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The anthropologist Clifford Geertz explains that one of the most significant aspect of the human condition is that “we all begin with the natural equipment to live a thousand kinds of life, but end in having lived only one.” For me, this one life began unfolding on Home Street in the South Bronx. My immigrant parents, psychologically bruised for their existence as strangers in this land, were learning to live in a new American culture, and I was raised a minority in it. With dreams in their hearts they looked for better days, but they did not come. I grew up hearing the message that we didn’t belong and that our culture had made no lasting contribution to American life.

In the midst of this, however, my family found belonging in the church and it was a safe haven. In fact, the growing Latino presence in American Christianity is not only revitalizing congregational life today, but renewing the social ethical witness of mainline churches in contexts of marginality and in light of the values of justice and mercy.

Latinos in the United States represent the second largest Spanish speaking nation in the world with a history that reaches back a little more than 500 years, and yet most do not know that story. To honor our history in this period, I wrote this poem, Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15, 2016).


 

we have gathered words these

many years to write letters to

 

spread across the sky until the

end of time. the voices rise in

 

the harvest fields, they carol

songs from histories ground to

 

the deaf of ear, speak heaven’s

dreams to those who labor in the

 

kitchen, patching tires, fixing cars,

building things, packing meat, serving

 

food, harvesting crops, laying bricks,

mending pipes, nailing wood, stretching

 

wire, playing sports, raising kids, teaching

school, holding court, leading Mass, healing

 

the sick, and marching to old Uncle Sam’s

beating drum. we have gathered this month

 

with aged blood-shot eyes to remind

America of her beautiful brown skin and

 

a history magnificently chatted for hundreds

of years in Spanish. we have gathered on

 

the white porches calling for liberty to come

out, loathing to be carried away in chains, and

 

invisibility to plunge without halting a single

step into the deepest grave. we have gathered

 

to tell you with perfect broken-hearted dreams

America through all our deeds is the place we

 

rumble loud for home, justice, belonging and

peace.

 

h.j. Recinos

 

Harold J Recinos, Professor of Church and Society, Perkins School of Theology at SMU,  author of  two collections of poetry, Voices on the Corner (Wipf and Stock, 2015), Long Way Home (Floricanto and Berkeley Press, 2016), and Crossing Bridges (Floricanto Press, 2016).