Sept. 15 marks the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month, a period to remember and celebrate Hispanic history and culture in the United States. It is a time for Hispanics and Americans of Hispanic descent to reflect on our heritage; a time to promote awareness on the brutal history behind our identity as Latinxs. It is a time to celebrate the lives of those brave heroes who fought for our independence and rights.
Despite what some may have learned in school about the history of Latin America, in 1492, Christopher Columbus did not ‘discover’ our lands. In fact, Columbus and other Spanish conquistadors usurped indigenous peoples’ territories and cultural identity. Forced to comply with their oppressors, the natives were stripped of their freedom and dignity. And what’s even worse – they committed such atrocious acts of violence in the name of God.
Genocide, large-scale land robbery, slavery, rape and systemic torture were inflicted by the colonizers upon the natives in efforts to erase their existence – and they almost succeeded. For instance, over 95% of the indigenous population of Mexico died within the first century of the Spanish conquest. Millions of others from all over the continent lost their lives due to foreign diseases brought by the colonizers and as part of the colonization efforts in North and South America.
However, the oppressors did not come waving their guns and preparing their troops. They came holding Bibles and wearing crosses. They twisted the message of Jesus to justify subjugation, murder and imperialism.
The Spanish colonization of the Americas was over five centuries ago, so why do we still bring it up? Why do we continue to advocate for our brutal and hurtful past to be acknowledged? It’s simple. The reason why Latinxs – especially those of the Christian faith – continue to raise awareness on the role religion played in the colonization and usurpation of our cultural identity is because it is still prevalent today. We remain hesitant to find comfort in a religion that has historically condemned us as less valuable and unwelcomed.
Unfortunately, our church pews still reflect the history of racism and colonialism in Latin America by the preaching of messages that promote exclusivity within the Christian church. We Latinxs grow up aware that our history is deeply rooted in a religion that disenfranchised us from the start; that our heritage is one of systemic racism perpetuated by white individuals who claimed to be Christians.
These are two of the main reasons why our current generation progressively rejects the Church as an institution altogether. How do we feel comfortable practicing a religion that left a racist imprint upon our minds?
Although it has been almost impossible to reconcile our heritage with Christianity throughout history, it doesn’t mean that our identity should be at odds with our faith. Latinxs are not inherently rejected by God. The natives were not inherently inferior because of their race, and even though their culture and suffering was lost in history, God still listens. As Spanish Friar Bartolomé de las Casas wrote in defense of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, “God always remembers those whom history has forgotten.”
Perhaps some fellow Latinxs still feel the hurt Christianity has inflicted upon their ancestors. Perhaps some feel unwelcomed by the church nowadays. Perhaps some feel enraged by so-called Christians who still use God’s name to promote a hateful and supremacist agenda. Nevertheless, God understands; God remembers.
When false prophets use Christianity to construct theologies of dehumanization and conquest, let’s not forget that God rejects those messages. Let’s not forget that our identity is not set on the brutal echoes of our past. Instead it’s founded in Christ, who came to die for us and justify us from our sin.
This article is dedicated to those whose voices remain silenced, whose stories are still unknown, but whose dignity is uplifted by God. Aquí estamos y no nos vamos!