In an effort to continue its rich tradition of offering the Latina/o theological community a space for Latina/o thinkers in theology and religion to contribute to—and even begin— important scholarly conversations, our editorial team is proud to present the Spring 2017 issue of Perspectivas. We hope our readers will find this to be a valuable resource to foster critical and creative conversations in various religious, theological, and academic communities.
In the current issue of Perspectivas, our contributors draw on various fields of Latina/o, Latin American studies, and critical theoretical currents to address issues that readers will find especially relevant for our current political and social climate. The essays included cover a range of themes, from introducing readers to fascinating theological insights such as a Cuban theology of the “absurd,” to the import of “Abuelita Theology” for César Chávez’s social activism. As the reader will soon discover, the questions raised in these articles are timelier than ever: How do Latina/o communities reimagine and reclaim the concept of citizenship when the dominant society denies them this very title, along with the rights, privileges, and opportunities that come with it? What can the Young Lords Party teach us about radical activism and Latina/o religious history? How do the insights and practices of fringe and marginalized communities undermine the theoretical premises and promises of multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism? In the process of navigating and thinking about these complex social justice issues, our readers are also invited by one contributor to ask: Just how queer is the messianic spirit of Marx and Marxism? And finally: How can a Pentecostal prophetess help liberate patriarchal conceptions of church leadership and domesticity?
The present collection of essays demonstrates a commitment to nuanced and imaginative thinking about the Latina/o experience that is engaging, thought-provoking, and grounded in real-life issues pertaining to Latina/o (USA and Canada), Latin American, and Spanish-speaking Caribbean communities. The essays combine a scholarly commitment to broadening, complicating, and illuminating the lived faith experiences of these communities, with an approach that is accessible to wide and diverse audiences.
The first set of essays below focus on activism, community organizing, and social movements. Ofelia Ortega, in a paper originally presented at the 9th Annual Herencia Lectures, “A Past and Present Look at Protestant Cuban Theology,” at Princeton Theological Seminary, in September 2016, focuses on the development of protestant theology during Cuba’s revolutionary period. As part of her lecture, which was delivered in honor of Sergio Arce Martínez, Ortega outlines the primary cultural, political, and religious influences of the period as well some key theological themes that resulted from this period. Among these include practices of love, presence, and participation; re-imagining ecclesiology, evangelism, and mission; theological engagement with culture, economy, and peace & reconciliation movements; and innovative theologies of the “desert” and the “absurd.” A key final theme, Ortega shows, is the crucial role that women’s perspectives played in the formation and development of Protestant Cuban theology.
Robert Chao Romero explores the Christian spirituality and commitment of the famed Chicano civil rights leader César Chávez in his contribution, “The Spiritual Praxis of César Chávez.” Chávez’s influences, Romero demonstrates, ranged from “Abuelita theology” and Roman Catholic social teaching to various community based principles about social organizing. Romero argues that although our historical memory indicates otherwise, much of Chávez’s activist effort were deeply rooted in his Christian spirituality. The great march from the Central Valley to Sacramento, for example, drew explicitly from theological traditions of penitence and pilgrimage. Moreover, according to Romero, Chávez saw fasting and prayer as essential practices to the grape strike and the broader farm worker struggle. Romero makes sure to complicate Chavez’s legacy, illuminating how the later Chavez faced a “spiritual decentering” that pulled him away from his activism’s humble theological roots. At the end, Romero challenges those who attempt to secularize Chávez’s life and vision. “They take the ‘Rev.’ away from King,” Romero writes, “and the ‘abuelita theology’ away from Chávez.”
In his “The Faith of Saints and Citizens in Public Spaces,” Jonathan Calvillo draws on his five years of ethnographic research in Santa Ana, California, to examine the intersections of religious affiliation and ethnic identity among various Latina/o communities. Calvillo shows how communal religious practices performed in public spaces pushed against the boundaries of citizenship, especially among undocumented residents and those who have experienced various forms of educational segregation and limited economic opportunity. In the midst of societal exclusion and marginalization, these Latina/o faith communities, Calvillo argues, used some acts of public faith as acts of resistance, providing creative alternatives to ground their local citizenship.
Elías Ortega-Aponte invites readers to consider the critical import of studying Brown Power Movements for the field of Latina/o religious history. By focusing particularly on the Young Lords Party, Ortega-Aponte addresses the dangers of leaving non-religious social movement histories relatively unexplored in Latina/o Religious Studies. His argument is an invitation for scholars in this field to take up “the task of analyzing religious Latino/a social movements and their contributions to Latino/ religiosity” while also highlighting the rich contributions of those seeking “to theorize la lucha as lived by secular Latino/a Activism.” Ultimately, Ortega-Aponte illuminates the many insights that can be gained from engaging with organizations that are highly critical of Latina/o religious institutions.
Our issue then takes a strong theoretical turn, broadening the discussions and yet calling for more specific, local, on-the-ground analyses, which are engaged in the following section. In his essay, “Is Liberation Theology a Political Theology?: Marcella Althaus-Reid’s Critical Hermeneutics and the Queer Messianic Question of Marxism,” Silas Morgan reveals a tension existing within the rising field of political theology, namely that its “Eurocentricity presents a problem for Latin American liberation theologies that are eager to escape the colonial clutches of the continent, that are looking for ways to recapture their indigenous vitality.” To address a way forward for Latin American theologians, Morgan encourages us to draw on the work of Marcella Althaus-Reid, who draws on Paul Ricoeur to imagine a queer messianic politics “that is as Christological as it is Marxist.” By situating Althaus-Reid in this way, Morgan invites the reader to position Latin American liberation theology as a political theology, one that both welcomes the rebirth of Marx yet also departs from methodologies of the contemporary European left.
Néstor Medina, in his article, “Latinas/os, Canada and Cosmopolitanism: A Look from its Exteriority,” interrogates traditional discourses around ideas of multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism and puts forth a broader evaluation of both ideas that “is only possible from its fringes, its exteriority.” Focusing on the Canadian practice of multiculturalism as his case study, Medina centers his analysis on the Latina/o experiences of systemic discrimination and marginalization. “Latinas/os should be understood not as haphazardly adopting-mixing cultural elements,” he writes, “but as immersed in an intentional process of simultaneous negotiation, disturbance, and interruption of conventional cultural grammars while remaining anchored in their cultural traditions, values, and customs: a cultural syncopation.” Medina concludes by highlighting ways in which communities of faith can play a pivotal role in imagining new and safer ways for people to live together, embrace each other’s cultures, and to encounter God.
The last written piece of this issue responds to the need for a more local, on-the-ground, analysis. In his “Profeta Ana Maldonado: Pushing the Boundaries of Paradoxical Domesticity,” Tito Madrazo introduces readers to the Pentecostal prophetess’ liberative vision imagined and practiced within a traditionally patriarchal space. While Madrazo describes Maldonado as adhering to a complementarian approach of church leadership, he rejects it as a passive acceptance or submission to patriarchy. Rather, Madrazo argues, Maldonado’s “paradoxical domesticity” serves an empowering role for female ministers. In addition, he demonstrates how domesticity plays a fundamental role in how her community interprets and conceives of the cobertura, or covering. Madrazo ultimately highlights Maldonado as one of many spiritual intellectuals and visionaries within Latina Pentecostalism who have both wrestled with and resisted various religious hierarchies designed to privilege some voices over others.
– Roberto Sirvent