Latin Flavor

Friday, September 26, 2003



I've been remiss in addressing Hispanic Heritage Month. I work as a volunteer in a diocesan program that reaches out to the Latino Catholic community in my area, but I honestly have been so busy with work that I completely neglected to write or think much of Hispanic Heritage month. I was reminded of my neglect by Father Jim Tucker's blog at Dappled Things.

I believe that the salvation of the Catholic Church in America will largely lie in the hands of the Latino immigrant population.

Let me explain something. I am a gringo through and through. I was born in South Carolina, raised in Ohio, and live in the DC metropolitan area, and I am a native English speaker who has not lived any extended time in Spain or Latin America. My wife is Tanzanian, where the language is Swahili, and she was raised between Tanzania and the USA. She speaks English with no accent.

So, why would I care about Hispanic Heritage Month if neither my wife nor I are Hispanic?

Because the Latin community brings spice and salsa (both the sauce and the dance) and color and passion and a sense of family and community to the great salada that is the American experiment....

Because Latin America is the world in a single serving. One person may be a beautiful brown mix of Native American, African, Chinese, and European...

Because the Latin culture is so Catholic without being stiff and stale like English and Irish Catholicism can sometimes is more like the Italians....

I hope Father Jim does not mind if I copy and paste a bit of his post into this text. He says it so clearly, I don't see why to re-word it:
I (very) occasionally hear arguments against specifically Hispanic outreach. Usually the arguments run along the lines of this: "Well, they're in America now, so they should just learn English like the rest of us. Besides, if we pander to them in Spanish, that just keeps them from learning our language and getting ahead, so it really doesn't help them in the long run. And, anyway, they just stick to themselves, speaking their language and ignoring the rest of us."
The Church's primary role is to preach the Gospel, not to give immigrants the "tough love" they need to become good, tax-paying, voting citizens. Providing English lessons is a good thing (and our parish does that), but our first task is to give immigrants a welcome in the name of the Church (whose official language, by the way, is not English) and to attend to the care of their souls. To say, "Come back and see us when you can understand English," is a wicked and abysmal attitude to take.
Another problem is that most Hispanic immigrants are not overwhelmed with free time and disposable income which they can use to attend English enrichment courses at the local college. And even if you provide free classes, their work schedules and long hours of work often make consistent class attendance difficult at best. Add into that the challenges for people who just aren't "good with languages" (how many bilingual Americans do you know?). And just because people can understand a decent amount of English, how comfortable will most be in conversing and mingling with people who speak it as a native language (how many people with four years of French would dare to engage in long conversations with a room full of Parisians?)?
Whatever our political beliefs about requiring immigrants to learn the de facto language of the United States, an English-only policy simply will not fit the Church's mission. A quick glance at the Church's history of ministering to immigrants in America shows that we have traditionally met the immigrants on their own linguistic and cultural turf (except where Irish-American clergy (who came here already speaking English) have tried to obstruct that).
If the Church meets her pastoral obligations toward the Hispanic newcomers (and that remains to be seen), and allows American Catholic life to be influenced in the way it was influenced by the Germans, Italians, and other "ethnic" Catholics, my own hope is that the Church in this country will experience a real infusion of new life and vigor.
I would add to Father Jim's thoughts the fact that the United States actually has no official language. There is nothing in the Constitution, or even state laws (that i know of) that gives any English speaker the RIGHT ot an English speaking neigbor, co-worker, doctor, etc...

Of course, we ALL know that success in America can be facilitated with mastery of the English language. I teach English as a Second Language as my volunteer activity in the diocecesan program. However, I am also learning Spanish!

I know from experience how difficult it is to communicate in another have adult thoughts and the vocabulary of a 4 year have an accent....

As Christians, we should have compassion for people who are having a difficult time.

I see my role as an ESOL instructor as a facilitator of sharing cultures with others. My students come from many different cultures, each with its own customs, accents, foods, music, and so forth. We celebrate our diversity - a diversity that builds up the Body of Christ!

The Bible actually indicates that hospitality is a virtue - Indeed, the Israelites cursed those who did not show hospitality:
"Cursed be he who violates the rights of an immigrant, the orphan or the widow! And all the people shall answer, 'Amen'" - (Deuteronomy 27:18)
Deuteronomy also recalls the memory of Israel's hatred for the Amelek's because of their lack of hospitality while the Hebrews traversed the desert (see Dt 25:17-19).

I would even argue the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19 is really about hospitality.

Some Americans say of immigrants "Why don't they go back where they came from if they can't learn English." People come to the land of opportunity to participate in our freedom and professed belief in diversity and equity!

They often come from war torn or famine stricken or dictator run nations, where no matter how hard life in America is without English, life at home was harder.

Saint Paul says charity begins at home. As Christians, we should be beacons of hope and light to hurting people - to EVERYONE - but especially our own Catholic siblings! The Church should be the home of the Latino people in North America.

So we Catholics of North America have a moral obligation to reach out in love to our sisters and brothers from the Southern hemisphere, who are overwhelmingly Catholic.

If we do not, the Evangelical Protestants will!

But in the end, don't do it for fear of the Protestants. Do it becase it is the right thing to do!

Peace and Blessings!

Readers may contact me at


posted by Jcecil3 3:20 PM

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