another friend from the Roman Catholic tradition. During a conversation with him I asked why he, being so progressive in his theology, was still so tied to the Roman Catholic Church. His response moved me. He said: “One of the things that keeps me in the Church is the thought that, for generations, and even today, at every single time of the day, there is a community reciting the same prayers, making the same gestures, saying the same words that I will say when I enter Mass. We are united in prayer; not only in our daily lives and with the people from our parish, but with our sisters and brothers from around the world, and with the saints that came before us and the saints that will come after us.” That statement made me change my understanding of liturgy forever.

But, there was still the fact that I grew up believing that icons and images were contrary to God’s wish for us. All these experiences and so much contradiction made me come to what I thought would be a final conclusion: there is no god. I started thinking of myself as an atheist. Sure, one that was trained in theology and who served the Church, but an atheist nonetheless.

Some time passed. I continued to struggle with my faith and with the idea of God. I went back to wise words that had been shared with me about my faith needed to be mine and not the one I had inherited from others. I read again some of the theological classics and other contemporary writings. I continued my discernment and my journey, without knowing where it would take me, but sure that I was in this wilderness because there was something, or someone, waiting for me.

My return to the faith happened thanks to Mary. Or rather, thanks to María.

In the Latino culture, María, José, Juan, Jesús are common names. (In fact, my given name is Juan!) As I became more and more involved in activism on behalf of my Latino community and as I traveled throughout Latin America sharing time with communities in both rural and urban areas, I started to notice the faces of my people. I notices the Marías, and the Juans, and the Jesúses, and the Josés… Then, I noticed the face of God in María. Often a single mother. Often poor. Perhaps a tortilla vendor or a farmer. Sometimes a beggar on the streets. Other times she was carrying her grandkids as her own children had left for El Norte in search of a better life for those they left behind. Back home in the USA, I say her carrying signs and marching for the rights of the undocumented community. I noticed her carrying her children and cooking me a meal while I visited with them. I noticed María fighting to get access to education while holding two or three part-time jobs to support her parents who barely spoke English. I started noticing María everywhere.

I went back to some of my books. There, I read about how La Virgen Morena, Our Lady of Guadalupe, had returned their humanity to a whole indigenous community in the hills of Tepeyac. There she was, dark-skinned like the indigenous man I had fallen in love with. She was on the banners of those who fought for liberation and freedom. She had welcomed the throngs of immigrants who desperately crossed more than one border to get here. She had welcomed them with open arms in churches and shelters throughout their journey. La Virgen had walked with these people, my people, and had never left them – us – alone. In this journey of doubt and rejection of faith that I had, she was also there, just patiently waiting for me.

Two experiences had transformed my faith thanks to an encounter with La Virgen. The first one was when I stood in front of the altar to Nuestra Señora de la Caridad del Cobre (Our Lady of Charity) in El Cobre, Cuba. There she was, carrying the baby Jesus on her arms, assuring him that all will be well. Her yellow dress reminding the many pilgrims that approach her altar that she was also the embodiment of Ochún, the Yoruba Orisha that traveled with the African slaves to the Américas. I was there, standing in awe before that powerful woman who never left her children alone as they were made to cross the ocean to be enslaved and stripped of their humanity. She journeyed with them and there she was, still standing proud and valiant.

The second experience was when I stood in front of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe in her shrine in México. I stood in awe, as I saw the dark-skinned, pregnant, indigenous Virgen welcoming us. She looked at us. She saw us. She knew us. There she was, blessing our relationship and our bond of love. I, the descendant of oppressors who massacred the children of the Morenita, standing next to one of her children, dark-skinned and indigenous, like her. She smiled at us. She forgave me. She welcomed me. La Morenita let me know that I, too, was one of her children.

I continue having doubts, of course. I also continue searching for answers that may never come. But at the end, I know that in my wilderness, Our Mother was waiting for me to come home. As I look at the Mother of God, I want to believe that, if such a loving, powerful, inspiring, courageous woman is the route to know Christ and God, I am more than happy to follow her.

—-

[1] For more information about Kardecian Spiritism, you can visit the following site: http://www.spiritist.com/archives/1862

Leave a comment

Filed under Church, Culture, Dios, ethnicity, Heritage, Hispanics, Hispanos, History, Identidad, Identity, iglesia, Latino, Puerto Rico, race, Teología, Theology, tradiciones, worship

Vigil For LGBTQ Orlando Victims — Vigilia por las víctimas LGBTQ de Orlando

I shared these words with the Madison community during a vigil in honor of the victims of the recent massacre in Orlando. | Compartí estas palabras con la comunidad de Madison durante una vigilia en honor a las víctimas de la reciente masacre en Orlando.


image1

Rainbow flag with the names of the victims of the Orlando massacre. | Arcoiris de banderas con los nombres de las víctimas de la masacre de Orlando.

Buenas tardes, y gracias por decir “presente” en esta vigilia de recordación de nuestros hermanos y hermanas en Orlando. Soy el Rvdo. J. Manny Santiago, director ejecutivo de “The Crossing” un ministerio ecuménico para estudiantes en la Universidad de Wisconsin – Madison. Estaré compartiendo con ustedes unas palabras en español y luego en inglés. | Good afternoon and thank you for being here at this vigil honoring the siblings we lost in Orlando. I am the Rev. J. Manny Santiago, Executive Director of The Crossing campus ministry at the UW-Madison. I will share some words in Spanish first and then in English.

