Embracing Latina Spirituality:
A Woman's Perspective
From Chapter One…
A LATINA UNDERSTANDING OF COMMUNITY AND SELF
Claudia came to the United States to be a nanny. At least that was what the “coyote” told her family when he took their two thousand dollars and promised them to “take care of their girl.” After what seemed like weeks in the back of a van cramped with other young Central American girls, Claudia emerged squinting in the humid Florida sun. They were not in Miami, as she was promised, but on what seemed like a farm. She learned, much to her and her traveling partners’ despair, that they would not be nannies but instead prostitutes in a brothel for the work camp. They would have to sleep with strange men to pay off their families’ debts. After weeks in the brothel Claudia feels trapped and dirty. The brothel is heavily guarded, and even if she could escape, what would she do? Go to U.S. authorities and be deported? Bring shame upon her family? There is a woman, she is told, who is trying to help them. She says they do have rights. Claudia is afraid. She also does not know if
she can trust the woman, who is Salvadoran like herself. After all, wasn’t the coyote that betrayed her and her family Salvadoran too?
The Latina Community
Latinas constitute the largest “minority” population in the United States. This is a dubious classification, for the U.S. census data on which it is based collapses racial categories (such as African American or Black) and ethno-cultural categories (such as Hispanic and Asian American) under one heading. While this community is diverse in terms of race, country of origin and culture, there are certain features communities classified as Latina share: a history of Spanish colonialism, the Spanish language (whether spoken or not) and a Catholic heritage. I realize that bilingualism is not a reality for every Latina. We cannot assume that all Latinas in the U.S. speak Spanish. At the same time, Latinas are distinguished by their linguistic heritage. While uniting a community under the banner of Spanish colonialism may seem odd in the twenty-first century, Spanish culture has indeed left an indelible imprint on Latin American and Latina cultures. The most notable of these is the influence of Roman Catholic culture on Latina culture. While not every Latina is Roman Catholic, the Roman Catholic stamp on all Latina culture, regardless of one’s religious affiliation, is a clear legacy of Spanish colonialism. This shared legacy, however, must be situated within the diversity of Latin American communities. The added factor of living in the U.S. further complicates their sense of identity.
Latinas struggle with the question of identity on a daily basis. They often describe themselves as bridge people whose lives “on the hyphen” mean that they are never fully comfortable in the two contexts we straddle. On one side you find the country of your heritage, whether you were born in Latin America or your parents are from there. Often this Latin American culture is a key feature within our identity. On the other side is the United States. These two worlds meet in us, and we often feel that we do not fully belong to either. Therefore we are part of those two worlds, yet those worlds never fully accept us. We are too “Latina” for the dominant U.S. ethos, yet at the same time we are too “gringo” for Latin Americans. Thus we find recurring themes in Latina scholarship of exile, mixture and the border. Some Latinas, in particular some Cuban Americans, identify themselves as exiles living away from their homelands. For either political or economic reasons they live away from their home countries. Yet they maintain a strong sense of connection with their native communities.
There are also those Latinas who did not come to the U.S., but instead had the U.S. forced upon them. Both the Puerto Rican and Mexican American experiences share this reality. The Puerto Rican experience is one of U.S. colonialism which resulted in migration to the mainland. The 1903 Platt Amendment ended what we in the U.S. call the Spanish-American war, which was in fact Cuba and Puerto Rico’s wars of independence from Spain. This Amendment made Puerto Rico a U.S. colony and gave the U.S. the right to intervene as it saw fit in Cuba’s foreign and domestic policies. Puerto Ricans’ status as second-class U.S. citizens makes their sense of identity and sense of worth extremely problematic. Mexican-Americans often joke that many of them did not cross the border, but in fact, the border crossed them. This refers to the historical acquisition of former Mexican lands by the U.S. government through the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. One day, many Mexicans awoke to find themselves living in the United States even though they had not budged an inch.
Monday, November, 17, 2008