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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

La comunidad comes together in Wisconsin

In the past few months, the GOP delegation in the Wisconsin state Assembly, in the hopes to support Governor Walker’s agenda of destroying the state, have been trying to pass anti-family and immoral legislation. They have already succeeded in making easier for big developers to contaminate our waters. We all know that they were pretty successful in stripping workers from their rights, preventing heads of households from securing a future for their children and other IMG_4862dependents. More recently, they have been trying to put students’ lives in danger by proposing to allow criminals to openly carry handguns and other firearms around university campuses and even into classrooms. Now, they are also coming after whole families: immigrants, people of color, and other groups that do not conform to the wealthy, white, WASP majority. Two proposed bills are now before the Assembly, to criminalize brown people just for being brown. The legislators swear is to “protect” the communities, but this is just code talking to say that brown peoples are not to be trusted and we must be controlled just as the police has been encouraged to control black people by threatening their lives.

Yesterday, February 18th, the Latinx comunidad from around the state came together in an unprecedented way to say ¡BASTA! People from all over the state came to Madison as the Assembly debated two pieces of anti-family legislation, to let the government and the larger Wisconsin community that our lives matter, that we will not stand idle as they try to destroy our families, and that we not a comunidad and a voz to be dismissed.

Politicians, especially Republican politicians, think that they can play with our lives as they wish. They have stood up against every single moral issue that prevents our lives from being taken from us. In fact, it has been their lack of moral character what has killed so many of us – on the fields, at the hands of police, on the farms and factories, in jail and in immigration detention centers… Their hands are tainted with the blood of thousand Latinxs, yet they keep thirsting for more. It is not enough for them to see our children suffer, our parents mourn, our youth are anxious… They are not satisfied with seeing our IMG_4859suffering, they also want us to completely disappear, just as we bring them water, and tea, and their meals; just as we clean their homes and cultivate their fields or milk their cows; just as we tend to their wounds, and teach their children, and run their businesses… It is not enough. Never enough! Brown bodies are to be disposed of as if we are trash. To this, our comunidad says ¡BASTA!

As I stood at the Capitol square with thousands and thousands of my hermanas y hermanos Latinxs and allies, I could not do anything else but be hopeful. I know that the fight is going to be long and arduous, but we are not going to keep silent. La raza es fuerte. Moreover, we are not as divided as they want others to believe. Yesterday, there were flags from all over Latin America because we know that this “divide and conquer” strategy is not going to work. We are ONE, and as such we will fight. As Calle 13 sings: “cuando más te confías las hormigas / te engañan atacan en equipo como las pirañas / aunque sean pequeñas gracias a la unión / todas juntas se convierten en camión.” We will rise and call out our ancestors, our guiding spirits and the power of the women and men who taught us how to fight and win.

To be there, in the presence of such a beautiful cloud of witnesses was a real blessing for me. It filled me with hope, knowing that I am not just one Puerto Rican fighting alone; I am a part of the great América, and we will stand together to reclaim what is rightly ours. La comunidad came together yesterday in Wisconsin, and we will stand and fight because it is the right thing to do.

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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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I Have An Accent… Get Over It!

It was the first board meeGlobe_of_languageting of the year for a large, international organization. As there were going to be new members for the board, it was needed to go around and introduce ourselves. There were people from the four nations where the organization has a presence plus individuals from other nations who reside in one of the four nations represented. Everyone was sharing their names, location, and their job. It was right there when it happened…

With no hint of irony in her voice, the white, middle age, college-educated woman states that she lives in one of the places that was taken first from the native inhabitants and then from the nation to the south. Proudly she tells her audience – an international audience – that she “teaches foreign students how to lose their accents so they can get jobs” in the United States. Yup. Right as you read it. Immigrants who had spent years of education, who probably speak more than one or even two languages, needed this woman’s help to lose their accents so they could get in with the system.

I looked around for the reaction of my fellow immigrants and non-white colleagues, and, unsurprisingly, we all cringed a little. What this woman was saying, unconsciously, is that our accents make us look dumb, uneducated and unprepared for the professional challenges that jobs in this country offer.

Not long ago, something similar happened to me as I was about to take a new position and someone suggested that the organization paid for a coach who would help me lose my accent. (Full disclosure: I was not informed of this until after I had accepted the position, which caused much pain as I worked there.)

