"Chicano writers from El Paso are the most progressive, open-minded, far-reaching, and inclusive writers of them all."

Octavio Romano

Sunday, June 25, 2006

La Virgen & Beyond: Religion in Chicano(a) and Latino(a) Letters

Faith has taken hold of some publisher. Who knows if this is a response to “moral values” and the “Last Temptation,” “Chronicles of Narnia,” and good Christians like Pat Robertson and James Dobson.

On the Catholics side, La Virgen is ever popular for publishers and authors. But new focus has been given to topics such as the fiesta system of indigenous groups, church and barrio organizing, sanctuary movements during the Central American genocide, Protestant “Hispanics,” and Cyptic-Jews and Muslims.

But one thing that is different about some of the books recently released having to do with Chicano(a)s and Latino(a)s and religion is that most deal with Christianity and company and most deal a subject many “American” Christians find foreign: “helping the least of those” and the “angels in disguise.” Then there are many of the book being released concerning Crypto-Jews in the Americas.

Among the book we will look at are PADRES: The National Chicano Priest Movement; Virgin of El Barrio: Marian Apparitions; Catholic Evangelizing, and Mexican American Activism; Belief in Dialogue: U.S. Latina Writers Confront Their Religious Heritage; Latino Religions and Civic Activism In The United States; and United States Hispanic Catholics: Trends and Works, 1990-2000.

If you look back at some of our older issues, we predicted this trend, and we mention some books dealing with the same topics, even looking at Protestants. I know Carmen Tafolla has some interesting stories on Protestantism. I joked one time with Texas playwright Adrian Villegas of Waco that we were the only Chicano Baptist in Texas.

Local Religion in Colonial Mexico (Diálogos series) (Paperback)(Univ of New Mexico Press March 16, 2006 ISBN 0826334024) edited by Martin Austin Nesvig and Lyman L. Johnson has ten essays that provide information about the religious culture in colonial Mexico. Carlos Eire's essay begins the study with the meaning of "popular religion" in colonial Mexico. Antonio Rubial García looks at the use of icons. www.unmpress.com.

Emerging Voices Urgent Choices: Latino-a Leadership Development from the Pew to the Plaza (Paperback)(Brill Academic Pub, Religion in the Americas Series, V. 4, Jan 2006 ISBN 9004148167) by Edwin I. Hernandez, Milagros Pena, and Kenneth G. Davis focuses on the strength of U.S. "Hispanic" churches. “In this pioneering volume, experts from various disciplines examine the remarkable contribution of Hispanic churches to U.S. society and the challenges their leaders face in serving the country’s growing Latino population.

Chapters analyze success stories in Latino(a) ministry, specific issues for Catholic leadership and Protestant denominations, and the political and community-serving activities of diverse congregations. Together, the essays demonstrate how Hispanic churches of every denomination are generating social capital in neglected communities.

The book updates previous research on religion that largely ignores U.S. Latino(a)s, and adds a new dimension to Latino Studies scholarship by recognizing the important role that religion plays in Hispanic life.” The incongruent use of Latino and Hispanic is the publishers own.

Race and Churches

United by Faith: The Multiracial Congregation as an Answer to the Problem of Race was published by Oxford University Press in 2003. In this book Curtis Paul Deyoung, Michael O. Emerson, George Yancey, and Karen Chai Kim looks at the “last 40 years” and how “desegregation has revolutionized almost every aspect of life in the US: schools, businesses, government offices, even entertainment.” However they are quick to point out, the church has been untouched. The authors argue that “multiracial Christian congregations offer an opening the still-locked door between the races in the US.

They note, however, that a belief persists — even in African-American and Latino churches — that racial segregation is an acceptable, even useful practice. The authors examine this question from biblical, historical, and theological perspectives to make their case. They explore the long history of inter-racialism in the church, with specific examples of multiracial congregations in the United States. This is a critical account of the theological arguments in favor of racial separation, as voiced in the African-American, Latino, Asian-American, Native-American, and White contexts.

