Soy Latina en Cristo

By Charlyn Valencia
In eLetter
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The art and practice of building cultural and linguistic bridges has been a rhythm I have incorporated into my life since I could remember. As a child to immigrants who came to this country in pursuit of a better life, I was consistently reminded of the beauty of Colombian culture and language while navigating the nuances of being Colombian-American.

Each year as National Hispanic Heritage Month approaches, I am reminded to reflect on my own journey of appreciating being Hispanic while also being a follower of Jesus. Some of the questions I ask myself are:

How am I honoring God?

How am I honoring and celebrating my culture?

How am I inviting others to join me in this?

As followers of Jesus, our ultimate and most challenging call is to God Himself—to keep Him as the focus of all we think and do. For each person, this practice has its own implications. For me, I’m constantly making sure I’m doing things with God. Inviting Him into the mundane enables me to prioritize His will and pursue His way.

Culture: a set of shared values and beliefs practiced by a racial, religious, or social group

The culture I come from is in part diasporic and in part resolute. My parents immigrated from Colombia in the 1980s and made a life for my brothers and I in central Massachusetts. My early childhood memories are imbedded with talk about la familia en Colombia. I had to live in two worlds. Abraham Quintanilla notoriously warned his kids in the 1997 Selena film, “You have to be more Mexican than the Mexicans and more American than the Americans.” For me, it meant I had to learn to be a proud Colombian while having limited access to my parents’ culture. My family, along with the few Colombians we met in Massachusetts, cultivated our own culture through cooking typical Colombian food at family gatherings, dancing salsa through the night, and speaking Spanish. The resolve our parents imprinted on us was greatly impacted by the way we maintained our connection to our culture because we felt a sense of connection to others who endured similar circumstances.

In my adulthood, inviting others to join me in celebrating my heritage has been an unpredictable experience. On one hand I have friends who have embraced my Colombian culture and will grab dinner with me at a Colombian restaurant when I’m missing home. I’ve also encountered people who have viewed my culture as an aesthetic. In those less fortunate circumstances, I must remember my answer to that first question, “How am I honoring God in this?” We trust and we hope that people will honor and love where we are and where we come from, but sometimes that’s not the case—and that’s okay. God comforts us in ways that man can’t.

From the poetry of Jose Martí and Pablo Neruda and the art of Salvador Dalí and Pablo Picasso to the music of Selena and Oscar de Leon and the writings of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz and Gabriel García Márquez, we can begin to understand that Hispanic Heritage cannot be celebrated in 30 days.

For my non-Hispanic brothers and sisters: I encourage you to be curious. You can do this by asking your Hispanic brothers and sisters about their cultural upbringing. Ask questions like: “What foods did you eat growing up? What values did your parents instill within you? What language did you speak growing up? How do you think your cultural upbringing influences your view of God and our world?”

For my Hispanic brothers and sisters born in the United States: You are not alone. The pressures of making our parents’ sacrifice “worth it” and learning to live in two worlds can often lead us to isolate and buy into the lie that we’re alone. This couldn’t be further from the truth. As you learn to live in both cultural worlds, do a wellness check and evaluate whether or not you’re honoring the Lord. Secondly, cultivate those friendships where you can be fully yourself as you embrace and celebrate your customs and language—these kinds of relationships are invaluable. Lastly, continue to learn. Although we find ourselves between two worlds, learn about your parents’ mother country. Learn, practice, and worship in Spanish, learn about the rich culture from which you come, and, most importantly, engage with other Hispanics on a regular basis. Adelante porque tu puedes!

For my Hispanic brothers and sisters who now live in the United States: We see and celebrate you for the sacrifice you continue to make. When I meet someone who’s recently moved to the U.S., I’m reminded of the story of Abraham where God told him to leave his land and his culture to follow God. May God continue to guide and meet you as you pursue His will for your life.

As another Hispanic Heritage month ends this week, let us continue to be curious about and celebrate Hispanic Heritage.

“Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” - Romans 12:10

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