Below is the reflection I shared last week at the Dignity Convention, I focused on intersectional justice through the frame of la frontera–we are a borderland people who inhabit the intersecting and interfering of our many identities.
Buenas tardes…it is a true honor to be here and to share this space with two of my inspirations in this work and with all of you who live out this struggle for justice everyday.
My work has been sparked by the lives and testimonies of Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz, Marcella Althaus Reid, Gloria Anzaldua, Letty Russell, and Hildegard of Bingen…all who are presente.
I would like to start off with two short readings…
from Gloria Anzaldua … Borderlands, La Frontera: The New Mestiza
“For the lesbian of color, the ultimate rebellion she can make against her native culture, is through her sexual behavior…she goes against two moral prohibitions: sexuality and homosexuality. Being lesbian and raised Catholic, indoctrinated as straight, I made the choice to be queer. Its an interesting path, one that continually slips in and out of the white, the catholic, the mexican, the indigenous, the instincts. in and out of my head. it makes for loqueria, the crazies. it is a path of knowledge–one of knowing and of learning the history of oppression of our raza. it is a way of balancing, of mitigating duality.”
reading – Paul’s letter to the Galatians 3.28-29
There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.
Balancing and mitigating duality … Neither greek or jew, neither male or female … many have argued that these words of Paul reflect the making of an emerging Christian tribe … who like us, was coming together in hopes of sorting out their identity as individuals and as a community in the midst of changes in government, religious and cultural persecution of their beliefs that differed from the norm, and infighting among their leaders over who could and couldn’t be a Christian.
However, rather than engaging this surface understanding, I want us to go deeper and query Paul’s idea and use of “or” in light of Gloria’s concept of duality, venturing that Paul was a theologian of la frontera. His message to the Galatians is that there is neither blank or blank, because they are a both/and people—a people who dwell in the borderlands identities and justice.
Like the galatians, we too dwell in the borderland…we are individuals who embody both Greek and Jew, male and female, black and white … its a messy inner co-existance but the early Christian communities were onto something profoundly radical … the refusal to limit people to one label and with that limitation impose a number of expectations that stump wholeness and human dignity.
In my journey of trying to make sense of GOD’s calling…I have often found inspiration in biblical figures who embodied intersecting identities…Individuals like Mary of Nazareth who was woman, prophet, apostle, and mother…Paul, himself, who was Greek, Jew, Roman, soldier, follower of Christ, persecutor, persecuted…Though not a biblical character, Gloria embodied la frontera, or as she and others have called it the mestizaje of identities…she was poet, activist, chicana, catholic, and a lesbian.
Like them, I too am a mosaic of identities…a person of the borderlands. I am not one identity, though a label is often imposed on me by society, the church, and the media. I am limited to just being queer or a person of faith or Latino or a social worker, rather then having my whole self embraced, affirmed, and celebrated. Despite labels and categories that seek to limit and dehumanize me, I refuse to be boxed and type-casted into conformity and the silence of a supposed inclusivity.
Our prophetic calling, the radicalness of Paul’s message and of Gloria’s duality, is to have all our identities interact, fight, and coexist…to live into and be a frontera, a borderland. I believe that Paul and the early Christian communities were not advocating for differences and particularities to be quelled or melted into an amorphous blob of gook. Rather, it is invitation to unity, both internal and tribal, based on the celebration of differences, a lifting up of the borders within and among us. It is a call for us here now to bring to the Eucharistic table, the classroom, our social and cultural circles, to civil society all of who we are as individuals, as tribes, as communities–recognizing our multi-facetness, our complexities, and our richness.
It is an invitation to challenge ourselves to perhaps rethink how we gather in groups… Living through the tensions of creating and respecting the need for safe spaces for young adults, women, people of color, and trans identified individuals while also being mindful that while delfin may claim our trans identity, we too are also a young adult and latino…can there be spaces that affirm all of me and all of us?
The border is more than just the division between the US and Mexico, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, android and apple, Conservative Catholic and Progressive Catholic … Racial and gender categories…It is more then the lines separating our religious traditions.
Boundaries are places of encounter. We are conditioned, however, to be fearful of difference, to water our down our identities and all that makes us unique. We are brainwashed into wanting the same car, hairstyle, white picket fence, apps for our smart phones, and unhealthy notions of body … our quirks are blow dried, straightened, dyed, lyposuctioned and botoxed … We are coerced by the media, the education system, and by the church to erase borders and to blur la frontera—to uphold false notions of inclusivity that in reality painfully exclude, marginalize, and oppress those who believe that cumbayah is more than just a melting pot but a yearning for conflict and tension in harmony.
We are not the same, that’s okay … I thank GOD we are not the same. Borders and boundaries are not places of problematic divisiveness, but sanctuaries of encounter, to cross over and be with the other, to have the other cross over and be with us. As a familia or as a community seeking to create the Kindom of God, through our differences, we are united by our common passion for equality and together flow down the river of justice.
As poet and prophet Dr. Maya Angelou puts it, we are each a rainbow in each other’s clouds. As we dwell in the borderlands within us and among us, we must remember that we are not alone but that we journey together—where you go, I go….where I go, you go…we dwell in the borderland in the company of witnesses who have gone before us and witnesses with us now…challenging and being challenged to be embrace our wholeness.