The authors respond in detail, closing with a foundation for a theology suited to sustaining multiracial congregations over time. Readers will see a path toward making the church the basis for racial reconciliation in our still-splintered nation.” - Publishers Description.

The Perpetual Virgen

There is always something being published about La Virgen.

Northwestern University Press, last year, published Bernando and the Virgin (Northwestern Univ. Press Latino Voices Series Nov 2004 ISBN 0810122405), Silvio Sirias. It focuses around a lesser-known apparition of La Virgen. “In 1980, with the Sandinistas newly in power, tailor and pig farmer Bernardo Martínez witnesses an extraordinary thing: an otherworldly glow about the statue of the Virgin Mary in the church where he works as sacristán. Soon the Holy Virgin appears. She tells Bernardo to forget his money problems and fear of ridicule, and spread her message of peace and faith to his neighbors.

Though a work of fiction, this book is based on actual events in Bernardo Martínez' life. The
visitation of the Virgin Mary at Cuapa, Nicaragua, remains one of the few such events accepted by the Roman Catholic Church in the last 60 years.

Sirias' novel tells many stories: that of a humble man touched by the transcendent; that same man as a devout boy denied the priesthood because of poverty; and those in his orbit, past and present. It is also the stormy epic of Nicaragua through the long Somoza years to the Sandinista revolution.” www.nupress.northwestern.edu.

The University of New Mexico Press published Guadalulpe (Univ of New Mexico Nov 2004 ISBN 0826337627) by Carla Zarebska and Alejandro Gómez de Tuddo (Photographer). “Guadalupe is a lavishly illustrated history of Mexico’s religious traditions. Touching briefly on the pre-Columbian decades of many deities, Zarebska devotes most of the book to the post-colonial centuries of Catholicism, the Madre of modern Mexico, and the traditions and legends surrounding her.”

Hard Working Catholics: Central America

What’s been most interesting to me is books by really sincere Christians, those that actually obey the second greatest commandment and “love their neighbor.” In The Blindfold’s Eyes (Orbis Books 2002 ISBN 1570754357), Sister Diana Ortiz tell of her experience in Guatemala. From P u b l i s h e r s Weekly — “In 1989, Sister Dianna Ortiz, an American-born nun, was abducted from the compound where she worked in Guatemala. Twenty-four hours later, she escaped, but within that brief period, her body had been burned with cigarettes, she'd been raped, beaten and forced to torture a woman who was already near death.

As a consequence of her devastation, Ortiz lost every memory she had of her life before the kidnapping, and spent years battling both real and remembered demons in a struggle to heal herself and to spread the word about U.S. complicity in Guatemala's repressive political system and in the torture and murder of 1,000s of innocent Guatemalans.

This is an important book for two reasons: its illustration of the fallout of torture and the special needs of survivors, and Ortiz's well-documented narrative of the U.S. government's refusal to take seriously what happened to her, particularly as she identified one of her torturers as an American. Ortiz's determination to tell the truth, in spite of ongoing threats and her own fear, makes this book impossible to dismiss.” - publishers description

Also on Ortiz, Psst . . . I Have Something To Tell You, Mi Amor (Wings Press Oct 2005 ISBN 0916727203) by Ana Castillo wrote some plays focusing on Sister Dianna Ortiz who traveled as a missionary in the early 1980s to the highlands of Guatemala, where she taught Mayan children to read and write.

On Nov 2, 1989, Sister Dianna was sitting in the garden of her convent when she heard a man behind her say, in Spanish, "Hello, my love. We have some things to discuss." She was abducted by this man, who together with others, transported her to a jail where she was brutally tortured. One of her torturers — their boss, in fact — was a North American, probably associated with the US government in some capacity. Miraculously, Sister Dianna escaped by leaping from a car in which she was being transported.

“Castillo’s displays of emotion and experience are legitimately heavy with truthfulness. It jolts readers with a blast of reality.” — Raymundo Elí Rojas, The Newspaper Tree. www.wingspress.com. You can read the rest of my review of this book on The Newspaper Tree.