The USA culture states that, no matter how ethnically diverse the country is, those of us who have kept our accents from our mother tongues do not quite belong. For some immigrant communities this has meant that their ancestors’ languages have been lost because the parents are worried their children might not be able to find work or succeed in life. Interestingly, the culture has also incorporated words from other languages into the US English. Think, for instance, about words such as Kindergarten (German), pierogi (Polish), mesa (Spanish), bouquet (French), Brooklyn (Dutch), finale (Italian), tycoon (Japanese) and shtick (Yiddish), just to name a few. Other languages are part of the US culture, but nobody wants to acknowledge it. Moreover, if those of us who emigrated here from other countries with a different language use our own languages to communicate or express ourselves in English with an accent, then we are scolded for it.

Yet, nobody pays attention or asks Australians, South Africans, Jamaicans, New Zealanders, Trinidadians or British to lose their accents. Why?

It is true that communication is extremely important in academic and professional settings. (The personal settings are a bit different due to the familiarity of the people involved.) However, our accents and language backgrounds should not dictate our – the immigrant’s – capabilities to do the work. Being able to speak a language different than English does not mean that we have less education, less knowledge or less professional abilities. It only means that our education was in a language that was comprehensible to us as we grew up and became professionals. In fact, nobody questions the intelligence of English-speakers when you come to our countries and often times refuse to learn at least basic phrases to communicate with the people who live there.

Here are three other things that US Americans need to understand about people who speak other languages. First, most of us do speak English. Our accents only mean that English is a second, third and sometimes even fourth language (I had a seminary professor for whom this was the case, where English was the fourth language he learned.) The use of English along our own mother tongues only points to the fact that we are bi- or multi-lingual. How many languages you, English-speaker, are able to read, understand and speak?

Second, the truth is that every chance we have, we use to learn how to pronounce words, how to expand our vocabulary, and how to find the correct way to use your language in all contexts. Have you thought how difficult it is for a foreigner who was only exposed to “proper” English to figure out some of the common idioms and day-to-day phrases of your language? Take, for instance, “cut the mustard”. I know what the verb “cut” is, and I know that “mustard” is a condiment. How in the world am I supposed to know that “cut the mustard” means “to succeed”?! My mental references for mustard do not even allow for cutting! Mustard, as a seed, is too small to be able to be cut, and as paste, there is no need to be cut as it spreads. Do you follow my thoughts? (There’s another one!) I can tell you, from my personal experience, that I even take time to listen and practice pronouncing a word over and over and over again trying to find the correct way to pronounce it.

Third, there is the issue of pronunciation and hearing. You, who grew up listening to words in your language all the time, might be able to catch the subtle difference between “leave”, “live” and “leaf” but, trust me; it all sounds exactly the same to me! I need to pay attention to the context in which you used these words to find which one you used. How hard it is for you to do the same exercise? All of this is tiring, but it is exactly what non-English speakers have to do every day of our lives in this country (and what English-speakers have to do every day if they live in countries outside of the English-speaking world.)

There are two final thoughts I want to share with all of you. First, is the issue of regional accents within the United States. Most people fret about and want to change the accent of foreigners, but you seldom hear about changing the accents of people from different regions within the country. There are not-too-small differences between the accents of an Alaskan, a West Virginian from the mountains, a person from Brooklyn and one from Massachusetts. Yet, nobody will dare recommending that we all come to an agreement about speaking with the same “standard” English accent. Why? Because there is no such thing as a standard accent in any language! All languages have regional differences! Hence the ridiculous idea of asking British, Jamaicans, Australians, South Africans and Trinidadians to change their accents… they all speak English with regionalisms and it is a matter of adapting our ears to those regionalisms in order to understand each other.

Finally, my accent is, to me, a point of pride. It tells me that I speak more than one language, that I am able to communicate with more people than mono-lingual persons, and that I bring with me to this country a history. It defines who I am at this moment of my life and it makes me feel part of the global community, not just of a small community of either people of the United States or people of Puerto Rico. I can drive through the northern border of the USA and make myself understand just as I can cross the southern border and still engage in conversations. (Unfortunately, I do not speak French; therefore any visit to Quebec would be an adventure… And one that I would gladly welcome!)

