By Rudy Carrasco
I am a Christian. A follower of Jesus Christ. A guy trying to find out who I am and what God made me to do, so I can go out and do it. This is not easy for me, because I have a quadruple consciousness.
By quadruple consciousness, I mean I have inside of me four perspectives that influence the way I live my life. Here’s how they break down.
W.E.B. DuBois wrote in the early part of this century about the “double consciousness” experienced by African-Americans in the U.S. As fellow Americans, they are “insiders” in our society. Yet they are also “outsiders” because of their skin color and racism.
This “double-consciousness” is true also for Latinos. But for U.S.-born Latinos like me, there is an added twist.
Dr. Eldin Villafañe, associate dean of urban and multicultural affairs at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Boston, says that while we are insiders/outsiders in relation to mainstream society, we are also insiders/outsiders in relation to first generation Hispanics.
Though we are bilingual and bicultural, we are not totally accepted by our mostly monocultural, Spanish-language-dominant parents and authority figures. They perceive us as different–too norteamericano in behavior and Spanish-speaking ability.
As a result of these insider/outsider dynamics with the White mainstream and with first generation Hispanics, a third consciousness arises.
We who find primary identity with neither the mainstream nor with the mother country find it most readily in each other. In the Southwest, this is known as “Mexican-American” or “Chicano” identity. In Texas, these terms are joined by “Tejano.” In the northeast among Puerto Ricans, it’s “Boriqua” or “Nuyorican.” In Florida among Cubans, it’s “Cuban-American.” And across the nation, this third consciousness binds people of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, and Latin American descent into “Latinos” or “Hispanics,” turning a U.S. census fiction into reality.
But for a second generation Latino trying to follow Jesus, add a fourth consciousness: an American Evangelical consciousness.
What does this all mean? It means confusion for a Christian young man trying to find his way. When these voices say different things, which should I follow? Shall I choose one perspective against all the others, or is it possible to integrate them?
Answering that question is the greatest accomplishment of my life.
DISCOVERING DOUBLE CONSCIOUSNESS: MEXICAN AND AMERICAN
I arrive at the understanding I have quadruple consciousness over a seven year period.
The first thing I understand about myself is that I am a Mexican. Born on July 28, 1967, I am the fifth and last child of Felisa Rivera, an immigrant from Mexico. My home environment is imbued with a sense of God’s sovereignty and a Trinitarian sense of unity, works of the Holy Spirit that a sociologist could just as soon ascribe to el fatalismo del indio and Mexican culture. My mother’s homemade guacamole and arroz con leche are the best around, and go especially well with Lucha Libre wrestling and old movies on Channel 34, the Spanish-language television station.
My watershed experience is the death of my mother. A few years after my birth, my father cuts my mother and her children out of his life. Already having lost two previous husbands, one by desertion and one to old age, my mother finds herself in proverbial hard straits. Her smoking and drinking increase, compounding a problem she carried all her life. As a child in Aguas Calientes, Mexico, pneumonia turned to rheumatic fever. She survived the ordeal, but with a heart enlarged four times the size of normal. Childhood tragedy, years of hard living, and, I believe, the lost love of my father literally break her heart. She dies in late 1973.
Upon my mother’s death, critical events transpire rapidly. Since no grandparents, uncles or aunts on my mother’s side of the family live in the states, and my father’s side of the family will not accept the children, the L.A. Superior Court judge will make Silvana, Andrew and myself wards of the court. I am down at the courthouse the day he decides our fate. Unless someone steps forward to claim us, the judge will disperse the three of us into the unknown vastness of the county foster care system.
On that day of reckoning, my eldest sister, five-foot one-inch Yolanda Olivas, stands before the judge and makes a Mexican declaration:
“I will take care of the children.”
The judge asks how she, a 20-year-old college sophomore on financial aid with no relatives to help, will accomplish this task.
“I’ll find a way,” she answers. “I have no other option.”
Yolanda’s stand culminates years later in university diplomas for each of her siblings. But the experience also opens my mind to a world that is not just Mexican. An American judge’s gavel seals my destiny. From that day forward, I understand that my life is inextricably bound to America.
DISCOVERING TRIPLE CONSCIOUSNESS: CHICANO
A few months later I discover I am not exactly Mexican or American, but something altogether unique.
Mexicans are people like my mother and her friends.
Americans are white people like the judge and my third grade teacher.
I am more like Chris and Edmund.
