Tag Archives: Hispanic

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

 

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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

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

What Will Come…

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(I wrote this poem as a reaction to the recent events of terror and homophobia that have taken from us 49 of our siblings in the city of Orlando, FL.)

What will come
When the lights of the candles are extinguished
When the rage of the moment has passed
When the strength we have found
In community tonight
Has faded into the memory land

What will come
When the queers are once more
Pushed into hiding
When our voices are
Once more overwhelmed
By the money and power
Of the radical hate

What will come
When our tears are silenced
And when our pain is ignored
And when our strength faints
And our wounds are too deep but forgotten

What will happen
When the deafening silence
Of our so-called allies
Becomes once again
The norm

What will happen
When the prayers are fading
When the hugs are no more
When the lights are shut down
And the cold of the night
Overcomes our fickle souls
When the next attention-grabbing
Political squabble
Erases forever
The names and the faces
Of the saints that lay down
In a desecrated sanctuary
That our kisses once housed

What will happen
Once that all is forgotten
Once that their names are not mentioned
For ever no more

What will happen
When I will look at the mirror
And realized once again
That this is not the largest
Nor the last of them
Violence
Against people like me

What will happen
Tomorrow
I wonder
What will happen
I dream.

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“What Are You?” – The Reality of Intersectional Identities

“What are you?” If you are a person of color, a person of non-white ethnic background, a practitioner of a non-Christian faith, or someone who does not follow conventional gender roles or expression, it is very likely that you have heard this question multiple times throughout your life. Heck! You might have heard this question multiple times just today! For some reason or another we all want to know where others “belong” – what tribe each person is a part of. Although I do not have scientific evidence to say this – it is a blog page after all, not my dissertation page – I believe we do this as a survival strategy; finding groups of people who will support each other in order to thrive, survive and protect each other based on the commonalities we share. However, we are humans. With being human comes the complexities of relationships and what it means to be in relation with each other, even those with whom we disagree.

intersectionality“What are you?” is, then, the amalgam of the identities we espouse and embody. These are identities that we have chosen and identities that are inherent to our being. The problem comes with the way in which the question is posed. Humans are not things. We are a very complex animal with both physiological and psychological characteristics. The integration of these characteristics is what makes us unique in the animal realm. Humans can overcome our desire to associate by tribe – or herd, or school, or pack, or whatever we call the different groups of animals that exist – precisely because we can answer the question “what are you?” Yet, the answer to this question is not an “it is” but an “I am”. In using this form of recognition of the self – something that other animals lack – we acknowledge that we are more than just our instincts.

Humans are the intersectionalities of our identities. These identities converge in order to create complex realities that define WHO – not “WHAT” – we are. I am… Puerto Rican, male, queer, cleric, cisgender, Latino, middleclass, a professional, Protestant, writer, advocate, light-skinned, etc. Each one of these identities reflects a part of who I am. Each one of these identities as well as when I choose to use them also reflect my values and what I treasure the most. Note, for instance, that I often identify as Puerto Rican first and foremost. This part of my identity is so crucial to my being that I cannot just ignore it or place it at the end of the list. With it come a whole lot of other realities that define what it means to be “Puerto Rican”. The context in which I experienced my Puerto Ricanness – growing up in the mountains, with a stable household, eldest son of a married couple, living in a coffee farm, Spanish speaker, exposed to the USA’s cultural realities while also keeping the history of a former Spaniard island possession, etc. – informs this part of my identity. Yet, my “self” is not complete without the interaction of the myriad other identities I embody or have chosen for myself.

Our realities are always intersections of the many identities we carry within ourselves. There are times when those identities are messy and even in contradiction with each other. Yet, this is part of the human experience. What makes us human is the capacity to navigate these apparent contradictions in a way that makes sense to US individually. What do I care about what others say about me? They cannot experience my identity the way I do, nor can I experience their identity the way each one of them does. My only responsibility is to try to acknowledge these differences and honor them by recognizing that each person’s multiple identities and how they converge are none of my business.