My best advice to those who complain about my accent, or about any accent for that matter? Get over it.

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Justin Beiber and “José Pérez”

Much has been said about Justin Bieber’s case. Unless you live under a rock, you probably already know that even CNN had to stop an important interview with a US Congresswoman in order to report about the Biebs’ arrest. There is much that can be said about the whole thing, but I want to focus my attention on the one thing that has been abuzz around Spanish media but completely ignored by the mainstream media: Justin Bieber’s immigration status.

That is right, my dear Bielevers… The Biebs is 100% foreigner. He’s an immigrant worker. Like Ted Cruz, maple syrup and socialized medical care, the Biebs comes from Canada! Living and working in the United States legally, Justin Bieber should still be bound by the immigration laws of the great United States. This means that, for his infractions (driving under the influence of alcohol and controlled substances, drag racing and resisting arrest) he should be placed on deportation proceedings. But of course, this is not possible to do with a white, English-speaking, rich, young man. These immigration laws and procedures only apply to brown-skinned, middle-class, poor, and non-English-speaking residents.

Imagine for a second that the person arrested was not Bieber, but José Pérez (these being the most common first and last names throughout the Spanish-speaking world.) Imagine if a hard-working, young, Hispanic male was arrested for DUI, drag racing and resisting arrest on the streets of Miami? And I am not going to say an undocumented immigrant; but a legal resident. Someone who entered the country legally – say from Colombia or Venezuela, which are the two largest non-Cuban communities in Miami. What would have happened? Certainly, not a $2,500 fine and a slap on the wrist. If José Pérez had been caught on this situation, his family would be visiting him at the Glades County Detention Center right now, waiting for a judge to set a hearing, and certain that his legal residency status would be revoked and he would be deported. José Pérez’s family would be scrambling and trying to find the money for the onerous fine imposed by the judge while visiting a few dozen lawyers trying to find who would give them the chance to pay on installments. José Pérez would not be waving at his fans from the roof of a limo while surrounded by bodyguards, but rather waving at his children from inside a federal vehicle who will be transporting him from one detention center to another while a judge decides when to grant him a hearing.

This is what is wrong with the system. This immigration system works pretty well for the wealthy, white, English-speaking immigrant like Bieber. But it is hell for the one that is “the other.” Every day, thousands of men and women of all ages are placed on deportation procedures for less than what Bieber did. Yet, he walks out with a big smile and the certainty that no one will do anything against him. Why? Why are we allowing this system to continue? Why do we have these double standards in immigration? And when are we going to acknowledge that the current system does not work and needs to be fixed?

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Las Manos de Dios Are Working for Immigration Reform

Does your church know you are here?” Before we introduced each other, this was the first question I got from a Latina activist.

ImageI was participating of a demonstration for immigration reform in Seattle. A few minutes after I arrived, I met this mother of two who was holding one of the signs and started a conversation with her. I shared that I was the pastor of a Baptist church in town. She looked at me surprised and asked the question above.

It turns out that, as this mujer activista told me, every time her organization approaches an iglesia evangélica Latina, they are turned away. She said that the most common excuse is, “Nosotros dejamos esos asuntos en manos de Dios.

Since I have been working on (mostly) Anglo congregations for most of my parish ministry, I had no idea that this was the current situation among Latino Protestant communities. (I have to say that most of the Latino congregations active on issues of immigration in Washington State are indeed Roman Catholic parishes.) It certainly pained me to hear the experience of this mujer. I assured her that my parish and indeed my denomination, the American Baptist Churches, USA support comprehensive immigration reform.

Standing by the side of this mujer y sus hij@s, holding a banner and chanting, was indeed a spiritual experience for me. How come other Latin@ evangelic@s are not praying in this way? I met Jesucristo yesterday at this demonstration. How come are there churches refusing to meet him? As the saying goes, “A Dios orando y con el mazo dando.” I cannot pray to God while at the same time sit idle to wait for the Spirit to “do” what I ought to do. In fact, I believe that the Spirit moves me to work for this! After all, I was taught that I am las manos de Dios! 

Por

J. Manny Santiago

Seattle, WA 

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