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
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).
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Verbs of power and people!
Thank you for this poignant, eloquent witness!
Harold, Thank you so much for always sharing your messages with me. I do hope we can meet in person one of this days. I attend HPUMC on Sundays. I am one of the greeters, riding around all over the church in my wheelchair. I’ve been a member here for more than 20 years, and been involved in many different services.
I always enjoy your messages, as I am also an immigrant from Mexico, having come on September 13, 1953 with my mother and sister. Maybe one of these days we can get together at the coffee shop and share experiences.