After winning custody of us children, Yolanda arranges for Lorenzo and Eugenia Gutierrez to care for us. Tio and Tia (“uncle” and “aunt”) are from my mother’s village in Mexico. They agree to keep us for two years until Yolanda graduates from college and can bring us to live with her. In Tio and Tia’s home live Chris and Edmund, my “cousins” through Tio and Tia and my gente through the generosity of extended Mexican kinship.
Early one morning I stand watching Chris shave in the bathroom. “Where are you going?” I ask.
“School.” He turns and looks straight at me. “I have a Chicano studies class.”
Chicanos are people like him and me, he explains, who are Mexican but were born here, live here, and are kind of American, too.
“Are Tio and Tia Chicano?” I ask. Not really, Chris says. They act like they are still living in Mexico, and they don’t speak English.
Edmund walks in. Clad only in underwear, a muscular and bronzed god in the making, he grabs me and tickles me. I squeal loudly. From the other room Tia calls out, asking what’s happening. Edmund hollers back something in Spanish. His tickling turns to a rough, warm embrace of me.
“When will you be back?” he asks Chris.
“Can I go with you to the football game?” I say to Edmund.
He ignores me and negotiates with Chris. The three of us stand there for what seems like an eternity. Chicanos.
DISCOVERING QUADRUPLE CONSCIOUSNESS: EVANGELICAL CHRISTIAN
Christmas break, 1980. I am conspicuous: One of a handful of Mexican-American teenagers aligned with 150 white teens doing evangelism in Mexico.
At first it is pure joy. I soak in Mexico, my mother’s country of origin. Though born in the U.S. and a rare traveler in Mexico, the kindness, politeness and solemnity of the people that imbue every part of life across the border are all familiar to me. Mexico is kin.
My co-laborers see things differently.
Some hold prejudice. These kids tell Mexican jokes of the dirty and lazy variety, ridicule English spoken with a heavy accent, and assume educational and moral poverty for all Mexicans. When I find the courage to stand alone, I chastise them.
Others push salvation of the soul to already-believing Christians while turning a blind eye to their material and social needs. When I raise the issue of non-spiritual needs, one youth leader warns me, suggesting I might stray into social gospel if I don’t watch out.
But most crushing to me is the indifference of my friends to my identification with Mexico. In retrospect, what could those white kids possibly understand about Mexico’s place in my heart? But as a teen sensitive about his identity, it hurts.
Paradoxically, for all my connection with Mexico, once inside its borders it is evident to all that I am an American.
My forthright, take-charge demeanor sets me apart from my Mexican peers. My command of Spanish translates into short, stunted conversations with any Mexican I meet. At each day’s end, I’m emotionally drained from trying to communicate with my Mexican brethren. In our dusty church van, crossing the border back into the U.S., I feel relief. But I feel alone.
A week later, I am back at my home church in Burbank. I explain to an adult my conflicting feelings while in Mexico. He listens, then tells me that what is really important is that I am a Christian. All that cultural stuff, all those mixed feelings, he says, aren’t that important. He quotes Bible verses to support his view.
I believe him. With his implicit permission, I wave a hand of faith and believe that all this complexity, all these cycles of joy and pain attached to my tri-culturalness, will go away. What’s important is that I have Jesus in my heart. I believe that for years.
Discovering that I have four perspectives inside of me that compete for my allegiance and attention is one thing. Navigating through high school and college with that kind of baggage is heart-wrenching for a young man who is looking for the one path he should follow. Consider the insider/outsider relationships I experience with each consciousness.
“I started my faith journey through a white organization, and went to a college where I was one of two Mexicans. When you are in this other world, it’s easy to think being white is what it takes to be good. Most of us who have made it a little bit or have been educated, that’s the world we learned to run in.” — Noel Castellanos, pastor, La Villita Community Church, Chicago, IL.
Inside: When I travel outside the United States, there is no doubt I am an American. I know America’s educational and social system well enough to succeed. I can debate nuances of American history from Plymouth Rock on. McDonald’s, network television, the Challenger disaster, Generation X, Michael Jordan, the savings and loan scandal: They all influence who I am. When I debate issues from a Latino perspective, some of my friends think I’m putting them on. To them I am just an American.
Outside: Race IS an issue. An underlying sentiment in American society these days is that racism exists most in the minds of African-Americans, Latinos, and other crying “foul!” Some say it plainly: You are making it up.
But for many Latinos, race consciousness is imputed onto us by mainstream Whites.