There is one aspect of the intersectionality of identities that is crucial, especially when it comes to living in a multi-everything society. Solidarity.

Solidarity is the ability to stand by the side of those who suffer because one or more aspects of their identities. Solidarity is recognizing that one or more parts of our identities might be attacked by others who do not understand the beauty of diversity. Solidarity is being wise enough to recognize that our lives are always being intertwined in such a way that the fight for justice is never to be done in isolation. As Blessed Martin Luther King taught us: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” If we do not see how the many identities we carry are intrinsically connected with the multiple identities of others, we will lose sight of the fight for justice and liberation.

There is no doubt that the question “what are you?” will continue to be a part of the daily experience of many of us. As a theologian, I like to reflect on the way in which the God of the Bible addressed this question when it was posed to God. According to the story found in Exodus, when Moses met God for the first time, he asked God whom should he say that send him to liberate God’s people. God’s answer was straightforward: I AM. That’s it! I am… You are, and others are too. It is in this present “being” that we can find commonalities in the midst of so many intersectional realities that make us who we are. Thus, the next time someone asks you “what are you?”, just answer: I AM.

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Recuerdos del Día de Reyes Magos

Me parece que en la adultez, todas las historias que contamos comienzan con las mismas palabras: “recuerdo cuando era pequeño…” Quizás es porque las memorias son lo único que nos quedan de días pasados; días que, si no mejores – porque ningún tiempo pasado fue mejor, sino que es mejor solo el recuerdo – por lo menos fueron suficientemente gratos para guardar en algún rincón de nuestras mentes.

Esta historia también comienza como las demás. Recuerdo cuando era pequeño la gran emoción que el Día de los Reyes Magos traía consigo. Recuerdo la noche anterior, cuando en aquella casita con los bloques de cemento expuestos, la que nunca se terminó de construir y quedaba en medio de los cafetales del barrio Guayabo Dulce de Adjuntas, mi hermana y yo salíamos a recoger la yerba pa’ los camellos. Recuerdo cuando pasábamos bastante tiempo buscando esa yerba, porque tenía que ser la mejor. Después de todo, los Reyes y sus camellos venían del Lejano Oriente. Me enteré, en alguna conversación con mi mamá, que “Lejano Oriente” era Arabia. Recuerdo también que no tenía idea de qué significaban esas cosas, pero el mismo nombre del lugar del cual venían los Reyes decía que era lejano, así que entendía que tanto camellos como reyes habrían de estar hambrientos cuando llegaran a tan remoto lugar de la Isla. Lo que no recuerdo es el por qué solo poníamos yerba pa’ los camellos pero nunca le dejamos nada a los reyes. “Son magos” imagino que diría mi mamá. Con magia no se necesita comer, me imagino.

Recuerdo que llegando noviembre ya buscábamos la mejor caja de zapatos para poner la yerba de los camellos. Recuerdo que siempre tenía que ser una caja de zapatos aunque no recuerdo el por qué. Como sabemos, los recuerdos son selectivos. Recordamos aquello que nos interesa recordar. Aun así, recordamos aquello que nos interesa de la manera que nos interesa.

Recuerdo que la noche anterior al Día de Reyes, dejábamos las cajitas de zapatos debajo de la cama que alguna vez fue cuna, pero ya no tenía las barras de los lados que me mantuvieron seguro cuando todavía la cama funcionaba como cuna. Teníamos la ilusión de que los Reyes trajeran algo; que dejaran sus preciados regalos debajo de la cama y que nos sorprendieran con aquello que habíamos pedido. Recuerdo que mis listas siempre incluían lo siguiente: libros, pintura, una enciclopedia, un microscopio, una colección de rocas, algún cuadro de un pintor puertorriqueño famoso (en aquellos tiempos todavía no era feminista y solo pedía cosas hechas por hombres. Fue hasta mucho después que descubrí que las mujeres también pintaban, también escribían, también volaban a la luna…)

