Carolina Hinojosa-Cisneros is a Tejana, Chicana, and Mujerista from San Antonio, where she is a graduate student at Our Lady of the Lake University. She is the 2019 recipient of the Rubem Alves Award in Theopoetics.

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The Stories of Matriarchs Are Texts for Survival

"In my home, I am the faith gauge."

Illustration by Matt Chase

EACH WEEK IN my immigration-literature graduate seminar, we examine one book that focuses on the immigrant experience. So far, we have read about Norwegian, Italian, and Japanese experiences. Our upcoming texts center the experiences of Polish Jews, Koreans, Nigerians, Senegalese, Mexicans, and Muslims, among many others. Faith plays a central role in each book we’ve read so far, both fiction and nonfiction. In each text, the matriarch of the family brings the faith of her mother country into the United States. The matriarchs are themselves the texts for the survival of the faith in these families.

In my family, my grandmother was the compass for our faith traditions. We grew up Catholic and later became nondenominational. We explored many expressions of faith before we found one that fit. As a family, we retained many of our Catholic traditions, because they are woven into who we are. It’s a complicated relationship, and one that we greatly value.

Activism in a Time of Perpetual War

We can blame governments and unjust laws, but eventually we have to face ourselves as active participants.

Illustration by Matt Chase

America seems to be in a perpetual state of war. We’ve militarized our borders and violently separated children from their families. We are inundated with horrifying images, such as that of the father and daughter who lost their lives to the Rio Grande.

I am not from the border, but the border runs through me.

War is not new. Its effects are felt from generation to generation, a collective trauma from our ancestors to our living bodies. War lingers on the land and in our bones. We have a responsibility to speak out against destruction and to rise to meet the needs of the most vulnerable. It is clearly a time for spiritual activism.

Some churches have fallen short in speaking out. They have fallen short in meeting the needs of God’s children.

Fighting Injustice Through Self-Reflection

When theological language fails us, we must take up a form of spiritual activism.

Matt Chase

TO LIVE A LIFE of justice, we must also live a life of constant self-reflection. My work as a writer, activist, and woman of faith informs my actions in matters of justice, which I call soul work. Yet, if I cannot examine the ways I am complicit in oppressive structures, I become part of the problem. I never want to assume that my justice work, my soul work, is not in need of introspection.

I learned about spiritual activism from reading AnaLouise Keating’s scholarship of Gloria Anzaldúa’s theopoetic work, which focuses on navigating between spaces such as home, language, the academy, gender, and spirituality, among other conceived and imagined spaces. A theopoetic work wrestles with the tension of in-between spaces when theological language fails us and we must instead take up a form of spiritual activism—advocating for our own inner healing while addressing the injustices of the world.

When Church Language Fails Us, We Resist With Poetry

Debby Hudson/Unsplash

As a poet, I used to compartmentalize my poetry. Christian poetry, poetry of the body, and Spanglish poetry all had their unique boxes until I came across the term theopoetics in academic scholarship. We all know how language and scholarship work. While white men are busy naming theopoetics to utilize in scholarship, women, women of color, black women, and indigenous peoples have been theopoeticizing since before Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz to the time of Macuilxochitzin.