Monday, March 4, 2013

Originally this blog was intended to explore the experience of being a Latino minister in the Unitarian Universalist faith. Unfortunately I did not contribute much over the years. However since I have decided to retire from ministry I find I have the time and the need to document my experiences and observations. For those of us in ministry we have ample opportunity to share our thoughts, experiences and opinions. But if one does this too often in sermons, congregations think you are too wrapped up in yourself. Ministers can relate their stories to their colleagues through the practice of The Odyssey. But since I have not really made strong connections with most of my colleagues I doubt any local ministerial chapters would be interested in my odyssey. Finally there is the ultimate opportunity of delivering the sermon at the annual Service of the Living Tradition. Again highly doubtful since the last time I delivered a sermon to a national gathering of UU ministers, I was going through a personal crisis and I believe it was visited upon my colleagues. So I doubt anyone would trust me to contain myself so the only avenue left is this blog. If I cross the line too often, you can always stop reading.

First, a brief summation: 29 years of ordained ministry; I served 9 congregations (2 as a settled pastor and 7 as an interim minister); 7 years were spent as the director of the JustWorks volunteer social justice service learning program for the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC). In those 29 years I have been in 45 US States, 4 Canadian Provinces, 3 Mexican States and 7 Native American Reservations. In addition to the usual ministerial duties (preacher, pastor, teacher) my ministry included working with at-risk-teens, some who were still active in urban gangs; providing resources to migrant farm workers; organizing volunteer response to disaster situations (hurricanes Andrew, Katrina, Rita, Midwest floods, fire-bombed Black Churches, urban riots), organizing volunteers to provide infrastructure to communities suffering under social injustice and documenting abuse in the American and Mexican communities along the Rio Grande.

Most clergy will say they were called to ministry; it is my belief that I was condemned to ministry. My careers prior to ordination proved I could be successful in other fields, but they were not satisfying. Furthermore I believe I was marked for what lay ahead. Some years back I had a disagreement with a housecat. Our little scuffle established that I was going to be the “top cat” in our household. The cost was some deep ugly scars on my right forearm.
When we began working with the urban gangs for the UUSC, some of the members of a west coast gang were suspicious of this East Coast liberal group. At the time I was the only “non-white” from UUSC working with them. But even that did not gain me acceptance since I was Puerto Rican, not African American and I was from New York City not LA. It was at that point that the leader of the group noticed the scars on my forearm. “Bet the guy that did that paid for it” he said, thinking the scars were from a knife fight. Thinking about my then nicely domesticated pet cat I replied. “Yea, now he does whatever I tell him.”

Monday, February 2, 2009

Sometimes I feel like a Luddite. Months ago I began this blog with the intension of posting daily and contributing to a valuable dialog among Unitarian Universalists and other interested parties. Obviously that did not happen. A Facebook page was started for me and I have no idea what to do with it or what all the various requests mean. For months I have been struggling to make heads or tails of Second Life with the intent to found the Unitarian Universalist Church of La Raza. Instead of a virtual congregation that explores the synergy of Latino/Latina Liberation Theology and Unitarian Universalism all I have is an avatar in the shape of a large cosmic bunny and several suggestive messages that I am convinced would be anatomically impossible outside the virtual world of Second Life. So I will continue to struggle and attempt to post some worthy thoughts. And yes I know what a two-way is so please no more avatars dressed this way.

On a more serious subject I have come to understand that Latino communication and thoughts are heavily influenced by metaphors. This explains some of the communication misunderstandings. The dominant culture translates English words into Spanish but the metaphor may not produce the same understanding. When Unitarian Universalists speak of community they often mean individuals gathered together around a common interest. When a Latino/Latina speaks about “La Communidad” they refer to groups (families, tribes or other subset) united by either a common interest or situation. One metaphor is for individuals joining together, the other are groups gathering with other groups.

Junot Diaz, a Dominican-American writer, explains that being in the United States he knew more the history and culture of Star Trek than he did about the history and culture of the Dominican Republic. That comment made me realize that while I was familiar with much of the culture and history of Puerto Rico, I was more familiar with the subculture of those of us who grew up in New York City with parents born in Puerto Rico. I knew little about Dominan-Americans and less about many others from the various countries of South America, Central America, the Caribbean islands or Mexico. And combined I still knew more about Star Trek than all those countries and their people. In fact I can easily explain the problems of communication in metaphors by refereeing the reader to the Star Trek episode entitled “Darmok.”

