|by Tom Bohache|
|Can 'I' Become 'We'? Individuals Unite!
"Cinco de Mayo" (the Fifth of May), despite its origins in Mexico, has become a holiday that honors the experience of all people of Hispanic descent in North America. In preparing to celebrate this day in my church, I decided to refresh my memory about the spirituality of Latin people as it has manifested itself in the United States. My search led me to some interesting realizations. But first, some historical context.
The Middle Ages saw human persons throughout the world oppressed by their governments and by the Christian Church, so that, when the Enlightenment dawned and an Age of Reason took root, people responded by seeking to throw off the bondage of absolute monarchies and religious thinking grounded in Platonic and Aristotelian elitism. The French and American Revolutions demonstrate the coming of age of the rights of the individual against intrusive regimes and churches. Individual rights became important, as did the prerogative of every "man" to pursue "his" right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. (Despite its apparent liberalism, the movement thought strictly in terms of the rights of rich, white, male individuals.) Liberation theologian Enrique Dussel has noted that Christopher Columbus might be the "father of modern individualism," inasmuch as he left behind his family and community in Italy and hired himself out as an explorer to the highest bidder, who happened to be the Spanish Crown. His individual right to make money and to claim land for his employers resulted in the conquest of the "New World" and the decimation of the indigenous populationsall because Europeans were seeking importable goods, land, and gold.
Literature, philosophy, and political theory each did its part to create a cult of the individual, which seemed like a good idea at the time after so much emphasis upon ruling groups and servant classes. In the United States, we see this emphasis on individuality in such time-honored principles as "every man for himself," "1 person, 1 vote," and "majority rules," with the majority simply being an aggregate of individual votes. While I believe that individual rights are extremely important, I nevertheless am dismayed when I see that the individual person's right to pursue life, liberty, and happiness nowadays means that s/he does so usually at the expense of those who lack the economic privileges to do so. I also see Columbus' colonial/imperialist legacy in current U. S. foreign policy. American individuals' right to make money on the backs of impoverished nations takes precedence over common morality and international law. Free enterprise and the quest for more resources from other lands dictate which nations deserve to be "saved" from their inhumane regimes (Iraq? Iran?) and which are expendable (the Sudan?). Domestically, the Right fears the intrusion of government into an individual's right to act or not act as s/he wishes, while the Left tap dances between the state's need to provide for all its citizens and the individual's right to pursue his or her own view of morality. As a card my sister sent to me puts it, "Things are bad; send chocolate!"
How different things seem when read from the perspective of the oppressed and marginalized. In the United States, Hispanics either have been exiled to a foreign land (e.g., Cubans and other refugees from civil wars) or are exiles in their own land (e.g., Mexicans, whose land was taken as borders moved). Because the American Dream of every individual for him/herself has not been afforded them, Hispanic Ameri-cans have sought comfort in community. They, like other oppressed groups over time, have found solace in their ability to maintain strong extended families who care for one another and work together for their common good. Cuban-American theologian Roberto Goizueta sees this type of cultural bonding as rooted in a deep spirituality that prides community over individuality:
"One cannot love the universal and supernatural if one cannot love the particular and natural...One cannot love the Creator if one cannot love the creature...To suggest that the particular mediates the universal is to suggest that there is no such thing as an isolated, individual entity that is not intrinsically related to others: every human person is a concrete, particular, and unique mediation of the universal. In other words, every 'individual' is a particular, unique mediation of universal humanity, universal creation, and, in the last analysis, a unique mediation of the Absolute." (Caminemos con Jess: Toward a Hispanic/Latino Theology of Accompaniment, Orbis Books, 1995; pp. 50-51)
An important corollary to his view is the realization that to focus upon individuality at the expense of community "is, literally, to have no humanity, no identity, no self; it is to be no-thing, a no-body" (p. 50). To maintain their personhood as a minority in the dominant Anglo culture, Hispanic people have concentrated on relationshipswith one's birth family, with one's spouse and/or children, with those related on the basis of common culture and languagefor, the stronger one's interpersonal relationships are, the less isolated one is in a foreign land.
I could go on and on about Goizueta's theological views and how they could impact our world, but I believe it is sufficient to point out that what many of us are lacking in American life and in our spirituality is the community that comes from strong relationships based on a common love of life, the world, and its people, and the belief that we are all interconnected in one global village. When we turn our back on relationship, we empower an "us vs. them" attitude or a "me against the world" mentality. We nurture persecution complexes and an all-pervading fear that results in the mistrust of our selves, others, and even God. As we join with Latinos and Latinas in saying, "Feliz Cinco de Mayo," may we try to learn from them the joy that comes from good family, good food, good music, good dance, and the ability to claim for oneself hospitality in exile.
The Rev. Tom Bohache, Pastor of Metropolitan Community Church of Rehoboth, is a speaker, teacher, and writer on the intersection of sexuality and spirituality. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 15, No. 4 May 6, 2005