Latinos

La Anunciación

YOU CAN'T BELIEVE the ninth month will ever arrive. But it will, and you know you’d better break the news without further delay.

Stretched out on the couch, staring at a spider crossing a crack in the ceiling, you say, “Precious one, the doctors took another picture yesterday. And it turns out … well, it turns out that you don’t have a pee-pee after all. You, my love, are a girl.”

Placing your hands on your belly, you wait for baby to stir. Nothing.

You go on. “Little one, all the time I took coming up with a name for you—Jesús Paul—was in vain. So I set about finding a replacement; no easy thing.”

You look over at the TV set and bite your lip. Every afternoon—after long days of waiting on tables at La Tropical—you watch infomercials to unwind. The one you enjoy the most features a doctor in a white coat advertising plastic surgery procedures. Face and butt, abs and boobs. Only in America, you think. No need to be embalmed at death when you can be embalmed throughout life. The doctor carries on for half an hour. Surgery can improve a woman’s self-esteem, he crows. It can change the course of her destiny.

“Now listen up, mi preciosa,” you say, stroking your belly. “After much prayer I’ve decided that your name will be Destiny. Destiny Jane Anaya.”

The baby kicks not once, not twice, but three times. You have no idea if the baby understands a word of what you’ve said. Still, you worry. Thinking back to the names of family in Mexico, you wonder if you’ve made a terrible mistake.

Adelina, Maudi, Encarnacion, Consuelo, Lucinda, and Belen. There’s even a Telesfora in there—a great-aunt who joined the Sisters of Loretto, where her name was changed to Crucita. The old-time names make you think of a cast-iron pot, unbreakable, with a lifetime guarantee. Destiny? For an instant it sounds light as cotton candy, too lightweight to pin the child to earth when she lands—a spirit no more, but a human being.

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Sojourners Magazine December 2008
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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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Where the Spirit Leads

The enigma of Latino Pentecostals is found in their ability to resist labels and simple classifications. Or maybe it’s just that most people’s assumptions about them are all wrong? Either way, Latino Pentecostals have been ignored, misunderstood, and mislabeled for too long.

The Latino community has functioned almost undercover for many years, hidden for the most part from the eyes of mainstream society. In The Labyrinth of Solitude, writer Octavio Paz calls the “masks” that Mexicans and other Latinos wear in society “a wall that is no less impenetrable for being invisible.” The image of Latinos in mainstream U.S. society is as unfocused as our ability to agree on what we will call them—Latino or Hispanic, Chicano or Boricua. The name we choose for Latinos tells us more about ourselves us than it does about them.

Pentecostals, too, are unknown, even suspect to many. People don’t know what to make of their unknown tongues, miracles, or outlandish holy roller ways. Pentecostals from Aimee Semple McPherson to Pat Robertson are partly to blame for this—with a striving to be in this world but not of it that sometimes borders on the bizarre and sensational. Most Pentecostals, however, deserve more down-to-earth reputations. By preaching that everyone has a right to enter into direct contact with God regardless of their education, race, or class, Pentecostals have become the fastest growing Christian movement in the world today.

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Sojourners Magazine April 2008
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Being a Church with Day Laborers

In June, a predominantly African-American Christian church took the innovative step of hosting a day laborers’ hiring site in one of its worship rooms. The Strait Gate Church in Mamaroneck, New York, opened the worker center on the heels of a local government decision that prohibits police from questioning people about their immigration status or harassing workers who gather looking for jobs. The Hispanic Resource Center, a local advocacy group, will run the hiring site, which offers English and citizenship classes and other educational programs for workers not hired during the day. “It’s an unusual gesture, and it’s a beautiful one,” Pablo Alvarado, director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, told The New York Times. “Particularly because we know there have been tensions between African Americans and Latinos in places where they compete against one another for these types of jobs.”

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Sojourners Magazine December 2007
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Holistic Healing

Barrios Unidos isn’t what most people would think of when they hear the phrase “faith-based organization.” Even though it’s not aligned with any church or traditional religious group, as Frank de Jesús Acosta demonstrates in his excellent The History of Barrios Unidos, that’s exactly what it is.

Based in Santa Cruz, California, Barrios Unidos—which means “united neighborhoods”—works to stop gang violence and redeem the lives of young people lost in the madness of the streets. A large part of the organization’s spirit work focuses on the concept of cultura es cura, or “culture cures,” to help Latinos find wholeness through the recovery of indigenous elements of their heritage that mainstream society has stripped from them.

“Returning ceremony and prayer into its proper place in the life of the community is so critically important to everything we do,” says Barrios Unidos founder Daniel “Nane” Alejandrez. “We are not about selling religion or proselytizing people, but about embracing the power of spirituality that traditionally has healed and bound our families, communities, and civilizations together as indigenous people.”

The History of Barrios Unidos charts the path of the organization, which grew out of the trunk of Alejandrez’ 1964 Chevy to become a national model for a holistic approach to healing lives fractured by violence, building self-determination, and advocating for civil rights. Acosta looks at how the group responded to events such as the 1992 Los Angeles riots by strengthening their structure and legal status—all without selling out their ideals. This evolution made innovative new partnerships possible, including a highly effective relationship with the California Wellness Foundation, which had recently embraced youth violence as a public health issue.

Another compelling aspect of the book is its stories of transformation of its founders, including Nane Alejandrez.

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Sojourners Magazine December 2007
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