Another recent book is Father Roy Bourgeois biography — Disturbing the Peace: The Story of Father Roy Bourgeois and the Movement to Close the School of the Americas (Orbis Books Fall 2004), James Hodge and Linda Cooper, with forward by Martin Sheen. After years as a Naval officer in Viet Nam and a missionary in Bolivia, Maryknoll priest Roy Bourgeois was imprisoned for challenging the US government’s action in Latin America.

This book chronicles the many activists that built the School of the Americas Watch movement and presents new research on the action of SOA graduates. With personal stories of how Bourgeois learned the reality of oppression in Latin America, this book is an excellent book for lending to family and friends. www.soaw.org

Also focusing on Central America is Romero: A Life (Orbis Books ISBN 157075599X) by James R. Brockman. It’s just been published in its 25th Anniversary Edition! “It is 25 years since Oscar Romero, the prophetic archbishop of San Salvador, was assassinated while celebrating Mass. In death, he joined tens of thousands of his fellow Salvadorans, killed in the conflict that engulfed his small Central American nation. In the years since then, his reputation and significance have only grown. Today the very name Romero invokes the church’s costly option for the poor, the gospel challenge to confront injustice, the Christian call to discipleship in a world of conflict, and a new face of holiness for our time. First published in 1989, James Brockman’s biography remains the definitive portrait of the modern hero and martyr who became “a voice of the voiceless.” James R. Brockman, who died in 1996, was a Jesuit priest and a former editor of America Magazine. www.maryknollmall.org/description.cfm?ISBN=1-57075-599-X.

Sanctuaries of the Heart / Santuarios del Corazón: A novella in English and Spanish (Univ of Arizona Press Sept ISBN 0816524653) by Margarita Cota-Cárdenas and translated from the original Spanish by Barbara Riess and Trino Sandoval, in collaboration with the author, also has an introduction by one of my favorite scholars, Tey Diana Rebolledo.

In this book, “Petra Leyva has begun to write a novel about the Sanctuary Movement when she hears that her widowed, womanizing father has set fire to his house in a drunken rage. Overwhelmed by family memories, Petra begins a journey of introspection that leads her to explore what “sanctuary” really means to present day Chicanas. Petra learns there are various types of sanctuaries — not only those aiding Central American refugees but also less obvious safe havens for the weak, the ill, the elderly, the poor. Universities are sanctuaries to which the young can flee in search of a better life.” www.uapress.arizona.edu/books/bid1618.htm.

Hard Working Catholics: Mexico

Of course, who can forget the scholar monja Sor Juana. Pawns of a House/Los empeños de una casa a play by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (Bilingual Press Mar 2006 ISBN 193101017X) is now published in a bilingual edition. “In this 17th-century cloak-and-sword play, eight characters are enmeshed in a tangled web of mutual obligations. When they find themselves thrown together in the house of Don Pedro de Arellano in Toledo, they struggle to fulfill, or escape, those obligations. The action involves female rivalry, love triangles, kidnapping, and confusion of identities. The hilarity peaks when the rivals, young Don Pedro and Don Carlos, who are moved about the house like pawns on a game board, clash swords in the darkness, only to discover by candlelight that the person they are fighting over is not the beloved Doña Leonor, but the gracioso Castaño dressed in her clothing. In the end, however, the immobilized characters regain the initiative and make way for the comic solution of multiple marriages.” - publishers description. www.asu.edu/brp/newandforthcoming/Cruz_Pawns.html.

The most interesting book I’ve seen and that I want to run out and buy is The Prison Angel: Mother Antonia's Journey from Beverly Hills to a Life of Service in a Mexican Jail (Paperback)(Penguin Non-Classics May 30, 2006 ISBN 014303717X) by Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan. The winners of the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for international reporting tell the astonishing story of Mary Clarke. “At the age of 50, Clarke left her comfortable life in suburban Los Angeles to follow a spiritual calling to care for the prisoners in one of Mexico's most notorious jails. She actually moved into a cell to live among drug king pins and petty thieves.

