Recently a groundswell of books and publications on the subject of Latino theology and spirituality has paralleled the resurgence of Latino works of literature. As the number of Latinos in the United States surged in the 1980s, so did interest in the life of the community. Important books by pioneering Latino theologians such as Virgilio Elizondo, Allan Figueroa Deck, S.J., Justo L. Gonzalez, Ada María Isasi-Díaz, Andres G. Guerrero, and Moisés Sandoval have opened the door into this rich vein of theology.
The Journal of Hispanic/Latino Theology, a quarterly journal published by The Academy of Catholic Hispanic Theologians of the United States (ACHTUS), seeks to provide a forum for Latino theologians to define themselves in a society that has often attempted to impose definitions upon them. Virgilio Elizondo writes, "Others had been telling us who we were. Nobody had bothered to ask us, `Who are you?' This was the very root of our oppression."
Seeking to escape from the tokenism many Latino theologians feel at play when trying to publish papers in mainstream scholarly publications, The Journal examines "European patriarchal Christianity and Roman Catholicism" in the light of "the imperatives posed by our indigenous and mestizo peoples," declaring the subject of Latino theology as the people themselves. Adopting a "liberative praxis," the object of Latino theology can be seen as the God that is discovered in the worldview of Latino communities and named through their experiences.
The Journal has published works on mujerista (womanist) theology, the history of Guadalupe celebrations in Texas, sources and loci for Hispanic theology, and a Latino epistemology on suffering. Contributors to the journal include both Latinos and non-Latinos, Catholics and Protestants. The journal should also be noted for its emphasis on Latina feminist theology.
The hope is that this journal will legitimize Latino theology and bring it recognition not simply as an ethnic field of specialization but as a contribution to the greater understanding of God's work in the wider church. The recent "blooming" of this work, as the Jesuit Allan Figueroa Deck writes, points toward an era of "'critical mass' of Latino theologians and Latino thought."
THE HEART OF LATINO spirituality-like the heart of any spirituality-is mystical and experiential in nature. We have found God more often in our kitchens and around our dining room tables than we have in books or seminary classrooms. As the knowledge and shaping of one's own history creates a unique political and social people, so through the recognition of the unique spirituality of a community does the group discover its place in the community of God on Earth.
Part of the reason the current Pentecostal revival has taken such hold in the Latino community-especially among immigrants-is that those who live on the border of society are more apt to find God involved in the midst of their daily lives-including the constant surge and flow of their emotional lives-than those who understand God through the light of intellectual knowledge alone. To those who know God, Jesus, and the Spirit as active companions and participants in our every move, the ecstatic expressionism of Pentecostals seems to be a most proper response.
Eldin Villafañe's The Liberating Spirit: Toward an Hispanic American Pentecostal Social Ethic offers a thorough and analytical examination of the Pentecostal movement in the Latino community from the unique perspective of its influence as a force for social change. Although The Liberating Spirit was written for an academic audience, lay people who seek insight into the Pentecostal movement, which theologian Harvey Cox calls "the most vital expression of Christianity in the world today," would also benefit from it. As Villafañe notes, Pentecos-tals aren't traditionally known for their scholarly work in ethics. But the movement in minority communities has long stressed establishing structures to meet the needs of the poor among them. Pente-costals, since the beginning of the movement, have emphasized not only the gifts of the Spirit, but also the vision of inclusive human community existing in the love of Christ.
The Pentecostal movement began in 1906 at the Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles under the leadership of African-American pastor William J. Seymour. With an emphasis on the direct manifestation of the Spirit in the lives of believers (in the form of speaking in tongues, healings, and the power to radically turn one's life around), the movement quickly drew those left at the margins of a society that was rapidly becoming more urban and industrialized. It was no surprise then that Latinos-feeling increasing oppression from the white population explosion in Southern California at the time-were part of the revival.
In the following decades, Latino Pentecostals made great contributions to urban ministry in the United States. Though unknown to the wider church, women and men like "Mama Leo," John Gimenez, and Rev. Ricardo Tañon revolutionized methods to minister to drug addicts, alcoholics, and others among the most forgotten on our city streets.
Villafañe's insight into the way storefront churches, soup kitchens, and after-school programs provide a priestly function of sacralizing the barrio-merely by their presence-is an encouragement to those of us who struggle in small urban ministries. He sees these small ministries, often arising from minority congregations, as prophetic signs to the principalities and powers, to other congregations that have left or refuse to come into the inner city, to urban residents, and finally to those who participate in the ministries.
IN THE HISPANIC Challenge: Opportunities Confronting the Church , another Pentecostal, Manuel Ortiz, echoes this call for Latino Christians and other believers to remain or return to the barrios that shaped their unique theological perspectives. Naming the temptation for Latino church members to consider "becoming a part of Middle America...to be more Christian" a "scheme of Satan," Ortiz calls Latino Christians to remember that in the United States they are a church of the poor.
Ortiz offers a very clear and concise history of the Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Cuban communities in the United States and includes many firsthand testimonies and profiles of the experience of growing up Latino in this country.
The Hispanic Challenge is by far the most accessible of these works, and as such is limited in the depth with which it explores complex issues. Yet it deals with some of the hard questions that the other works pass by. Ortiz addresses the concerns of contextualization and relativism of scripture, Latino reconciliation with the African-American community, and the need for U.S. Christians to broaden their Eurocentric theology. And while Ortiz recognizes the future probability of an assimilated Latino church in the United States, he nevertheless warns of some of the dangers and losses this poses for our community.
Ortiz focuses on the unique needs of second- and third-generation Latinos in this country, believing that "the key to effective Hispanic ministry may be found in this new generation." He offers several practical chapters on developing leadership and mentoring among this new generation.
The work of Latinos to define, shape, and name their own theologies bodes well for the future of the church in America-if only Christians from all backgrounds have ears to hear. By continually sinking our roots into the barrios from which we come, Latinos can perhaps offer the wings of liberation to the body of believers who journey alongside us. This is a table where all are welcome.