A journal of academic theology

June 2004 editorial

From the Editor’s Desk

Long in planning, this issue of Theological Studies devoted to the neglected theme Encountering Latino and Latina Catholic Theology has been realized through the labors of the authors and the organizational efforts of Kenneth Davis, O.F.M. Conv., who early on conceived the project. I have invited him to compose a guest editorial in order to introduce and contextualize this important topic.

Michael A. Fahey, S.J.

Guest Editorial

This issue of Theological Studies is dedicated to Latino and Latina theology in the 21st century, following suggestions made by Robert Schreiter in an article entitled Contextualization in U.S. Hispanic Theology published in the Journal of Hispanic/Latino Theology (November 2000). Why de we need to consider contextualization? Perhaps a proponent outside the theological disciplines may provide an answer. Gloria Anzalda, in her volume Borderlands: La Frontera, describes herself as a Chicana-tejana lesbian-feminist poet and fiction writer from South Texas now living in Santa Cruz. Why? What do such intimate, possibly discomforting autobiographical details have to do with her work? And why should we care?

Many journals when forwarding a submitted manuscript to a referee for evaluation do not even provide the authors name, much less gender, geographic location, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or occupation. Even after an article is accepted for publication, and a mini biography attached, custom dictates citing only academic credentials. Why should one care if the author is Chicana (not Mexican-American), Tejana (not Texan), lesbian (not gay), and a poet (not poetess)? I am convinced that the contributors to this theme issue would argue that without such explicit, personal information, one cannot appreciate the context from which Anzalda writes. And without such a clearly defined context, an author assumes a universally shared perspective that is both impossible and suspect.

For this reason each of our contributors has identified the context out of which she or he writes. All agreed to collaborate in this issue on theology from the perspective of Hispanic Catholics in the United States. I am pleased to introduce each author, to comment on their contribution to that common enterprise, and spare them much repetition by including a short excursus on nomenclature.

Roberto Goizueta is a Cuban American lay theologian, husband, father, and president-elect of the Catholic Theological Society of America. Although his initial interests lay more with Latin American liberation theology, his ecclesial experiences in San Antonio and elsewhere have helped him to develop a resolutely incarnational theology that ruptures the modern stereotypes of liberal and conservative.

Allan Figueroa Deck, S.J., is a Mexican American priest from Southern California. Although he holds doctorates in both missiology and Latin American literature, most of his ministry has been outside of accredited, academic institutions. He has labored as diocesan coordinator of Hispanic ministry and executive director of the National Catholic Council for Hispanic Ministry. Actually he helped found that group as well as the Academy of Catholic Hispanic Theologians of the United States (ACHTUS). In his article, he continues to develop a practical theology that bridges the college and the congregation while equally serving both.

Gary Riebe-Estrella, S.V.D., is also a Mexican-American priest. He is one of the very few Hispanics serving as an executive administrator at an institution of higher learning. His interests have long been in helping Latino/a young people by recruiting, retaining, and graduating them as religious leaders. As the only one of the six contributors not living near either the East Coast or the West Coast of the United States, he brings a Midwestern perspective that mirrors the growing shift of the Hispanic population to the heartland of the country.

Jeanette Rodriguez was born in New York of a Spanish/Ecuadorian father and a Cuencana mestiza mother. She lives with her children in the State of Washington where she teaches at Seattle University. Trained in psychotherapy as well as theology, she has consistently demonstrated how disciplines cross-pollinate rather than work at cross-purposes. And she introduced me–a White, Franciscan priest from the South–to the Chicana, Tejana, lesbian-feminist poet and fiction writer Gloria Anzalda.

Ada Mara Isasi-Daz is a Cuban, lay woman theologian, among the first Latinas to theologize precisely as a Latina. Since the concrete experiences of real women are essential to her work, she insists that their voices (even in Spanish) be heard. In her article she uses untranslated Spanish phrases as well as undilutedmujerista praxis. A skilled pioneer in theology and an untiring practitioner of liberation, she is not afraid either to present the raw experience of Latinas or to insist that such experience must transform theology.

Ana Mara Pineda is a Sister of Mercy, a native of El Salvador, and resident of California. She has studied in Spain and the United States, and has written on many aspects of art and theology. One might consider her a bread and roses theologian, that is, one who like her colleagues insists on theologizing from her context, but who along with others has also helped blaze a theology of esthetics.

Why should readers of Theological Studies be interested in a theology so explicitly derived from and serving such a particular context? There are at least five reasons.