She has led many of them through profound spiritual transformations in which they turned away from their lives of crime, and has deeply touched the lives of all who have witnessed the depth of her compassion. Donning a nun's habit, she became Mother Antonia, renowned as ‘the prison angel,’ and has now organized a new community of sisters-the Servants of the Eleventh Hour--widows and divorced women seeking new meaning in their lives. ‘We had never heard a story like hers,’ Jordan and Sullivan write, ‘a story of such powerful goodness.’

Born in Beverly Hills, Clarke was raised around the glamour of Hollywood and looked like a star herself, a beautiful blonde reminiscent of Grace Kelly. The choreographer Busby Berkeley spotted her at a restaurant and offered her a job, but Mary's dream was to be a happy wife and mother. She raised seven children, but her two unfulfilling marriages ended in divorce. Then in the late 1960s, in midlife, she began devoting herself to charity work, realizing she had an extraordinary talent for drumming up donations for the sick and poor.

On one charity mission across the Mexican border to the drug-trafficking capitol of Tijuana, she visited La Mesa prison and experienced an intense feeling that she had found her true life's work. As she recalls, ‘I felt like I had come home.’ Receiving the blessings of the Catholic Church for her mission, on March 19, 1977, at the age of 50, she moved into a cell in La Mesa, sleeping on a bunk with female prisoners above and below her. Nearly twenty-eight years later she is still living in that cell, and the remarkable power of her spiritual counseling to the prisoners has become legendary."

Check out the National Public Radio's story on Mother Antonia.

Rebellious Nuns: The Troubled History of a Mexican Convent, 1752-1863 (Oxford Univ Press Nov. 2005 0195182219) by Margaret Chowning is a “treasure-trove of documents that allow an intimate look at two crises that wracked the convent of La Purísima Concepción in San Miguel el Grande, New Spain (Mexico). At the heart of both rebellions were attempts by some nuns to impose a regimen of strict observance of their vows on the others, and the resistance mounted by those who had a different view of the convent and their own role in it.

Would the community adopt as austere a lifestyle as they could endure, doing manual labor, suffering hunger and physical discomfort, deprived of the society of family and friends? Or would these women be allowed to lead comfortable and private lives when not at prayer? Accusations and counteraccusations flew. First one side and then the other seemed to have the upper hand. For a time, a mysterious and dramatic illness broke out among the rebellious nuns, capturing the limelight. Were they faking? Were they unconsciously influenced by their ringleader, the charismatic and manipulative young women who first experienced the ‘mal’?

Rebellious Nuns covers the history of the convent from its founding in 1752 to the forced eviction of the nuns in 1863.” www.oup.com/us.

Protestants Reformings

Protestants are frequently left out of Chicano(a) Literature and Latino(a) Literature. To many, stories of La Virgen and Quiceñeras don’t relate. Except that many Chicano(a) Baptist started having quiceneras in the late 1980s. Humorously, as Garrison Keillor humoursly said in one of his “News from Lake Wobegon,” “I read Fox’s Book of Martyrs, I remember what they did to us.” Putting all that aside, Columbia University Press published in 2003, Latino Pentecostal Identity - Evangelical Faith, Self and Society (ISBN 0231127332) by Arlene M. Sánchez-Walsh. “Of the 37 million Latinos living in the United States, nearly five million declare themselves either Pentecostal or Charismatic, and more convert every day.

Latino Pentecostal Identity examines the historical and contemporary rise of Pentecostalism among Latinos, their conversion from other denominations, and the difficulties involved in reconciling conflicts of ethnic and religious identity. The book also looks at how evangelical groups encourage the severing of ethnic ties in favor of spiritual community and the ambivalence Latinos face when their faith fails to protect them from racial discrimination." www.columbia.edu/cu/cup/catalog/data/023112/0231127324.HTM.