Español

No es fácil para mí el encontrar las palabras para compartir con nuestra comunidad. Hay ocasiones en el ministerio cuando tragedias como la que hemos sufrido nos dejan así: sin palabras, con dolor, con furia y confusión. Al mismo tiempo, sabemos que necesitamos levantar nuestras voces, ya sea para animarnos los unos a los otros, para denunciar injusticias o, en ocasiones, hasta para cuestionar la bondad de Dios cuando solo que podemos ver es violencia y muerte. Todo eso es parte del proceso de duelo y nadie nos debe decir que no sintamos estas cosas. Para mí, he pasado por todas esas etapas en menos de una semana: he sentido dolor, rabia, miedo, confusión y hasta he cuestionado la bondad de Dios que sirvo.

¿Por qué? Pues porque la tragedia de Orlando me ha tocado muy de cerca. No solamente tengo familia en Orlando – algunos de los cuales asisten al Club Pulse de vez en cuando – sino que, igual que la mayoría de las víctimas, soy Latino, puertorriqueño y abiertamente gay. Sí, soy un hombre Latino, pastor y gay. Desde pequeño escuché que esas cosas no podrían vivir juntas en una sola persona. Ese discurso de odio y rechazo que escuché de pequeño en la Iglesia me llevó a cuestionar, no solo mi identidad, sino el mismo amor de Dios y mi familia. Hoy muchas personas – políticos, líderes religiosos, etc. – están tratando de borrar las identidades de las víctimas de la masacre de Orlando. No queremos reconocer que son personas LGBTQ, no queremos reconocer que en su mayoría eran Latinos, no queremos reconocer que había entre ellos personas sin documentos… Algunas personas incluso han intentado poner a nuestras comunidades Latinas o LGBTQ en contra de la comunidad Musulmana.

Para mí, como persona de fe, Latino, puertorriqueño, gay, quiero dejarle saber a todas las personas que estamos tratando de hacer sentido de la tragedia: no va a ser un proceso fácil. Necesitamos crear espacios para procesar el dolor, el miedo, e inclusive para cuestionar la bondad de Dios. Pero en ningún momento podemos dejar de luchar por la justicia, por la paz, por reformas legislativas que ayuden a las comunidades de minoría. Reconozcamos que, en especial en nuestras comunidades Latinas, es tiempo de rechazar el machismo, la homofobia, la violencia, el racismo, la islamofobia y el heterosexismo que tanto permea entre nosotros. Es tiempo de levantarnos en unidad, en honor a todas las victimas de tragedias como esta y decir: ¡BASTA!

Que el Dios que se revela de muchas formas y de muchos nombres nos llene de valor, de amor, de sabiduría y de paz para hacer el trabajo…

___

English

It is not easy for me to find the words to share with you today. There are moments in ministry when tragedies like the one we have just witnessed leave us like this: without words, in pain, furious, and confused. At the same time, we know that we must lift up our voices, whether to support each other, to denounce injustices and even, on occasion, to question God’s goodness when the only thing we can see is violence and death. All this is part of the mourning process and nobody should tell us that we should not have these feelings. As for me, I have gone through all of these stages in the past week: I have been in pain, furious, scared, confused, and yes, I have questioned God’s goodness.

Why? Because the tragedy in Orlando is too close to me. I have family in Orlando – some of whom frequent Pulse Club – but also because, like the majority of the victims, I am Latino, Puerto Rican and openly queer. Yes, I am a gay, Latino pastor. Since childhood I’ve heard that these things cannot coexist. This discourse of hatred and rejection that I heard in Church brought me to question, not only my identity as a human being, but also God’s and my family’s love towards me. Today, many people – politicians and religious leaders in particular – are trying to erase the many identities that the victims embodied. Many do not want to recognize that the victims where LGBTQ, they do not want to recognize that the victims were Latino, they don’t want to recognize that among them there were people without proper documentation to work in the USA… Some have even tried to put our LGBTQ and Latino communities against the Muslim community.

As for me, as a person of faith, as a Latino, a Puerto Rican, and gay, I want to make it clear to all: trying to make sense of this tragedy will not be easy. We must build spaces to process the pain, the fear, and even to question God’s goodness. But under no circumstances must we stop working for justice, for peace, and for legislative reforms that would support minority communities. We, Latinos, must recognize that it is time to reject our machismo, our homophobia, our worshiping of death and violence, our Islamophobia, our racism, and our heterosexism. It is time to rise up, together, in honor of these victims and all the other victims of past violence, and say: ENOUGH!

May the God who is revealed in many forms grant us courage, and love, and wisdom, and peace for the work ahead of us…

Leave a comment

Filed under Church, Culture, Dios, Español, ethnicity, familia, Gay, Heritage, Hispanics, Hispanos, Identidad, Identity, iglesia, immigration, justice, Latino, Lesbian, LGBTQ, ministry, Peace, Puerto Rico, Queer, race, racism, Teología, Theology, trans, United States, USA