Ruben Navarette, Jr., author of the book “A DARKER SHADE OF CRIMSON: The Odyssey of a Harvard Chicano,” can tell you the exact day he began thinking of himself as a Mexican-American.
As a high school junior in Fresno, California, Ruben ran against two students, both close friends, for the office of school president. Since the student body was half Mexican-American and half-white, and since Ruben was the only Mexican-American, Ruben’s friends since childhood reasoned that if they both ran against Ruben they would split the white vote and Ruben would win. To Ruben’s shattering dismay, he learned that his friends were plotting to defeat him–because he was Mexican-American.
On my high school campus, the winds of the affirmative action debate blew hard. Tough classes, top grades, and top extracurriculars didn’t measure up when white students believed they were more deserving of scholarships and awards than I, whom they assumed inherently less qualified because I was Mexican-American. They rarely said it directly, but in innuendo and other roundabout ways, I got the message.
FIRST GENERATION HISPANICS
“If I say “Acosta” and not “Acosta”, am I ditching my Hispanic heritage and roots?”– Larry Acosta, Director, Hispanic Ministry Center, Santa Ana, CA.
Inside: Many of us were raised by first generation Latinos. Our mothers, fathers, aunts and uncles bridge the mother country and America. Strong family devotion, perseverance and long-suffering, memories of the past that live in the present, the supremacy of sincerity, people over time and material possessions: we inherit these virtues and others from them. We also inherit a significant portion of our identity; In my heart I became a man the day I placed a black Fedora on my head, just like Tio Lorenzo, and assumed his indomitable spirit and faithfulness.
Outside: Culturally and linguistically, we fall short in the eyes of our elders. We handle authority, conduct courtship/dating, spend our time, and plan the future differently. Many of us do not speak el idioma as well as they would like. The first generation registers its complaints. Somehow, they send a message that we receive, that we are not good enough, not Latino enough, greater sinners than they, and perhaps irredeemable. None of us second and third generation Latinos believe that. So our battle lines are drawn.
SECOND AND THIRD GENERATION HISPANIC/LATINOS
“Being called names in grammar school, being looked down on at my high school summer job on Wall Street because I was a Latina, these experiences silently killed my esteem. But my faith helped me turn pain into power. I was not quick to embrace the anger of the Left, because I didn’t feel that motivation by hatred could be sustained. I needed the love for my people and for my community that only Christ could give.” — Alexie Torres, Executive Director, Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice, Bronx, NY.
Inside: Long an oppositional identity (“not American, not Mexican), Chicano is finally emerging as an affirmative ideology. We are for a fully democratic American society. We are for increased quality of life for all people. We welcome diverse influences into our world view. Our psychology and our heartfelt concerns transcend many borders, creating a true “world-view”. We are for making money and then sharing that money as broadly as possible.
As a 90’s Chicano in Los Angeles, I proudly watch a phoenix rise from the ashes of more than 500 years of history. The number one radio station in the city is the Chicano station, Power 106. “Power” captures its audience with a high-energy blend of rap and rhythm and blues. Throughout the city, we find Chicanos in prominent positions of power. In Old Town Pasadena, Chicano yuppies (CHuppies?), like beautiful, multi-hued peacocks, strut down Colorado Boulevard. These days I don’t feel so alone.
Outside: The frontlines purveyors of Chicano identity that I encountered at Stanford and often confront today hold anti-Catholic, anti-Christian positions.
The Catholic church, they say, is part of the system, part of the problem. And to Marxist-influenced Chicanos at prominent universities, the Evangelicos’ “pie-in-the-sky” theology is textbook opium.
While in college I tried to connect with these leaders but was not comfortable being around such anti-Christian people. I don’t think they wanted me — a gnat trying to let Christian faith influence Chicano ideology — around either. Despite its current resurgence, some suggest the Chicano movement will remain weak for its inability to accept and harness Christian faith, a force central to the lives of countless Chicanos.
“My wife and I have an adopted son, Jacob, who is white. There will come a time in his life when he will want to identify with his natural parents. Where are my natural mother and father? What are they like? These are questions of longing, of identity, that all adopted kids eventually ask. Some parents respond to adopted kids’ questions with anger, saying, “WE are your parents.” But these parents do a disservice to that child by not letting him find out about their natural parents. In the same way, the Evangelical America that tells me not to pursue an understanding of my ethnic heritage is like these insecure parents. White folks want to identify with their European root, with Luther and Calvin, as well as with the Pilgrims and the forefathers. Me, as a Latino, I just want to soul search in the same way. I am like Jacob, wanting answers about my Hispanic heritage, about my Mexican roots.” Joel Alvarado, associate director, KAYIL Ministries, Los Angeles, CA.