In our lucha to claim and rant our isnesses and beingness, we are faced with a society and church that categorizes us into suffocating neat little boxes…limitations that are also placed on the awesomeness of GOD. We are a borderland people created in the amazingness of GOD. By embracing the borderland we are reminded of the wowness of creation and of what it means to be created in the image of GOD…A GOD who is complex, multifaceted, multivocalic…if we look to Scripture, we discover a GOD who is at times contradictory and even snarky.
But it is this GOD…the GOD of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob…the GOD praised in the Psalms…the GOD who smited and who also heard the cries of Her people…the GOD whom Jesus called abba…it is this GOD who lovingly created us, graced us, blessed us as good…not just select pieces of us, but the whole person with all our quirks, contradictions, bloopers, passions, and gifts. We are created in the image of a GOD who like us is an embodied mosaic of interlocking, interacting, interfering identities.
Going beyond the “or” of Paul and becoming the “both/and” of Gloria is not easy, especially when our frontera is filled with clashing identities. However, it can be a fun enlightening mess of confusion and wholizing holiness. As a queer Latino who embraces an ecumenically Catholic and perhaps heretical faith…I have experienced the confusion when faith, culture, and sexuality clash.
As I dwell in the borderland of my identities interacting with each other, I realize that despite the pain and brokenness, I have been able to weave together a colorful tapestry reflecting narratives within my spicy Latino culture that redefine familia, that offer hope through a queering of liberation theologies, that have allowed me and so many others like me born to immigrant parents to embrace the joys and challenges of being a hyphenated American…
This embrace of la frontera has given many of us new ways of understanding familia through the transformation of gender roles … the ability to reclaim sacred images like Our Lady of Guadalupe as a representation of the divine that is brown like us…finding rootedness in a heritage and story mixed with discrimination, colonialism, exile but also resilience, fuerza, community…My queerness and latinoness and christianness enrich each other…when we dwell in the borderland, we are invited to experiment, get messy, take risks, pursue chances.
As Chicana Poet and Lesbian Activist describes it,
to live in the borderlands means
to put chile in the borscht,
eat whole wheat tortillas,
speak tex-mex with a brooklyn accent;
to survive and thrive in the borderlands
you must live sin fronteras,
be a crossroads.
We are called to embrace our fronteras not with fear and dominance, but with humility and gusto. We are called to savorear, to savor, the diverse ingredients that make us, us. A savoring and dwelling of the borderlands that was embraced and embodied by Jesus throughout his life and ministry. Jesus was an immigrant and exilee and prophet of inclusivity… born into poverty, He was a son, teacher, carpenter, Jew, student, rabbi, friend, lover, savior, healer, radical…a person trying to survive political, religious, and cultural upheavals…it was the interacting and interfering of all of this that helped Jesus understand His calling—He did not deny who he was or where he was from, rather he allowed all of it to come together…the miracles, the sermons, the crowds on the mount, the parables, the times in the desert, the work in the carpentry shop, the repetitions of stories to disciples who just didn’t seem to get it, the coming together of divine and human at the transfiguration, the cross and the resurrection….all of it together, messy, challenging, freeing, a borderland…throughout His ministry Jesus patiently, lovingly, and sometimes through pastoral nudges helped the ragtag group of misfits who followed him dwell in la frontera. Jesus showed them how to come into their own by embracing their own borderlands of fishermen, shepherds, zealots, tax collectors, people on the fringe… their witness of holiness through imperfection teaches us, motivates us, guides us as we seek to foster the spark to thrive in our borderlands.
Like Jesus, like Paul, like all those we turn to for inspiration, we are called to celebrate the fronteras within us and among us. To dwell in the borderlands is to flow and ripple like a river of justice…It is how this trans identified, hispanic, flat footed, chunky and funky, social worker who savors transgressive theologies is able to embrace the call and invitation of intersectional justice…A justice that sees the recent victories over DOMA and Proposition 8 as having a rippling impact for binational same-sex couples through inclusive immigration reform for queer people who would like to start families through changes in adoption laws for being a step towards ensuring that our livelihood as LGBT people be protected by influencing and encouraging the passing of an inclusive form of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act for ensuring the equal right to vote for racial and ethnic minorities whose struggle for equality has inspired the modern sexual and gender justice movements … a transformative moment here in the US that will have a rippling effect in the ministry of witnessing presence myself and my fellow EB World Youth Day Pilgrims hope to embody in Rio…it is also an opportunity to rethink what is an ally, not only with cisgender or heterosexual folk, but within our own lgbt and queer communities…inviting each other into our multiple identity groups to better understand and live into new forms of solidarity with each other.
Just as our identities interact, so to do our movements and passions for justice…as Dr King once said…injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. As we dwell and journey in the borderlands within us and among us, we are all called to live the prophetic life of the frontera…to give birth to the Divine in our words, deeds, hearts, thoughts, and lives … an invitation to be our whole selves and to help others live authentically whole.
As we embrace our many identities, like Jesus, like Paul, like the Galatians, like Gloria, like the GOD who created us, we are no longer made to feel ashamed for existing…we will rant our voices, dance our dances, pray our prayers, it will be loud and messy, but it will proclaim the wonders and dynamism of GOD and of all of creation. As we dwell in the frontera, will we let it be done to us according to the radical and inclusive word of GOD? How have we responded? How are we responding? How will we respond?
To GOD’s call and invitation to embody the sacredness of the borders within us and among us? May it be done to us according to GOD’s living, organic, evolving, revolutionary, transfiguring, harmoniously tense, both/anded Word.
Bendiciones en su lucha y en su caminar…Blessed be…Amen.