And yet if I a Latino (Nuyorican) who speaks Spanish and interacts with other Latinos/Latinas admit that I am not fully capable of speaking for other Latino/Latina groups, how can those outside our cultures and metaphors truly understand all of us. American Reductionism tries to solve this problem by subsuming on group into another. Once we have this false sense of what is a Latino/Latina, American Reductionism further shrinks the individual by creating a false binary world where you are either “white” or you are something else. Speaking for myself, but believing others share my view I state that assimilation is an anathema (goggle: Borg.) I do not identify as a person of color, a Latino or even Hispanic. I am an individual who grew-up in New York City with parents born and raised in Puerto Rico. I am a Nuyorican Unitarian Universalist Minister

Friday, September 26, 2008

Language – I am continuously amazed at my faith tradition’s repeated excuse for failing to successfully reach-out to the Latino community. So often congregations want material in Spanish or want to hold services in Spanish and failing those claim to not have the resources to serve that community. What they fail to acknowledge is that most of the Latino population in the United States is bi-lingual, often with English being dominant. This is not really a result of assimilation over the generations (as historically with other groups) but a result of adaptation. Typically the first generation retains a strong preference for Spanish however they begin to add English since this is needed for work and life in the United States. However this generation will typically still speak Spanish at home.

The second generation grows-up with Spanish at home and English outside the home. They are truly bi-lingual. As they progress through the educational system English begins to dominate; again following the old immigrant/assimilation patterns. However it is in adulthood that there is a change. This generation often seeks to regain what they had in the Spanish dominant culture. Bi-lingualism and access to Spanish reinforces the Latinos cultural identity.

Why is this pattern different: proximity to ancestral countries and continued population growth. In the old patterns the immigrant’s country of origin was far distant for travel in those eras. Furthermore while many of the groups came from a particular country, the Latino population in the United States can come from South America (12 countries with a total population of almost 380 million), Central America (7 countries, 41 million) or North America and the Caribbean (16 countries). What many people in the United States of America forget is that Mexico is a part of North America. Furthermore many people in the United States frequently travel to or vacation in Spanish speaking countries. Lastly much of the United States was at one time part of Mexico or a territory claimed by Spain and these areas often retain their Spanish names. Lastly there are places in the United States where Spanish culture and language predominate.

So Unitarian Universalists and others who wish to reach-out to the Latino community should remember that we retain Spanish because we want to. However those who would be attracted to our faith are typically bi-lingual, often with advance degrees and not necessarily former Catholics. Often we have children who are also bi-lingual to some degree or have taken Spanish in school. We don’t assimilate we adapt to our surroundings and in so doing transform our surroundings. So if you want to reach-out to the Latino community be prepared to be changed.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Last summer several social justice organizations in the greater Houston area began distributing bottles of water to day laborers. These individuals were often working outdoors in the hot weather with little to no potable water. To me this was an act of mercy and I contributed 3 cases of bottled water for distribution. However when I tried to elicit help from some of my liberal contacts I received a great amount of resistance. They were reluctant to contribute water in plastic bottles due to environmental impact. So while they debated and tried to find acceptable solutions they were not helping the day laborers. Ultimately I joined volunteers from other faith traditions and distributed the water bottles. If we allow our idealism to blind us to the need of others we are only serving our own delusions.
It is interesting to note that a Health Fair for Day Laborers in the Greater Houston area has been postponed so that the Day Laborers can take advantage of work availability due to damage from hurricane Ike. This is a reality of life for Day Laborers, many of which are undocumented immigrants; rather than overtaxing our health systems, when voluntary organizations offer them health care they must forgo this generous gift in order to make a living.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

As a Unitarian Universalist and a Puerto Rican I am often faced with Identity Politics. On May 5th I received well wishes from colleagues and friends on the celebration of “Cinco de Mayo.” And as in the past I gently informed them that this is a Mexican holiday and that I am not Mexican.

When Barack Obama became the Democratic Party nominee for president of the United States. The pundits were quick to declare this as a historical moment where a major U.S. political party had nominated an African American for this office. Next they underscored how Obama was the son of an African Immigrant and an American mother. They stumbled over each other trying to reduce Obama’s identity to something historic and identifiable (Black, African American, Person of Color). Then the issue turned to the fact that his mother was white, so there were more identity questions (biracial, multiracial, mixed race). Thankfully no one has used the old term mulato but the campaign is still young.

In a recent report from a Unitarian Universalist Association committee the phrase “…people of color; Latino, Latina, Hispanic, multiracial, from a historically marginalized community…” was used several times. While I have been a strong proponent of more inclusive language even I stumble on these long phrases. This is not to say that group identity and self-identity are not important, it is a criticism on the inadequacy of our language and labels. At one time we used the phrase “minority groups” but some people complained that the term “minority” was somewhat derogatory and it has largely fallen out of favor.

In the 1990s American Reductionism assigned people to essentially two groups: People of Color and those who were not people of color, often called White and sometimes Euro-Americans. However this compromise formula has not been completely accepted as it is often an identity imposed on people and not necessarily a self-identity of individuals or ethnic groups.

In our Unitarian Universalist faith, reductionism has caused misunderstanding, conflict and disenfranchisement.