The first is history. The ancestors of todays Hispanics brought the Christian faith to America. Mass was celebrated in Puerto Rico centuries before Baltimore; missions were built in Florida long before churches in Jamestown; rosaries were prayed in Spanish throughout the country long before the beads were tolled on this soil in English. Catholicism in what is now the United States did not begin with the original thirteen colonies but with the Spanish Conquistadores and missionaries, indigenous nomads and architects, as well as African slaves and shamans. They are all the ancestors of the people we today call Hispanic. Any contextual historical theology must acknowledge this history.

The second reason is demography. Some 20 million Catholic Hispanics live in the United States. And they are young. Almost half of all Catholics in the United States under the age of nine are Hispanic. Ten years from now there will be a Catholic, Hispanic baby boom in the country coupled with continued (if not increased) immigration from Latin America. Hence, the percentage of Catholics in the United States who are Hispanic is huge and exploding. Ecclesiology cannot ignore the lived, religious experience of this ancient but youthful Church.

The third reason is celebratory. The distinctive way whereby Hispanics are Catholic, in part because of their history, their intermingling of Iberian, indigenous, and African ancestry, as well as their coexisting with each other and with non-Hispanics in the United States, has created a diverse and distinct way of being Catholic. Just as no one can become a wine connoisseur by always sipping the same vintage, so no one can become a theologian–liturgical, systematic, pastoral– in the United States without savoring the heterogeneous, festive way that Hispanics are Catholic.

The fourth reason is common sense if not common decency. Politicians and businesses are scrambling to understand and respond to Latinos and Latinas. The first presidential debate by Democratic hopefuls was simulcast in Spanish. Perhaps Catholic strategic self-interest will be sufficient motivation to listen to Hispanic sisters and brothers if history, demography, spirituality, and justice are not. The Catholic Church in the United States will be spiritually poorer if its historical roots are ignored and if it does not engage this youthful and growing population.

Finally, there is the discipline of theology to which these authors and their colleagues are contributing. Their methodology is communitarian and collaborative. Their source is the lived experience of Hispanics which is explored empirically. Their goal is the transformation of any lived reality not consciously aware of God. These are new paradigms for theology that challenge the liberal versus conservative stalemate as it creates a systematic synergy between theology and ministry that is an imaginative, meaningful contribution to the academy as well as the whole Church.

These six authors are contextual theologians. They represent the heterogeneous population known as Hispanic or Latino/a, diverse in class, acculturation, language, and country of origin. Just as they are representative of such richness, five themes here emerge that are representative of this theology at once both particular and global.

First is the youthfulness of the Hispanic community. Although explicitly found in the contribution by Riebe-Estrella, it is implicit in other articles. Figueroa Deck also deals with it directly, but so does Rodriguez. Part of la vida loca she describes is the struggle to navigate multiple cultural and epistemological venues. This is particularly true of the children of immigrants. And when Isasi-Daz asserts: We claim the right to pleasure and happiness that claim necessarily includes youth, i.e., the children, grandchildren, and all young family members usually cared for by woman. Likewise, when Goizueta re-members for us the unified, profoundly sacramental view of the cosmos manifested in popular Catholicism, we are reminded of Riebe-Estrellas thesis that one cannot assume that otherwise acculturated Hispanic youth have necessarily jettisoned the deepest level of its self-identity religion.

Although Pineda deals with religious art dating from colonial times, young Hispanic Catholics still resonate and express themselves through graphic art. Witness either the implicit content of their murals and tattoos or the explicit content of their wallets (holy cards) and jewelry. It may not be their fathers (or more likely mothers) religion anymore, but it is a culturally connected experience of the divine that remains part of the data of U.S. Hispanic theology. Young Hispanics must be part of the source of this theology, namely, Latino/a reality; their numbers demand inclusion in the communal methodology; and they are the agents of the goal of this theology which is to transformeven divinizethat reality.

A second theme is esthetics. Again one contributor, Pineda, deals with this theme most explicitly. But Goizueta also notes the importance of the symbolic, performative word in the first evangelization of America that was prerational (not irrational) because faith is inconceivably relational. The Incarnation was proclaimed less through description and more through a symbol system beyond dialect expressed in music, drama, art, and ultimately if too rarely, exquisite personal example. Such relationality cannot be disembodied, but needs a concrete context; for these authors that concrete context is the lived experience of Latinos and Latinas for whom Isasi-Daz claims life and fullness of life, which must include beauty since the arts help define cultural institutions and valuesculture here referring to all that we humans produce to deal with reality.