In Hispanic Methodists, Presbyterians, and Baptists in Texas (Paperback)(Univ of Tex Press May 1, 2006 ISBN 0292713355), Paul Barton presents the first comparative history of Hispanic Methodists, Presbyterians, and Baptists in Texas. In the Baptist area, “Hispanic,” unfortunately, is the term of use, as it is here in Kansas City. I hear new immigrants calling themselves “Hispanos” and I cringe.

Anyway, this book covers “a broad sweep from the 1830s to the 1990s.” “Barton examines how Mexican-American Protestant identities have formed and evolved as los Protestantes interacted with their two very different communities in the barrio and in the Protestant church. He looks at historical trends and events that affected Mexican-American Protestant identity at different periods and discusses why and how shifts in los Protestantes' sense of identity occurred.

His research highlights the fact that while Protestantism has traditionally served to assimilate Mexican Americans into the dominant U.S. society, it has also been transformed into a vehicle for expressing and transmitting Hispanic culture and heritage by its Mexican-American adherents.”

Padres and Madres in the Barrio

Those from Los Angeles are familiar with Father Boyle. G-Dog and the Homeboys: Father Greg Boyle and the Gangs of East Los Angeles (Univ of New Mexico Press Sept 2004 ISBN 0826335365) by Celeste Fremon and foreword by Tom Brokaw. “Father Greg Boyle admits that East Los Angeles can be a grim place: ‘A great many kids in my neighborhood don't plan their futures; they plan their funerals.’

But the Jesuit priest refuses to accept eulogies as his major job assignment. Working since 1986 in the poorest parish in the Los Angeles diocese, ‘Father Greg’ has run Jobs for a Future, ambitious, albeit cash-strapped program that has helped thousands of gang members discover a life beyond the death mill. G-Dog and The Homeboys presents the story Boyle's unconventional ministry and its extraordinary successes.” www.unmpress.com

Another book focusing on priests and Chicanos Catholics is PADRES: The National Chicano Priest Movement (Univ. of Texas Press June 2005 ISBN 0292706782) by Richard Edward Martínez. “From the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo to the 1960s, Chicano/Mexican American Catholics experienced racism and discrimination within the U.S. Catholic church, as white priests and bishops maintained a racial divide in all areas of the church's ministry.

To oppose this religious apartheid and challenge the church to minister fairly to all of its faithful, a group of Chicano priests formed PADRES (Padres Asociados para Derechos Religiosos, Educativos y Sociales, or Priests Associated for Religious, Educational, and Social Rights) in 1969. Over the next 20 years of its existence, PADRES became a powerful force for change within the Catholic church and for social justice within American society.

This book offers the first history of the founding, activism, victories, and defeats of PADRES. At the heart of the book are oral history interviews with the founders of PADRES, who describe how their ministries in poor Chicano parishes, as well as their own experiences of racism and discrimination within and outside the church, galvanized them into starting and sustaining the movement.

Martínez traces the ways in which PADRES was inspired by the Chicano movement and other civil rights struggles of the 1960s and also probes its linkages with liberation theology in Latin America. He uses a combination of social movement theory and organizational theory to explain why the group emerged, flourished, and eventually disbanded in 1989.” www.utexas.edu/utpress

Father Rahm’s Book

Before Lalo Delgado died, he mentioned that his mentor Father Harold Rahm had written a book and sent him the manuscript. It’s time for Father Harold Rahm to put something out. Like Boyle, he’s been doing similar stuff since the 1950s from El Paso’s Segundo Barrio to San Paulo, Brazil. For those of you who are not familiar with Rahm, he was Lalo Delgado’s mentor. He was known as the “Bicycle Priest” and he would give mass in the vecidares. He would also haul fighting barrio youth into the Sacred Heart boxing ring. “If you want to fight each other, do it in here,” Lalo related to me.