Recuerdo también que el Día de Reyes me despertaba emocionado y al mirar debajo de la cama, siempre había algo. Recuerdo que nunca lo que hubo debajo de la cama era lo que pedía; nunca encontré un libro, un cuadro o un microscopio. Recuerdo que la ilusión no se detenía y a pesar de que lo que llegaba no era lo que pedía, me sentía especial porque los Reyes Magos no se olvidaron de mí y de mi hermana. ¡Siempre llegaba algo! Recuerdo que la mayoría de las veces, lo que nos llegaban eran simples regalos que habíamos visto en alguna vitrina de las tiendas de Yauco cuando visitábamos a madrina Carmita y a titi Betsy. ¿Cómo sabían los reyes comparar en esas tiendas? ¿Cómo nadie nunca los veía recorrer el Paseo del Café en el centro del pueblo? Nunca se me ocurrió preguntar; o quizás pregunté pero no recuerdo.

Recuerdo también que el Día de Reyes, luego de abrir nuestros regalos y de compartir la emoción, nos montábamos en cualquiera que fuera el carro que mi papá tenía esa semana y nos dirigíamos al barrio Guayo, a casa de mi abuelo Quino y mi abuela Margot. Allí, junto a mis primas y primos, esperábamos por la cabalgata de Reyes Magos que siempre pasaba por la casa. Era parte de su ruta hacia el parque en Castañer, donde el Hospital General recibiría a todo el niñerío de Castañer para repartir regalos y dulces y para que disfrutáramos de este día mágico. Recuerdo que cuando los Reyes cabalgaban frente a casa de abuela y abuelo, nos tiraban dulces desde sus caballos. ¡Qué emoción sentíamos! ¡Qué maravilla el ver los Reyes, los Tres Santos Reyes Melchor, Gaspar y Baltazar, pasar justo frente a casa de abuelo y abuela! La cabalgata seguía por la carretera paralela al río Guayo, la misma carretera que pasaba por el Hospital Viejo y que llegaba al puente Cifontes y cruzaba de Adjuntas a tierras de Lares. Recuerdo cómo en ocasiones seguíamos la cabalgata hasta el parque de béisbol en Castañer. En ese tiempo no había plaza pública en el poblado, solo unos inmensos árboles de maga entre la escuela elemental y las tiendas del otro lado.

Recuerdo cómo nos arremolinábamos para recoger nuestros regalos de Reyes Magos del camión que el Hospital rentaba para traerlos. No había una niña o un niño en Castañer que se quedara sin regalo. En un poblado tan pequeño, todo el mundo se conoce y Mingo Monroig, el administrador del hospital, conocía cada familia, cada niña, cada niño y adolescente de Castañer. Recuerdo que después que los regalos se repartían, empezaba la música y el jolgorio, porque las Navidades no han terminado todavía el 6 de enero. ¡Qué va! Las Navidades están en todo su esplendor todavía y después del Día de Reyes vienen las Octavitas y continúan las parrandas. Recuerdo cómo seguíamos jugando con nuestros juguetes por varios días. Recuerdo que la escuela no comenzaba sino hasta mediados de enero porque había que darle espacio al estudiantado a jugar con sus regalos de Reyes Magos.

Ahora, también recuerdo cuando todo comenzó a cambiar… Pero esos son recuerdos que prefiero no tener hoy. Hoy, seguiré recordando el Día de Reyes Magos con la ilusión del niño que fui y que todavía se emociona cada vez que viene el 6 de enero. Seguiré recordando los regalos y la yerba y los primos y la familia y la cabalgata y el parque lleno de bache donde celebrábamos. Seguiré recordando a Guayabo Dulce y a Guayo y a Castañer. Seguiré recordando los cafetales y el rio Guayo y el puente Cifontes y la casita sin terminar y la cuna convertida en cama. Seguiré recordando que el Día de Reyes es mi día favorito del año y el que más me gusta de las Navidades. Seguiré recordando que, aunque esté lejos y ya no tengo ni tiempo de celebrar este día, el Día de Reyes Magos me hace el boricua que soy.

