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Border Sisters and Brothers: A Chicano Theology of Mending Ethnic Bonds and Compassion

by Christian Silva, Moody Bible Institute


Mi Abuelita Me Dijo Que…

As a Chicano, I never questioned my solidarity with other Latina/o immigrants.[1] However, as I recently reflected on my childhood, I found that the foundation of my Mexican-American upbringing was riddled with anti-immigrant rhetoric. Words like mojado or paisa were common vocabulary to describe those who were “immigrant-looking.”[2] This whitewashed solidarity imagination revealed that, although some share el mismo origen, the immigrant is subconsciously and, in some instances, overtly othered.

Recently, however, I called my abuelita to ask about the nature of our rhetoric. “Ay no, mijo, that is a terrible word. Mi amiga says we shouldn’t say that” she proclaimed “we must say, border sisters and brothers.” This stark change of vocabulary (ironically in English) challenged the anti-immigrant imagination I was exposed to—we are siblings despite our nationality. Why change now?


The Changing Identity of the Chicano Mind

“Latinos for Trump” arose during the candidate’s reign and his campaign in 2020. By that time the voter turnout among Latinas/os had increased by nearly half from 2016. However, when Politico explored this increase, they discovered that those in Zapata County, Texans self-identified as Tejanos, not Hispanic, hence their voting for administrations with strict immigration laws. Tejanos rarely identify as “people of color” viewing themselves as “red-blooded Americans above anything else.” This identity is overlooked on paper—the oversimplification of racial/ethnic identity is to blame.

Tejanos historically were the Mexican peoples that settled in the state of Tejas. Their identity began to shift after the annexation of Texas when Mexicans chose either to stay and assimilate or to fight it. Chicano Rodolfo Acuña noted that those who assimilated into the new government of the colonizers eagerly turned on those whom they shared ethnic roots with.[3] Furthermore, fear led many New Mexicans to favor their Europeanness by identifying as “Spanish-American.”[4]

Latinos for Trump Rally. This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-NC


Even among immigrants, there is a growing animosity against other immigrants. Dra. Meduri Soto offers a thesis to understand this occurrence: the need to survive forces oppressed peoples to assume White ideologies, thus leading to anti-immigrant sentiments. Similarly, assimilated Chicanos politically support their nation, never questioning if strict immigration laws involve them by virtue of their racial or ethnic makeup.

Rodolfo Estrada notes that ethnicity “was used to define oneself in contrast to others. These boundaries were dynamic…socially constructed…maintained through…criticism of the other.”[5] An interaction in Scripture between two people challenges this segmentation by presenting ancestral and salvific commonalities.


Assessing John 4:7-29 Latinamente[6]

“A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink.’” [7] The context is set in a common space, where all are equally in need. The woman questioned his intentions, skeptical of this stranger as “Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans” (v.8). Often humans have a tendency to believe we have no commonality with others, especially those we have stigmatized.

The text reveals two aspects of their peculiar meeting: (1) social stigmatization had fragmented Jewish-Samaritan relationships and (2) a forgotten ancestry would challenge the stigma. We must then ask: Are there truly no shared realities between Jews and Samaritans? Moreover, do Chicanas/os and immigrants share this presupposed bifurcation?

The woman pointed the strange Jewish man toward the well and asked, “are you greater than our ancestor Jacob?”[8] She claimed Jacob for herself and her people as their unique social marker in contrast to Jews, despite Jacob being an ancestor of the Jews. Like Samaritans and Jews, Whiteness teaches Chicana/os and immigrants that the other is inherently different. As Jacob is both their ancestor—no matter how removed from either side—our ancestors are immigrants, indigenous, and conquerors.

"Meeting at the Well" - Artist unknown This Photo by Unknown Aruthor is licensed under CC BY


Geography played a crucial role in their segmentation. “For salvation is from the Jews,” says the Messiah.[9] The text objects Jewish-Samaritan animosity by echoing the universal blessing under Yahweh that all nations would be blessed through Abraham (Gen. 22:18). The provocative statement segways to the universal commonality, all need the Messiah. She affirms this by saying, “I know the Messiah is coming…he will proclaim all things to us.”[10]

We may think that what separates us is our place of residency, but the truth is we worship in the truth of the Messiah. Chicanas/os, no matter how much we might fight it, share similar historias mestizas with those who seek refuge in the U.S. The story of Jesucristo and the Samaritan should challenge temptations to believe that a border determines how we perceive, speak about, and vote concerning Latin American immigrants.


