Tag Archives: women

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.

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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

I Have No More Tears Today

Oh, no! She sits alone, the city that was once full of people.                     Once great among nations, she has become like a widow.                  Once a queen over provinces, she has become a slave.                             She weeps bitterly in the night, her tears on her cheek.                           None of her lovers comfort her. All her friends lied to her;                   they have become her enemies.                                                                          Lamentations 1.1-2

I have no more tears today. I have cried since last night.

I have cried for the future of my family.
I have cried over the prospect of having a Supreme Court that will undo my marriage, and with it, all the protections that my immigrant spouse has.
I have cried for the well-being of my niece and nephew whose parents might be taken away from them.
downloadI have cried for my other relatives who live and work and contribute to the economy of this country while not being able to access proper documentation.
I have cried for the prospect of my own, Congress-imposed US citizenship been revoked with no other alternative to fall back on.

I have cried for my friends.
I have cried for my gay, lesbian and bisexual friends whose rights are now at the hands of vice-president elect Pence, who has done all in his power to strip LGB Indianans of their rights.
I have cried for my transgender siblings whose lives are placed in great danger due to the same vice-president elect and his antics.
I have cried for the many women I know – young and old – whose safety is not guaranteed anymore as a sexual predator takes over the highest elected position in this country, thus giving permission to other predators to “grab”, to touch, to violate their beings.
I have cried for the workers of this country, whose wages are going to be frozen for decades to come and whose jobs are not guaranteed anymore as they are being shipped overseas as the president-elect has done with all the other bankrupt businesses he has run.
I have cried for the poor and sick who could barely access healthcare and had a last fighting chance with the soon-to-be-overthrown Affordable Care Act.

I have cried for humanity.
I have cried for the black community whose safety – which has never been guaranteed – will now face “stop and frisk” experiences with the proposed changes in law and order.
I have cried for the Native American communities whose ancestral lands will be desecrated without impunity.
I have cried with the immigrants and refugees who will no longer find relative safety in this country nor will they be welcomed to access it anymore.
I have cried with those of us who practice some form of faith – whether Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, or any other – whose religious liberties will be at the whim of the far-right Evangelical Christian camp that will dominate this fascist regime.
I have cried for the environment and all the relentless desecration that will occur.
I have cried for all the people of all the countries that the president-elect has promised to destroy making use of the military forces that are now under his control.
I have cried for all the children who will not be safe any longer for a generation or two as laws protecting them will be revoked.

I have no more tears today. The only thing that I still hold on to is the hope that the fascist government ahead will help this country wake up from its deep slumber and that it will shake it to its core as to make it see how terrifying the near future looks like.

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November 9, 2016 · 10:59 am

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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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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Ministry Errors: Not the First of Many that Have Been Made and that Will Come…

(NOTE: This is a really hastily written post… so, please forgive me this one! Thank you!)

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If you are a minister and you are not full of yourself – which unfortunately, happens a lot – you must know that we, pastors, preachers, ministers, priests, church leaders, make lots of mistakes. Here is something that happened to me recently and that I thought appropriate to share. This is not the first mistake I have made, nor will it be the last. I know this because, well, I am human and we all make mistakes. But I have been thinking a lot about this one and decided that it was good to write about it.

On Tuesday, the first email I sat down to write went something like this:

“Dear X, I am so sorry for my attitude on Saturday. I was rude to you in my response to your question, and for that, I am truly sorry. I am not opposed to join you and others [in the project the person had asked me to join.] But my way of answering you was not the appropriate way of letting you know how I felt, and for that I ask your forgiveness.”

The note continued with some other details on the project I had been asked to be part of and on how I wanted to be involved.

I kept thinking about my reaction to this person. What was I thinking when I answered her question so rudely?!

You see, we all make mistakes. We all get caught in the moment and let our feelings take the best of us. In this case, when I was asked about participating of this specific project, the “asking” was more of a “command.” I had not really been invited as been signed up without even knowing it! That, of course, caught me off guard and I didn’t quite like it. But – and here is where my mistake came in – my feelings had nothing to do with this person! She was not even the one in charge of the task. Instead, she was just the “messenger” if you will. She had informed me of my being on that assignment, but she had no idea what was behind it or how I got on the list of “volunteers.” My reaction to her was wrong. Period. I was rude in the way I responded her question when she approached me. I was also caught on some systemic flaws that I have fought for decades and yet I was replicating! This is what brought me to write about this experience.

Here is the problem. I am a Latino/Hispanic, openly gay, Protestant (which within my own cultural milieu is a minority) member of the clergy who grew up as the child of a poor family. I have been a minority my whole life! Yet, I too have power in certain circumstances. In fact, my own culture tells me that, because I am a man I am more entitled to things than the women around me. Moreover, my culture also tells me that, as a member of the clergy, I am above those who are not clergy. The larger American culture tells me that, because I have two graduate degrees, I am entitled to more power than those who do not have graduate degrees…

In my conversation with this woman, some of those positions of privilege came into place. She serves as the assistant to a colleague and she is a woman. My biases – which I try to overcome every day – made me approach her from a place of power on my side. I made assumptions about what her “role” ought to have been and how she should have approached me. It did not occur to me that in my interaction I was actually falling for those powers-that-be which have also oppressed me! I was being sexist, elitist and classist. I was using my privilege in our context to belittle her. That, of course, was wrong.

But here is the great news… Because of my own experience with oppression in many different forms, and because I have worked really hard in recognizing where I have been the oppressor, I was able to see my mistakes during this interaction. Moreover, I also realized that I had to apologize for my rudeness during our interaction.

Talking in theological terms, I can say that the experience reminded me that indeed none of us is free of sin. However, the important thing is not to just recognize it, but also amend our actions, ask for forgiveness and commit ourselves not to sin anymore. A friend and theologian and ethicist, Dr. Valerie Dixon, taught me once that we all are both oppressed and oppressors. Valerie always reminds us that oppression has many overtones and that we have to be always mindful and recognize when we are being oppressed or when we are using our own power – whatever that power might be or wherever that power might come from – to oppress others.

After I sent her my note, I received a reply from her with kind words. She also understood my concerns regarding the task I was assigned/volunteered, and she also let the door open for more conversations and more collaboration, in spite of my having been a jerk to her! (What a relief!)

We all are humans. We all make mistakes. But I am grateful that my experiences of making mistakes have helped me grow as a human being and as a minister. I look forward to continue working on my mistakes, on amending them, on “sinning no more” and on building a better environment for everyone around me.

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