In The Church in the Barrio: Mexican American Ethno-Catholicism in Houston (Hardcover)(Univ of North Carolina Press Feb 27, 2006 ISBN 080782996X), Roberto R. Treviño tells “a story that spans from the founding of immigrant parishes in the early 20th century to the rise of the Chicano civil rights movement in the early 1970s, Treviño discusses how an intertwining of ethnic identity and Catholic faith equipped Mexican Americans in Houston to overcome adversity and find a place for themselves in the Bayou City.” http://uncpress.unc.edu/default.htm.

There is also The Virgin of El Barrio: Marian Apparitions, Catholic Evangelizing, and Mexican American Activism (Qualitative Studies in Religion) (New York Univ Press May 2005 ISBN 0814758258) by Kristy Nabhan-Warren. “In 1998, a Mexican American woman named Estela Ruíz began seeing visions of the Virgin Mary in south Phoenix. The apparitions and messages spurred the creation of Mary’s Ministries, a Catholic evangelizing group, and its sister organization, ESPIRITU, which focuses on community-based initiatives and social justice for Latinos(as). Based on ten years of participant observation and in-depth interviews, The Virgin of El Barrio traces the spiritual transformation of Ruiz, the development of the community that has sprung up around her, and the international expansion of their message.”

Our own Mario T. Garcia put out Padre: The Spiritual Journey of Father Virgil Cordano on Capra Press last year (2005) in May (ISBN 1592660525). He gives the story of a priest's tumultuous, challenging journey toward his place in the church: “This is a biography of Father Virgil Cordano, now the spiritual and administrative head of Santa Barbara's Old Mission. His poignant journey and personal and spiritual issues mirror the tumultuous times for his beloved Catholic Church.

Father Virgil, through all his tests, is committed to his religion, his family, and his community. Includes discussion of the emerging freedom of the Catholic lay community, the shifting winds of change within the church, and the agonizing effects of the sexual abuse crisis.” Website unavailable.

Latinos and the New Immigrant Church (John Hopkins Univ Press May 2006 ISBN 0801883873) by David A. Badillo shows how “Latin Americans” “make up the largest new immigrant population in the United States, and how Latino Catholics are the fastest-growing sector of the Catholic Church in America. In this book, historian Badillo offers a history of Latino Catholicism in the United States by looking at its growth in San Antonio, Chicago, New York, and Miami.

Focusing on 20th-century Latino urbanism, Badillo contrasts broad historic commonalities of Catholic religious tradition with variations of Latino ethnicity in various locales. He emphasizes the contours of day-to-day life as well as various aspects of institutional and lived Catholicism.

By contrasting the development of three distinctive Latino communities — the Chicano(as), Puerto Ricans, and Cuban Americans. Badillo challenges the popular concept of an overarching ‘Latino experience’ and offers instead an integrative approach to understanding the scope, depth, and complexity of the Latino contribution to the character of America's urban landscapes.”

Crypto and Sephardic

The University of New Mexico Press and Floricanto Press, among others, have been putting out a lot of books focusing on Crypto-Jews. Ilan Stavans has edited some book as well and has written some introductions to some. Abuelita's Secret Matzahs (Emmis Books March 2005 ISBN 1578601770) by Sandy Eisenberg Sasso and Diana Bryer (Illustrator) “tells children the fascinating but little-known story of Crypto Jews — Jews forced to convert to Christianity during the Spanish Inquisition who secretly maintained their

Jewish identity and customs throughout the ages — often unaware of the reasons for some of these customs. When Jacobo persists in asking his grandmother about these practices, she tells him the secret of their past and offers him the chance to be the keeper of traditions for his generation.

As Jacobo learns about the origins of his family, he begins to think about his own place in the chain of the generations. After reading the story, parents and children will be able to discuss their own family traditions and history.”

This book reminds me a politico family in El Paso who found out they were actually Crypto-Jews. They were Chicano and this cause some of the family to convert back to Judaism, except for one, who put out a statement, politically savvy, that he was still Catholic fearing he would lose his Catholic voters. Amusing.