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Obama’s Weak and Timid Immigration (In)Action

On November 20th, President Obama announced executive actions regarding immigration. The provision has been called “the right thing to do”, “timely” and even “bold” by individuals and organizations that portray themselves a progressive. The reality, however, is different. The recent executive action is not even close to the comprehensive reform that is sorely needed by the immigrant communities in the United States. Certainly is not timely, as the President had the chance to act on comprehensive reform when he promised, immediately after his reelection in 2012. Finally, the recent executive action is far from being bold; the action is timid and weak.

According to some experts, about 5 million immigrants will benefit from the executive action. The program has five main focus areas: expansion of the previous Deferred Action Program (DACA) for DREAMERS, allow parents of US citizens to stay in the country for up to three years without fear of deportation, expanding the waiver program that was already in place for unlawful residents, modernizing and clarifying immigrant programs, and promoting citizenship education. Of these areas, two are the most contentious: the expand of the Deferred Action and allowing parents of US citizens to stay in the country for up to three years with a provisional work permit.ImmigrationReformPassedinSenate062813

These actions, while might look like a dim light at the end of a very dark tunnel, need to be taken very seriously and with a grain of salt. Why? These programs are creating large, federal databases with enough information on undocumented residents which can be easily accessed by future administrations that might not be fond of immigrants. Currently, and up to the Election Day on 2016, there is a 50/50 chance of a Republican takeover of the White House. If the Republican candidate runs on the same platform that the party has espoused so far, this means that 5 million undocumented residents will be at the will of a hostile president who might take action in deporting them. We must remember that Obama’s executive action has a three year lifespan. This is well into the administration of the next US President, whoever that person might be.

Moreover, the executive action affects less than half of the total undocumented immigrant community. During a conversation with my spouse, who has lived in the USA without documentation for the past 11 years, we wondered what was going to happen to most of our family. Would they be able to apply for the executive action? What about our friends? The answers were not what we needed or wanted to hear. Only one member of our family, whose son is a US citizen, will qualify for this executive action. Others, such as an uncle who has lived in this country, paid local and federal taxes, worked and invest in the local economy for the past 12 years, would not be able to qualify for the mere reason of not having any children born in the USA. In addition, our friends who are gay or lesbian, who have no children and many of whom never thought of having children, but who have lived in the USA for most of their lives, will not qualify for Obama’s executive action. How can such an action be called “bold”?

Indeed, Obama’s executive action on immigration is weak, timid, and comes with too many risks for the undocumented community. It will be extremely important for undocumented residents to explore what options are best for them. Three years of a temporary work permit, with the possibility of deportation at the end of that time, might not be the wisest movement for many undocumented residents.

There is one thing, however, that has been made clear throughout this process: Obama and his advisors are good politicians. He decided not to push for comprehensive immigration reform before the mid-term elections, thinking that this would give them advantage with the conservative-leaning undecided voters. Somehow, he and the Democrats took for granted the support of minority voters. That, as we have already seen, backfired. By presenting this weak and timid executive action, he hopes to get back the support of the left-leaning voters while at the same time look like a “champion” of the immigrant communities. Of course, the Republican Congress is going to do everything in their power to minimize the effects of this executive order, which will make them look like “the bad guys”, which is exactly what Obama and his party needed to win the next general election. Basically, Obama and the Democrats are using the immigrant community as a weapon in their dirty political game.

Add to this what I have already experienced: the resistance of the – mostly white – liberal voters to acknowledge that Messiah Obama cannot do anything wrong. I have already received messages from friends and acquaintances that ask me to stop criticizing the President’s actions lest the “right” use that as a weapon against all the other positive things that President Obama has accomplished.

