The first time I can remember someone affirming my search for identity and belonging outside my family and a few close friends was my Old Testament professor, Dr. Garber, following a social location assignment. Your social location, in the context of Biblical Studies, is the lens through which you approach scripture.
I wrestled with how to write my Social Location Paper, because I had heard things like “you don’t even look Mexican,” and “why?” so many times when I would try to share with others why I identified as Hispanic, the part of me that makes me who I am – a birth story where the only thing I know about my biological makeup is, my birth dad was Mexican.
I decided to go for it, and tell the truth. I approach scripture from a lens of oppression filtered through privilege. As a missionary kid growing up in Brazil, we never lacked and had plenty to share. My sister and I often had to bunk together so someone needing a place to stay could use one of our rooms as long as they needed it. So many meals were shared around our big family table, a table intentionally chosen so that hungry bellies could be filled, and broken hearts could tell their stories in a safe environment.
I also bore witness to abject poverty. The favelas you may have seen in the media coverage of the Olympics in Brazil, or World Cup Brazil are real. They are neighborhoods created by homes made of wood or even cardboard, where many a church family would have us over for cornmeal cake and coffee. This is where I learned hospitality – in bountiful offerings of welcome, born of scarcity. The image of God was personified for me in their kindness.
When I started seminary and had free summers, I began translating for mission teams in Baja California, Mexico. I would live in Mexico for 6 weeks every year for 3 years. My first week as an itinerant interpreter was glorious. I woke on that first crisp, chilly morning to a cloudless sky and walked to the coffee shop around the corner from the hotel. I ordered a coffee and a piece of chocolate bread, and sat at a table on the street corner watching, savoring.
Translating for the medical teams between the people of Baja and the medical staff felt like chaplaincy, and I was getting to do it in a heart language that I had tucked away, because I didn’t want to seem ungrateful or unloving to my wonderful family by exploring what it means to be adopted/Latina; by considering what it means to live into that identity as a missionary kid and traveling missionary interpreter with 3 heart homes. The things I knew for certain: God is not a white American, I am Latina, being poor doesn’t make you unloved or cursed, or less than, and loving people as they are doesn’t make me a heretic; felt more pronounced in this land where I could be my whole self.
The comments at the bottom of my paper from my professor have stayed with me all these years: “I REALLY enjoyed reading about your Latina heritage,” and an admonishment to continue exploring that part of who I am.
It’s an ongoing journey of coming home to myself, embodying Imago Dei in this unique parcel; hopefully living my life as an invitation for others to do the same.
The work we do in the hospital is uniquely situated at the intersections of life – sorrow and peace, despair and acceptance; all of the places where the spectrum of emotion is held in tension. We hold that tension well when we invite patients/families/friends and staff to live as their most authentic selves to the best of their ability – by being courageous enough to be our own authentic selves to the best of our ability in the care we provide. The places to which we are called are often dark, sad, angry, scary. I hope today’s devotion time is an encouragement to cling to whatever gives you courage, be it God or something else, and walk bravely into authentic encounters with humanity at its most vulnerable.