Another book on this topic is Bring Me More Stories (Floricanto Press ISBN 0915745674), Sally Benforado. In these short tales, author Benforado weaves together the oral history of a family of Sephardic Jews, from their close knit home in Turkey to their new lives in America. They are stories of a heritage that spans the globe, of centuries-old traditions transported to a different world, and of people who held tightly to the ways of their ancestors, who, like them, left their homes to settle in a strange new land. www.floricantopress.com.

Brotherhood of the Light: A novel of the Penitentes and Crypto-Jews of New Mexico (Floricanto Press ISBN 0915745666) by Ray Michael Baca is a novel about the un-easy and often misunderstood relationships of Crypto-Jews and Hispanos in New Mexico and their deep common roots in Spanish history — conquest and colonization — and religious faith and shared values. www.floricantopress.com. Another book on this press is Remnants of Crypto-Jews Among Hispanic Americans by Gloria Golden, Edited by Andrea Alessandra Cabello, University of California, Berkeley, and Sohaib Raihan (ISBN: 0-915745-56-9).

Memory, Oblivion, and Jewish Culture in Latin America on Univ of Texas Press (ISBN 029270643X), edited by Marjorie Agosín, shows how “Latin America has been a refuge for Jews fleeing persecution from 1492, when Sepharad Jews were expelled from Spain, until well into the twentieth century, when European Jews sought sanctuary there from the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust:

"Vibrant Jewish communities have deep roots in countries such as Argentina, Mexico, Guatemala, and Chile, though members of these communities have at times experienced the pain of being ‘the other,’ ostracized by Christian society and even tortured by military governments. While commonalities of religion and culture link these communities across time and national boundaries, the Jewish experience in Latin America is irreducible to a single perspective. Only a multitude of voices can express it."

A recent Southwest Book Award Winner, Pomegranate Seeds: Latin American Jewish Tales (Univ of New Mexico Press 2005 08263239IX), by Nadia Grosser Nagarajan writes the first collection of the oral tradition of Latin American Jews to be presented in English. These 34 tales span the 500 years of Jewish presence in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The Muslim Side

On the other side of the coin, and less focused upon by publisher, are the Crypto-Muslims. Covert Gestures: Crypto-Islamic Literature as Cultural Practice in Early Modern Spain (Univ of Minnesota Press May 2005 ISBN 0816644756) by Vincent Barletta is purported to be “the first cultural analysis of the secret literature of Spain’s last Muslim communities.

Forcibly expelled from Spain in the early 17th-century, the substantial Muslim community known as the moriscos left behind a hidden yet extremely rich corpus of manuscripts . Copied out in Arabic script and concealed in walls, false floors, and remote caves, these little-known texts now offer modern readers an absorbing look into the cultural life of the moriscos during he hundred years between heir forced conversion to Christianity and their eventual expulsion.

In its interdisciplinary approach, Barletta’s work is nothing less than a rewriting of the cultural history of Muslim Spain, as well as a re-plotting of the future course of medieval and early modern literary studies.”

I really think this is an untapped part of Chicano(a) letters. With all the Arab, Persian, Muslim, Lebanese influence we’ve seen in Chicano and Latino scenes (e.g., Shakira), it’s time authors start focusing on this. Just look at it. Agustin Lara’s famous song Granada was about a Moorish city. In fact, The Plaza area, here in Kansas City, is based on Moorish architecture. The common last name Medina. Salamanca. Cordova. The Guitar. Coffee. Cotton. I can go on about Muslim and Arab contribution. Do you have an Muslim link in your family? Why not write about it.

Looking at Latin America

Activist Faith: Grassroots Women in Democratic Brazil and Chile (Pennsylvania State Univ Press June 2005 ISBN 0271025492) by Carol Ann Drogus and Hannah Stewart- Gambino, two of today’s leading authorities on religion and politics in Latin America, have teamed up to produce the “first comprehensive study of women’s grassroots religious movements since the transition to democracy in Brazil and Chile.

