I first introduced Pastor Daniel Gomez, Pastor de CBC Hispana of Community Bible Church of High Point, NC in the post entitled, “Do the Right Thing Leaders” for the “Diversity and the Church” part of this series During the second part of our interview, I asked him about Hispanic culture, life in the America, and how relationships are cultivated in the Hispanic family and church. Below is the dictation of (not direct quotes unless otherwise indicated) our discussion.
In my work as a Diversity Admissions Counselor for the U.S. Naval Academy, I was responsible for reaching out to minority alumni and having them speak to targeted audiences. I also attended conferences which focused on military officer outreach, mentoring, and retention of Hispanic and African American service members. When I asked one of our regular Hispanic alumni supporters, “What is the proper way to refer to this particular people group—Hispanic or Latin American?” He jokingly responded, “We don’t even know what to call ourselves.” What is your response to this question?
Hispanic American is what’s often used in the United States. A Latin American is specifically a Spanish-speaking person from Latin America. These terms are often used interchangeable and neither is insulting. The insulting (and often asked) question is, “Are you from Mexico?” All Hispanic people are not from Mexico, and assuming so reveals a narrow mental structure that belittles Hispanic people who are quite diverse. Hispanic Americans come from various parts of the world all have very unique life experiences and cultures which allow them to see the world differently. The only thing Hispanics really have in common is their language.
Natasha’s insert: In the book “We Stand Together” Jesse Miranda writes:
Mexicans often prefer the designation Chicanos, and Puerto Ricans like to be called Boricuas…The American Hispano usually will identify himself as either Hispano or Latino. Significantly, the deciding factor is where and how he thinks Hispanic history begins…The term Latino refers to the Indian or indigenous side of this history, which originated in this continent. Hispano, on the other hand, pertains to ancient Spain or European bloodline. In the Southwest United States, the term Latino is preferred, while in other regions, especially New Mexico where I was born, Hispano is more readily used. Generally the terms are interchangeable (Cooper, Moody, 1995, 98).
We are in a heated political season (Note: this interview was completed prior to the November elections). Immigration is a hot topic issue. From my military experience, I know this is a very complicated issue and people often make assumptions out of their ignorance. Do you feel Hispanics (American citizen or not) are approached with a level of suspicion because the assumption is “They may not be legal”?
“Yes,” again some people are narrow-minded in this way. Our congregation consists of Hispanics from 13 different countries, many of which are American citizens and educated. For those who are not, we try to help them on that path. Our social/economic composition, education level, sports interests, etc are vast. This suspicion does make legal Hispanic American citizens feel bad. This suspicion also reaches beyond the political or legal arena, and into the daily practice of interacting with each other. On occasion, we experience the “blame the Hispanics” syndrome. “If something is not right or gum gets found under the chair, blame the Hispanics. If something is dirty, blame the Hispanics.”
Natasha’s insert: Along these lines, Jesse Miranda writes:
Hispanos feel the need to do well. Blocking the way to the progress of Hispanos have been several obstacles…Three of these have been (and continue to be): (1) the false assumptions that Hispanos are a recent immigrant group to this country and not native to the Southwest as history testifies; (2) a hostile relationship between Hispanos and the dominant society, which began with the acquisition of contiguous territory and internal colonialism; and (3) the research that has reinforced a negative conception and profile of Hispanos (99).
When desiring a relationship, how should people approach Hispanic Americans? What do we need to understand about Hispanic values?
Be open-minded. Hispanic Americans value family unity and closeness. There is a deep commitment to the family and nothing else rivals that priority. The Anglo-church structure and focus is very individualistic, one that does not embrace evading the personal space of others. There is no such thing as “personal space” in the Hispanic family—there is very much the understanding of being my brother’s keeper, individual family members go at the pace of the group, and share all things in common. The Hispanic family enjoys wasting time together.
In the first part of our interview, you mentioned that Hispanic and Anglo children worship together at your church. Part of the reason this joint worship is able to thrive successfully is because the Hispanic children are fluent English speakers. Is there an intentional focus or plan for the Anglo children to learn Spanish?
Not at the present time. Unfortunately, this is a cultural problem. When immigrants come to this country, they know that need to learn the English language. The perception of the Anglo concerning the immigrant is “You have to learn my language so I can understand you. I don’t have to learn your language to better understand you.” With this mindset, the Anglos are not thinking of the benefits of being bilingual. By the time they realize this importance, it is oftentimes too late because it is much more difficult to learn a new language at an older age. Very few people in the church understand the importance of being bilingual and how that is an important tool for advancing the gospel.
© Daniel Gomez and Natasha Sistrunk Robinson 2012
2 thoughts on “#RacialRec: Voice # 6 ~ Hispanic American ~ Daniel Gomez”
My husband is latino — but was raised in America by parents who were both born in America. One grandfather is from Spain while the others were all native to the Americas (Mexico, American southwest, etc.) Because of extreme racism against immigrants in California when my parents-in-law were children, THEIR parents intentionally did not teach them Spanish. It was a way of trying to protect those children from racism. So, of course, my husband and his sisters do not speak Spanish because their parents do not. This is a very common situation for many in the American southwest. There’s a sense of latino heritage for my husband, particularly with food and traditions and family values, but because his family does not speak Spanish sometimes others treat them as if they aren’t “really” hispanic. In one particular job interview (at a very non-ethnically-diverse Christian organization) my husband was bluntly told “you don’t look hispanic.” It was very insulting, but also revealed the speaker’s extreme ignorance.
I share all of this because I’ve observed so much ignorance among the broader culture about those of hispanic or latino heritage. We don’t assume that others are not of their given ethnic heritage because they, say, don’t speak Chinese or don’t speak some other language. But my husband is deemed by some to not “really” be latino. I take great joy in passing on some of my mother-in-law’s traditional recipes and other family values to my children. I’m sad that we cannot pass along Spanish as well, but I hope my children will not have to face as much ignorance as they grow up as my husband does some times.
I’d love to hear Daniel’s thoughts on some of these issues. Thanks!
Thank you for reading and responding, Kelli. This is the third time in the series (Indian, Asian, and now Hispanic) where parents have consciously made choices for their children to deny part of their heritage to assimilate or be accepted in the larger part of society. This is sad, and also validates my growing thoughts that minorities even today are still evaluating themselves against white society. It’s going to be interesting to see what all of this means as the racial and ethnic demographics change in this country. I’m noticing African Americans starting to embrace more of their natural identity. Do you see any of that in the Hispanic culture? Are you considering ways to pass on Spanish or have your children learn Spanish? Is that important to you? I’m going to see if I can get Pastor Daniel or his assistant to respond as well.