Figueroa Deck shares this insight since an evangelization of culture must penetrate the arts: There are elements of design and aesthetics proper to each culture. Anzaldas method of deep-reading reality in part through images and symbols. Finally, Riebe-Estrella notes young Hispanics know at some level that folk art permeates their lives and needs to be included as a source for understanding God. Such art is usually a family or community exercise. The goal of these images and symbols parallels that of this theology, namely, to make the barrio more humane and holy. Even Hispanic youth who can no longer describe their world in Spanish are returning to a more performative culture of music, murals, and madrinas (godmothers) that move them in ways language cannot.

A third theme is the role of women. A feature that early distinguished U.S. Hispanic theology from Latin American liberation theology was the foundational role of Latinas. Isasi-Daz was among the first. Her contribution to this collaboration is distinct in tone if not in content. Whatever ones opinion of her tone, she does represent an early and insistent strain of Hispanic theology. Another effort is well represented by Rodriguez. If, as Goizueta insists, community is essential to theology, then Rodriguez positions women at the center of that theology since they, as the fundamental builders of community, possess a polyfaceted spirituality that connects the ancestors to the present, balance the fragmented world of the post-Conquest, and create a deep emotional attachment to the land and its processes. If youth are not wholly assimilated, it is because their mothers, godmothers, grandmothers, sisters, and aunts gave them the example, showed them the images, and walked them through the processions. Rodriguez neatly summarizes the sometimes-controversial role of popular religion in these cultures when she asserts: The power of women, then, to formulate and express religious consciousness in the home was both a result of oppression and an expression of liberation. Women were on the margins of church as temple, but at the center of the domestic church. They held the ritual knowledge that speaks deeper than doctrine. They brought the faith into the plazas and on pilgrimage. They were the new tlacuilo (artist of the truth) and tlamatinime (oral historians) who passed on the traditions in prayers and catechism as well as the spiritual realities mediated by milagritos (ex-votos) and candles. In poor communities with few professional musicians, women sang the traditional songs in the Posadasand fiestas. In a world with few learned artists, women created the altarcitos (home altars) and cleaned the statues. If by popular culture one means those expressions of esthetics undervalued by the academy, it is women who have evangelized that culture. Underpaid, underprivileged, women were the performative word who mediated the inscrutable God. This generalization may seem nave or romantic, but it is not untrue. Witness the importance of Mary to Hispanic Catholics. Yes, she has been used to promote an unhealthy martyrology, but she also mocks that myth when reclaimed for life and the fullness of life. She can be a source for theology that can enslave or liberate. The communal method of doing this theology, the collaboration of women and men, has meant that from the beginning the experience of women has been a source of liberation and transformation.

A fourth theme is globalization, a phenomenon rarely collaborative and never respectful of particularity. However, it is a force that affects the source of this theology, namely, the everyday lives (lo cotidiano) of Hispanics. Globalization as the contemporary process of increasingly free movement of capital and information can result in ruinous competition, disastrous labor practices, calamitous ecological policies, and accelerated cultural hegemony and homogeneity. Globalization has sent millions of poor Hispanics migrating in search of decent wages, and their children searching for meaning through ever morphing fads. Halloween consumes Mexicos Dia de los Muertos; traditional healers begin demanding set fees; pilgrimages become tourist traps. This is the marketing of the disembodied symbols of a disinstitutionalized pseudospirituality that appears privately contrived and always provisional, and which Goizueta challenges. Such frenetic change threatens a cultural continuity that once helped maintain families divided by the need to migrate. When the poor are deprived both of the means of livelihood as well as the means of living as social beings the result is a culture of death. Figueroa Deck argues that when our pastoral response is equally as homogenous and unfocused as the symbols of the culture of death, we fail both as pastors and as theologians. Recall that the actual life of real Hispanics, increasingly strained, is the source of this theology. Only a methodological approach in which pastors and theologians collaborate in a common response will transform that difficult reality.

This brings us to the fifth theme common among these contributors, but also among all contextual theologians: justice. Justice cannot wait. Each day more U.S. citizens are reduced to poverty, and they cannot wait. Each day more children die crossing our borders, and they cannot wait. Each day Christian theologians claim to work for Christ, and Christs work cannot wait. We need to act now with what Rodriguez says is a spiritual framework for politically progressive work. If by political we mean promoting polis, then all of our theologians would agree. Isasi-Daz wants to contribute to a world of life and fullness of life for all when she champions women. Riebe-Estrella champions youth but in the context of families and churches that welcome young people. Pineda demonstrates how Hispanic esthetics is relational since it takes a village to paint a mural. Figueroa Deck gives examples of helpful and hopeful communities in ethnic parishes, apostolic movements, and small Christian communities. And Goizueta argues for the recovery of an organic, holistic, integral, sacramental worldview mediated by robust, particular symbols that give communitys a needed sense of meaning and mission.