But I cannot keep silent. My role in a semi-democratic society like ours is to raise my voice when I see unjust actions that affect those who have no voice within the political structures. The role of any citizen is to keep their government checked lest it lose sight of its responsibility: to look after the wellbeing of all of the people. Just because President Obama has accomplished many great things during his tenure does not mean that I need to stay silent when he does wrong. On the contrary, it is my civil responsibility to call on the government officials who represent me to act according to what is the wellbeing of all my fellow citizens.

Finally, with the reaction I have seen from the – mostly non-immigrant, and mostly white – liberal community, it is my fear that pressure on the Obama administration to proceed with comprehensive immigration reform might wane. It seems to me like the progressive voice has, once again, fall trapped of the “Obama charisma and speech” and is willing to compromise the lives of the other 6+ million undocumented residents who will not qualify for this executive action. If the progressive voice is not heard anymore, neither Democrats nor Republicans will feel the need to move boldly on immigration reform. We have already seen how every progressive voice has been praising Obama for his weak and timid action, calling it “bold” when in reality is not even close to be so. I do not want to be the kind of citizen that serves as a rubberstamp for the political leaders I do support. What I want to be is a responsible citizen who is willing to criticize the wrong actions of any political leader, even if I agree with them in most of the policies that they support.

Mr. President, we need you to take BOLD action on immigration reform. Mr. President, we need you to ACT on immigration reform and not just use our immigrant communities as political weapons. Mr. President, we need you to BE A LEADER and not just a politician. The lives of over 11 million people who live and contribute to this country depend on you.

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Why I Vote

i-votedThere are people in the United States, especially those – usually young, and white, and from middle and upper middle classes – that espouse “anarchist” and “leftist” views, who say that voting is a waste of time. Why should we vote if the candidates all have the same platforms? Candidates all work for the same corporate interests and look only after their own kind. Why bother with voting?

I do not disagree that many, if not most, candidates are just clones one of the other. However, for me it is still important to cast my vote. Why? Because of whom I am.
It is easy to dismiss your right to vote when you are white, or young, or male, or rich, or educated, or healthy… or any combination thereof. It is easy to dismiss the electoral process and complain about politicians and their work while not wanting to be part of the process. I understand the frustration, because I have felt it myself at times. But when you are not part of the majority, your vote is extremely important.

This is why I vote: because I am not white, because I am not straight, because I am not rich, because I am an immigrant, because my first language is not English, because my spouse can’t vote, because I am a feminist, because I am a progressive, because I am a person of faith, because I am not willing to let others dictate what I think is best for me… Voting allows me to reclaim my space in the public square. Voting allows me to stand up and say that I am part of the process even when the majority of those in power do not want to recognize my mere existence. Voting allows me to stand up for what I believe, even when the politicians making the decisions are those I voted for!

No candidate and elected official are going to share all of my values. However, I feel empowered to raise my voice when I vote. I can tell those politicians and elected officials that I have the power that the US Constitution grants me and I will make use of that power. Voting is not the “fix-all” solution. It is not perfect and it is not going to make the government work exactly as it should. But, when you are not part of the majority it is extremely important to show up at the voting booth (or to mail in your ballot!)

I vote because I am not white, because I am not straight, because I am not rich, because I am an immigrant, because my first language is not English, because my spouse can’t vote, because I am a feminist, because I am a progressive, because I am a person of faith, because I am not willing to let others dictate what I think is best for me…

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Yes, I Am Mad as Hell!