Cristo el Compasivo

We were once immigrants in this land and we have forgotten our tumultuous history of subjugation. For many, the border crossed us, yet now we vote radically against our siblings. And our siblings come to a strange land through precarious means only to find those who look like them, rejecting them. Ultimately, their sisters and brothers believed that they were not also immigrants in the land of “Egypt.”

When we see politicians play human ping-pong with refugees’ lives, we must ask ourselves, are we worshiping in spirit and truth by sitting idle at the sight of injustice?[11] Our allegiance to our nation over others leads us to believe that Chicanas/os “have nothing in common” with (im)migrants. Some Chicana/os have sided with impermanent governments and borders that limit people’s access to safety and even improved religious life. Yet, ‘Christ the Compassionate’ challenges humanity to worship Yahweh in a liberative praxis.

In Christ, we can look across the borders and boldly yell for our siblings to come into strangely familiar arms. We must look for our common “wells” and fight for policies that serve others as if they were Jesus (ref. Matt 25:42-46). Worship is not limited to geographical locations but is found in Jesucristo, the Border-Brother, to expand our love for our border hermansa/os.

"Virgin Mary welcoming immigrants," Segundo Barrio, El Paso Texas. This Photo by Unknown Aruthor is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND


Over the years, I have been disappointed by movements like “Latinos for Trump” as they undermine biblical solidarity with immigrants. Nevertheless, Scripture not only speaks into our man-made towers and borders but also challenges attempts at erasing the recognition of historically oppressive systems. My Abuelita changed her perspective because of the conviction of her faithful Catholic comadre. Her Gospel and her place as a Chicana led her to rebuke crude ideologies. This is what a Chicano theology of compassion looks like: a Gospel conviction that acknowledges solidarity with Latin American immigrants (and others at large) from our shared histories of alienation and our grand Salvador.


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Christian Silva is a full-time student of theology with a passion for exploring the intersections of Latinidad, theology, and ethics. As a biracial Chicano, he brings a unique perspective to his studies and is excited to continue his education at Princeton Theological Seminary studying theology pa' la gente.







Footnotes:

[1] Chicano as I am using it here is appropriated from Rodolfo Acuña’s use of the word in Occupied America: The Chicano’s Struggle Toward Liberation, “Chicano is used to distinguish Mexicans living north of the border from those residing in Mexico” (p.3). However, I would like to specifically address Chicano culture and thought post Treaty of Guadalupe in 1848 as that marks the beginning of the colonization and assimilation felt by Mexicans north of the border.

[2] These derogatory terms can be roughly translated as: mojado = “wetback” and paisa = “home-lander” (a rude way to say they are ‘too’ Mexican).

[3] Rodolfo Acuña. Occupied America: The Chicano’s Struggle Toward Liberation (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, Inc., 1972), 63-64.

[4] Acuña, Occupied America, 56. “Many New Mexicans have found security in the belief that they were assimilated into the new culture and that they became effective participants in the democratic process… the colonized have come to deny their oppression and have thus even evaluated their failures as successes.”

[5]Rodolfo Galvan Estrada III. Pneumatology of Race in the Gospel of John (Eugene: Pickwick Publication, 2019), 16.

[6]I believe that there are strong parallels between the shared animosity and mutual suspicion in the Jewish-Samaritan relationship presented in scripture and the Chicana/o-immigrant (mainly Latin America but especially Mexicans) relationship. The more hostile party in my thesis is the Chicana/o; however, I think the antagonist is neither Jesus (the Jew) nor the Samaritan woman. Rather, it seems the culture and society at large have created an atmosphere of unfair suspicion between the two peoples. A Latina/o immigrant and Chicana/o should be careful not to characterize each other as Jewish or Samaritan people within the text. The text critiques society and not necessarily the people.

[7]John 4:7.

[8]John 4:7. Words are bolded to indicate their importance in my exegesis.

[9]John 4:22 (ref. 4:20, “Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem”).

[10]John 4:26.

[11]“Human ping-pong,” is not a quote from this article, it is a phrase I am using polemically to show the ridiculousness of our politicians’ actions.

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