None of these contributors is allergic to politics. While avoiding partisan conflicts that unfortunately also often paralyzes the Church, they are explicitly political. They want to build up the Community of the Beloved. That is the goal of their theology. Their collaborative methodology expresses that ideal. And they work in solidarity with their community for that transformation. In the Hispanic Church, politics is not just the art of the possible; it is the heart of the preachable.

In Borderlands, Gloria Anzaldas poem Holy Relics repeats the chorus:

We are the holy relics,
the scattered bones of a saint,
the best loved bones of Spain.
We seek each other.

This details how relic-seeking devotees loved Teresa of vila literally to pieces. And as with any good poetry, it is attention to detail that draws the reader into the scene. A good poet does not just appeal to the intellect with narration, but engages the imagination with concrete description. It is that particularity that makes the poem unique, but which also makes its appeal universal. Drawn into this peculiar medieval custom through lavish description, virtually any reader is simultaneously also catapulted into rather universal memories of when she or he felt torn by the many people who love us but through that love place demands upon us we feel might tear us to pieces. A particular context fully engaged is so vivid it invites universal comparisons.

That is also the attraction of the contextual theology of these pages; their very particularity invites a dialogue extending beyond their own detailed peculiarity.

Some final words of appreciation. Special thanks to the projects facilitator Vernica Mndez, R.C.D., a Puerto Rican raised in New York City with both extensive pastoral experience as well as a veteran of eight years of teaching at the University of Saint Mary of the Lake. She chaired a weekend meeting at the Saint Meinrad School of Theology which generously hosted us. Our thanks also to Michael Fahey, S.J., Editor-in-Chief of Theological Studies, for his oversight of the project. Various colleagues from the Academy of Catholic Hispanic Theologians of the United States (ACHTUS) helped by providing useful suggestions. Gracias!

Kenneth Davis, O.F.M. Conv.
Associate Professor of Pastoral Studies, Saint Meinrad School of Theology


Some readers may wonder about the term Euroamerican used in several of the articles. The eleventh edition ofMerriam Websters Collegiate Dictionary describes the adjective as denoting what is common to Europe and America. The Cambridge Advanced Learners Dictionary lists Euro as a prefix that means of or connected with Europe. Here the term is used to refer to those living in the United States whose ancestors are from Europe.

Admittedly this is an ambiguous and inadequate term. It includes both a recently arrived European as well as descendents of those on theMayflower. It incorporates huge swathes of persons from distinct socioeconomic classes, various political persuasions, and distinct religious affiliations, as well as some people from countries who were at war with each other during their lifetime. Many of them might prefer to be called something else (e.g., American). Who are we to invent a label for this Babel?

Yet, that is exactly what we are doing when we use the terms Hispanic or Latino. When a Euroamerican publishes a paper without bothering to give the authors context, it is simply called theology (with no modifier), although her or his cultural context quite clearly influences that theology. However, when a Hispanic publishes a paper and defines his or her cultural context, it is immediately labeled Hispanic theology. Both are limited by the context in which they live and work. But one often assumes a universal appeal and may find umbrage at an attempt to define her or his context and therefore confine her or his reach (e.g., Euroamerican or Anglo). The other, however, is regularly labeled Hispanic or Latino despite the fact that she or he might go to great lengths precisely to define the specific context of that writing.

So we use the clumsy but somewhat contextual term Euroamerican as defined above despite its limitations. The same logic then leads us to use the equally clumsy terms Latino or Hispanic. Actually, about the same time that Euroamerican was invented, the noun Latino was coined. Hence, it is helpful since it originated about the same time as Euroamerican. But it has drawbacks. The older adjective Hispanic is derived from Latin, but since it connotes Iberian descent, it presents difficulties to those who value their indigenous American and/or African ancestry as well as their Spanish roots. Like the term Euroamerican, both Hispanic and Latino are inadequate. Both are used here interchangeably to refer to persons living in the United States who derive at least part of their ancestry from Spanish-speakers. The definition pleases no one and annoys many, but it does provide some common context.

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