A few years ago, while working on a predominantly white environment, I experience much racially and ethnically based discrimination. Some of this discrimination came in the form of what scholars now call “microaggressions”, while other was more overt such as questioning my abilities, my qualifications for the job or the like solely based on my ethnicity and accent. For some time I just shrugged it off as ignorance and lack of education on the part of the people who did it. At the same time, I would do an effort to educate.

fist-md However, the discrimination continued. Not only that, but I started to meet with other people of color who were also involved with this organization and heard their own stories of rejection, discrimination and paternalistic attitudes towards them because of their national origin, their accents, their skin color and the like. The pressure continued to mount inside me. I felt like a pressure cooker… until it exploded. The event that marked my anger explosion was the murder of Trayvon Martin in Florida.

Trayvon Martin’s untimely death and its circumstances touched me in a way that I was not expecting. However, many things coalesced at once. On the one hand, another young, unarmed, black human being was being gunned down for no reason. On the other hand, the murderer was a white, Hispanic man who had let his white-privilege rule his life and how he connected with the world around him. Listening and reading the reports of this tragic death, made me even angrier. The media outlets could not grasp the idea that a Hispanic person could possibly be the perpetrator of a racial crime. They also had troubles understanding the complexities of race within the Hispanic communities. But more than that, they totally misunderstood the intricate layers of relationships among the different minority groups in the United States. All of this was too much for me at the time; and I exploded in rage.

I was mad – still am. For years I had tried to understand the historical realities that have made the United States the dangerous place for people of color that this country is today. I had tried to understand that not all white people were responsible for racism. I had tried to justify many actions of racism as ignorance and lack of education on the perpetrators. I had tried to understand that my own Hispanic community was dealing with our own prejudices on top of being the target of discrimination. I had tried and tried and tried to understand and keep my composure. But I could not do it any longer.

At some point I shared my feelings with the community. I told them how it was tiring to be trying all the time to make people understand that we – people in the minority – were not the enemy. I was getting tired of being an educator at all times. I was getting tired of pretending that the words and the actions of white people didn’t hurt me. I was getting tired of pretending that I was going to understand their historical and sociological circumstance. I was getting tired… and this feeling was making me mad and angry.

As I look around and see that things have not changed a bit since the murder of Trayvon, and that black human beings continue to be murdered and their assassins walk free… As I look around and notice that other members of minority groups stay silent… As I look around and notice that the white “supporters” keep calling for what I call a “Kumbayah moment” without acknowledging the centuries of oppression that have brought us to this place… As I look around and see that even the President keeps silence when everyone is waiting for him to talk, to speak up, to raise his voice and use his power… As I look around and notice that the violence on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri are becoming just another excuse for the white majority to justify their oppression… As I look around and continue to notice all of this oppression… the only thing I can say is that I am fucking mad as hell!

Yes. Yes, I am mad. It is not a rage that started yesterday or the day before or the day I experienced racism at that institution I mentioned earlier. It is a rage that comes from a deeper, way deeper place. It is a rage that comes from fourteen years of living in a country that treats me as less than my white counterparts. It is a rage that comes the time that my country was invaded by a white, US navy that tried to impose on my ancestors their language, their religion, their way of life. It is a rage that comes from knowing that half of this country was built on lies and stealing from the natives peoples and when that was not enough, of the other settlers who lived there and spoke my language and shared my customs. It is a rage that comes from knowing that millions of my sisters and brothers’ ancestors – and I am sure mine too – were forced out of their Motherland to be brought here in chains and by force. It is a rage that comes from all the rage accumulated throughout the centuries… throughout the generations… throughout the ancestors who still live in me and within me… Yes, we are mad, and yes, we are going to continue being angry for as long as it takes for the systems to change. And yes, that anger is going to be at times violent and at times peaceful. But I do not care anymore about what the white majority thinks of my anger. I don’t care about what my Hispanic community thinks of the anger that makes me be in solidarity with my black sisters and brothers. I don’t care that my white friends – even those who are close to me and whom I love – hear me saying that I often doubt their good intentions.

I am mad as hell, and I am not going to apologize for it.

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Filed under Black, Culture, discrimination, ethnicity, Hispanics, History, justice, Latino, Peace, race, racism, Sociology, United States