I carry several identities on my sleeve. I am a Catholic and 2nd generation Latina. The word “Latina” encompasses two realities: that of a woman and a person of Hispanic descent. Growing up in these realities was inescapable for me– I was constantly reminded of it, from my parents who told me to be proud of who I was and where I came from, to the racist comments that first started in the fourth grade.
For a long time, I found myself unable to reconcile being Catholic and Hispanic, because the encounters I had with racism growing up came from other Christians. People who, like me, were supposed to see Christ in the other. Yet, it was a constant reminder from my peers that my identity in God was different than theirs – the brown jokes reminded me of the certain disgust I, at times, held towards my own skin color. This was the same color that my parents reminded me God gave me, a color that my home told me to be proud of, yet all the while the world shamed me for it. It’s a harsh reality to confront when you realize the racist comments made about your identity have been slowly internalized and have damaged your very spirit and psyche.
How could I be made in the Image and Likeness of God if His own believers made me feel as if I was less because I did not embody their likeness?
I can remember the first time I dared to imagine being made in the Image and Likeness of God. God was always depicted as white, with deep blue eyes, and a white beard that put snow to shame. Mary was white, with blue eyes as well, and Jesus was white everywhere I looked. Coming out of his tomb, crucified on the cross, in the pictures depicting him with the crowds or his disciples – for so long, I didn’t know Jesus could encompass any other color because I was surrounded by a Jesus that only ever bore the Image and Likeness of one group of people.
What about the rest of us?
The complexity of being Catholic and Hispanic, especially in Western Culture, can be a balancing act of sorts. My reactions towards the majority of Jesus’ depictions as a white male do not inherently mean I am harboring any resentment towards white males. Unfortunately, the society we live in may label me that way for expressing simple truths. But the reality is that if I am made in the Image and Likeness of God then I must work to represent God to all of His people – brown, white, black, etc. He is a God that encompasses our distinct realities, but also a God that demands justice for those who for so long have been deemed as “other”.
So, when I and others say “Representation Matters” in the Church it is because I empathize with all of the young brown girls who stare up at statues of Jesus and Mary and wish, deep down in their souls, that they could rub off the color of their skin to look more like them. Yes, young women of color have suffered these painful thoughts – they burn deep within the spirit of many Latinas that I have known. Our God is bigger than our realities, and yes, our skin color, but He does not diminish our connection to His identity but instead intends for our identity to reflect His love. Rather, it is in the diversity of my skin color, in the nature of the people I come from, in the triumphs and struggles my own family faced, that I have come to know a God that reminds me that my skin color is a gift; a hue of great worth from the hands of the Creator. The color of my skin may determine my worth in the world for some, but regardless of the world thinks my skin color will always be intimately tied with the love the Divine Creator has for me.
We are made in His Image and Likeness and that means that, as a Catholic Latina in the United States, Christ lives in me as He lives in you. It is a scandal when a person refuses to recognize the human dignity of another because of the color of their skin or attempts to diminish another’s dignity because it makes them insecure of their own - when this happens we are refusing to see Christ in another person – even though He is deeply integrated and woven in the reality of my life as a Catholic Latina.
We are called to be better. I believe we can be better. In Christ alone.