A History of Separation

Writing in the late 1920s about one of his many trips back and forth across the United States-Mexico border, American Pentecostal missionary Henry C. Ball mentioned that he received his certificate of fumigation after re-entry to the United States. However, while he received this official document, it is unthinkable that Ball, a white man, was actually sprayed with pesticides.

Fumigation was a humiliation reserved for Mexicans crossing into the U.S. from the early to middle 20th century. The mention of the certificate by Ball, one of the pioneers of Pentecostal missions to Latinos/as, seems to have been an aside: It did not offer any insight into the fumigation procedure, was not critical of the overall program, and reveals no evidence that the incident caused Ball to be introspective about the plight of Mexicans who endured this treatment. He did not articulate any theological response to this program or indeed to any other injustice that befell Mexican immigrants. He, like most white Pente­costal missionaries, viewed such injus­tices (and they knew and wrote of others) as secondary to salvation.

Influenced by such missionaries, Mexican and other Latino Pentecostals historically did not view the established political process as a place where they would find relief from their grievances. One seeking to examine modes of resistance among Latino Pentecostals will find few if any of the traditional markers of political activism. But one will find many examples of Latino Pentecostals engaging in alternative modes of resistance by seeking to reclaim their autonomy from mostly Anglo Pentecostal denominations that, more often than not, did not accept that Latinos could govern themselves.

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Sojourners Magazine April 2008
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