On a theoretical level, the book compels us to rethink the conventional wisdom about the ‘death’ of social movements in Latin America. On a more human level, the interviews with women activists give voice to ‘ordinary heroes’ so often absent from the literature.” —Philip J. Williams, University of Florida. Quoted from PSU Press website.

Other Faiths

History of the Mormons in Argentina (Greg Kofford Books Aug 2005 ISBN 1589580524), Nestor Curbelo. Originally published in Spanish, this book is a groundbreaking book detailing the growth of the Church of Latter Day Saints in this Latin American country. Through numerous interviews and access to other primary resources, Curbelo has constructed a timeline and then details the story of the growth of the Church. This is an interesting book since El Paso has a large Mormon population, many Mexican Mormon who are descendants of those who fled Pancho Villa’s targeting of their religion. Plus, there are many Mormon colonies in Chihuahua.


New Mexico Press is always on a roll. Their The Alabados of New Mexico (July 1, 2005 ISBN 0826329675) by Thomas J. Steele focuses on the sacred Spanish-language hymns known as alabados originated in colonial New Spain in the 18th century. “This book includes a selection of the most beloved and most often sung hymns, in English and Spanish, as well as a basic explanation of the alabado.

Introductory material discusses the sources of alabados and the form's origin in late medieval spirituality. Thomas Steele defines terms and discusses the alabado as poetry, music, and oral tradition.”

In Cantemos Al Alba: Origins of Songs, Sounds, and Liturgical Drama of Hispanic New Mexico (Hardcover) also on Univ of New Mexico Press (June 16, 2006 ISBN 0826338747), Tomás Lozano gives us “the first book to trace the origins of Hispanic New Mexico's liturgical drama, early songs, and sounds to ancient European traditions.

"Tomás Lozano weaves a historical unifying thread of events originating in medieval Spain, passing through Mexico and into New Mexico. In the process, Lozano uncovers folklore never treated before. Lozano reveals a portion of United States history that to this day goes largely unrecognized. He demonstrates how the first music schools of what today is the U.S. actually began along the Río Grande Valley of New Mexico." - from book description

In his 17 chapters, Lozano presents over one hundred songs with original music notations, compares full dramatic exemplars, and brings forward recordings of perhaps forgotten sounds. Cantemos al Alba is an innovative study and bank of information that provides testimony for Lozano's anthological work.”

In Holy Intoxication to Drunken Dissipation: Alcohol Among Quichua Speakers in Otavalo, Ecuador (Paperback)(Univ of New Mexico Press Mar 16, 2006 ISBN 0826338143), Barbara Y. Butler shows how “on the eve of the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire, peoples throughout the Andes brewed beer from corn and other grains, believing that this alcoholic beverage, called asua, was a gift from the gods, a drink possessing the power to mediate between the human and divine.

Consuming asua to intoxication was a sacred tradition that humans and spirits shared, creating reciprocal joy and ties of mutual obligation. When Butler began research in Huaycopungo, Ecuador, in 1977, ceremonial drinking was causing hardship for these Quichua-speaking people. Then, in 1987, a devastating earthquake was interpreted as a message from God to end the ritual obligation to get drunk.”

More on Race and the Church

Also of interest is sociologist/evangelist Tony Campolo The Church Enslaved: A spirituality for Racial Reconciliation: "Two of the most vocal activists on racial issues in the church seek nothing less than a conversion of American Christianity. They directly challenge the churches to resume leadership in overcoming and redressing America's legacy of racial segregation. Campolo (
Revolution and Renewal: How Churches Are Saving Our Cities) and Battle (Practicing Reconciliation in a Violent World) expose the realities of racial division in the churches and then lift up a vision of a Church without racism. To achieve reconciliation within and among the denominations, they argue, both the black and the white church need to acknowledge and overcome substantial problems in their traditions. The authors provide an blueprint for how racially-reconciled churches can encourage activism in the cities, church involvement in politics, and responsible use of the Bible, ultimately helping to transform American society itself." Read a agnostic/atheist review of this book by clicking HERE.

Well, until next time.

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