Felipe Hinojosa, Apostles of Change: Latino Radical Politics, Church Occupations, and the Fight to Save the Barrio, University of Texas Press, Austin, 2021. xiv + 219 pp. $45.00 (cloth). ISBN: 978-1-4773-2198-0.
Felipe Hinojosa follows his award-winning book Latino Mennonites with another accomplished search into the intersection between religion and ethnicity. In Apostles of Change, he invites us to look to the past so that we may dream for the future. Describing the story of four significant Latino radical movements that occurred in 1969—one year after the assassination of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.—Hinojosa seamlessly weaves in historical detail with captivating narrative. The book reads as an invitation to enter the year 1969 and acknowledge the Latina/o radicals who made significant contributions to the work of barrio (neighborhood) advocacy. Apostles of Change both inspires me and challenges the way I live into my faith and advocacy as a Latina religious studies scholar, minister, Anabaptist, and immigration advocate.
Hinojosa begins by making the case for writing about religion within the Latina/o freedom movement. Previous scholarship has largely ignored (or not had the opportunity to write about) the religious traditions of Latino/a political actors. Beyond the often referenced and nonetheless significant Liberation movement or the study of Pentecostal appeal among Latina/os, Hinojosa writes about the intricacies of negotiating Latina/o barrio concerns with religious institutions and peoples, conscientiously describing the complexity and challenges between Latina/o radicals and religious leadership. The relationships were tenuous, he notes, but they were significant for providing resources to “the people” whose geographies these churches occupied. “At least for a moment,” he observes, “a robust relationship existed between young radicals and religious leaders.” (5). For example, chapter one tells of the occupation by the Young Lords Organization (YLO) of McCormick Theological Seminary to protect the Lincoln Park neighborhood from being displaced by a construction company while the Presbyterian Latin American Caucus (PLAC) refused to support their cause. Both the Latina/o radicals and the religious leadership had desired and needed partnership and resources, but their voices had been largely unacknowledged before the occupation. Afterward, however, their impact was incredible.
Apostles of Change outlines three themes I highly resonate with and am challenged by: (1) collaboration, (2) the insider/outsider paradigm, and (3) sacred space:
Collaboration. In current discussions on equity and inclusion, much work is being done to continue contesting the Black/White binary of anti-racism work. Even so, institutions still bias or attend to certain voices over others. Hinojosa, on the other hand, envisions collaboration, disrupts the notion of the binary as being historic, and invites partnership across racial and ethnic lines for the barrio, our neighborhoods. In various instances, he mentions that Latina/o radicals were supported by seminary students, Black activists, neighborhood leaders, mothers, and the Poor People’s coalition, to name a few. Reading Apostles of Change has provided me with encouraging examples showing that Black and “Brown” partnership has occurred in the past and will continue into the future.
Insider/Outsider Paradigm. The theme of insider/outsider arises in particular within a religious institutional view of activists. In other words, the insiders are the ordained clergy of the occupied spaces, and the outsiders are the Latina/o activists, regardless of their faith background. The insider/outsider paradigm does not discount the Latina/o activists’ faith or lack thereof but rather acknowledges the way that church leaders prevented organizing efforts. The dichotomy that Hinojosa raises is provocative. Religious leaders, myself included, are encouraged to consider how our platforms and resources are advancing or thwarting voices from marginalized neighborhoods and their advocates. Hinojosa’s examples point to pastors who were struggling for their own visibility within their denominations. Do we likewise thwart voices through the excuse that we are fighting our own struggles, or do we share these struggles with the emerging activists and seek partnership not just across religious inclinations but also across age, socioeconomic status, and geographies? These are the questions I continuously ask myself, and this book assures me they are questions to keep asking.
Sacred Space. One of the most potent illustrations of sacred space from Apostles of Change is the occupation of St. Basil church in Los Angeles, California, by the Católicos Por La Raza (CPLR: Catholics for the People), who were challenging the sacredness of a three-million-dollar building sitting geographically close to impoverished Mexican American and other communities of color. The juxtaposition between the (assumed) sacred church and the (assumed) non-sacred group of young Latina/o radicals makes for an intense story. In this and another of Hinojosa’s chapters, blood was shed over a people whom a religious authority had deemed as not sacred, raising the question: where is the sacred in physical violence against one’s neighbor? Or racial violence? By examining these spaces under the sacred paradigm, Hinojosa insinuates the profane and complicates traditionally held sacred spaces that became locations of struggle for survival for Latina/o communities.
As I read through the Católicos activism I was reminded of Friendship West Baptist Church’s advocacy for the removal of a mountain of shingles in Dallas’s southern sector. Dumped on a predominantly African American neighborhood, the illegal mountain of shingles was slowly destroying the vegetation and land as toxic chemicals seeped out of the materials and infiltrated the soil. Churches are sacred not only within their walls but also outside of them (good news for all during the pandemic restrictions). There is a sacredness, an act of worship to God, when church members embody the love and justice and mercy of God’s love.
The most significant part of the book is its contribution to the emerging field of Latina/o religious history through story. Much more of such storytelling is needed to help guide the future. At present, over-resourced churches attempt to collaborate with their under-resourced Latina/o church plants, but the partnerships are usually not equitable, or the advocates are discounted for various reasons (not faithful enough, not mature enough, not able to comprehend enough, etc.). Hinojosa opens the door for such stories of present-day Latina/o church struggles to be told and documented. Personally, Hinojosa challenges me to listen to the stories and partner with emerging local activists from my neighborhoods over their legitimate concerns for the barrio.
Apostles of Change is not just really good storytelling of inspired Latina/o activists from history but also a “dreaming and imagining something new and then working to make it happen” (148). It is a reminder that Latina/o activists are not a new phenomenon; we have been around, we will continue to be around, and we invite you to the table to collaborate.
Noemi Vega Quiñones lives in Dallas, TX, virtually attends Friendship West Baptist Church while pursuing her PhD in Religious Ethics at Southern Methodist University (Dallas), and serves as Associate Minister for InterVarsity’s Latino/a Fellowship (LaFe).