Inside: I am an Evangelical. I studied the Reformation with the top Luther scholar in the world and traveled to Germany to touch it with my own hands. I attended a Bible college within the Christian college coalition. I was raised in a conservative Baptist church. I have worked with a wide variety of Evangelical churches, ministries and parachurch organizations. I have done street corner evangelism, and I practice friendship evangelism, here in the states and as far away as South Africa.
Outside: Billy Graham calls race the single problem he would eradicate if he could. Promise Keepers holds racial reconciliation as a central point of its agenda. Thankfully, thirty years after the passing of the Civil Rights Act, Evangelicals are finally talking about race and culture issues. But throughout high school and college I was frustrated that most churches I knew couldn’t — or didn’t want to — address issues that were outside of the White mainstream.
In my home church in Burbank, I was encouraged to not think about myself in “ethnic” terms. But I wrestled with that perspective, because I was undeniably Latino just as I was undeniably Christian. I sought to find harmony between the two. And as Joel Alvarado points out, it is not fair to suggest that I ignore my racial and culture heritage when, in fact, the White mainstream openly identifies with its European and early American predecessors.
If all this information about quadruple consciousness, about insider/outsider dynamics in relation to each consciousness, if all this makes you weary and confused:
Imagine how I feel.
In high school, I am a visibly happy and successful student. But in ways only I fully know, I try on different identities, looking for an exact fit. Honors student. Street-corner evangelist. Basketball star. Tough homeboy. Surfer boy. Punk rocker. Editor-in-chief. Baby brother.
College life will provide an answer.
Biola University, mid-1980’s. I defy family, friends, school officials and conventional wisdom by applying only to Biola out of high school. In ninth grade I decide that if I am going to pay $50,000+ for a private university education, I will at least learn how to read and understand the Bible on my own, without having to wait until Sunday to hear pastor de-code it. With my matriculation into Biola, I also anticipate the revelation of my true identity.
No go. The monocultural, monopolitical environment I encounter inspires no new insights. When I open discussions on social or racial issues, or share the complexities of my personal perspective, few follow where I lead. I do soak up much Bible and theology, for which I am grateful. My roommate Al and I push the limits of faithfulness to Scripture (he keeps his left hand behind his back while writing a tithe check with his right). But when I leave Biola I am still thirsty.
Stanford University, late-1980’s. The social and psychological leap from a Christian college coalition school to the cutting-edge of postmodern intellectualism will be the catalyst for fusing my disparate parts into one purposeful whole. I find acceptance and loving support from my peers in Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. Phil Gibson, John Lee, Darrell Armstrong and so many others help get me through school, as well as to solidify deep parts of my inner man. But no one can tell me how to integrate my faith with the other parts of my self. When U2 sings “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” in my dorm cafeteria midway through my junior year, I know what they mean.
I feel torn. When I try to imagine my future, I can’t imagine anything. I can’t figure out who I am supposed to be. Mainstream America influences me greatly. I care deeply about first generation Hispanics. I live between those two worlds in a fuzzy Chicano mindset. And I want Jesus to tell me “well done, good and faithful servant” when I stand before his throne. I toy with making my life easier by ditching my faith.
But help is on the way.
Summer, 1989. Along with fourteen other students, I participate in an Intervarsity summer mission to Mississippi. Astonishment is mine when I visit the ministry center, health clinic, law office, farm, school, church and other community pillars associated with the Voice of Calvary and the Mendenhall Ministries. Before my very eyes, I watch the second chapter of Acts conduct its daily business. The power of Christianity to solve deep, historically rooted problems overwhelms me. I have new hope.
Hope anthropomorphises itself eight months later in the person of John Perkins.
One week before finishing my last class and graduating, Perkins lectures on campus. After the lecture, I learn he needs a writer. Five months later, I am his writer.
Over the next nine months I spend an extraordinary amount of time with Perkins. We debate and put to paper cutting-edge ideas integrating practical faith with the issues of our day. Together we travel throughout the nation sharing principles of Christian community development with the ever-growing army of Christians incarnating Christ in America’s inner cities. Up close and personal with the man many call a “modern-day Moses,” I come close to resolving my dilemma.
During those nine months I watch Perkins juggle his own private triple consciousness. Not only juggle, but master. His success, I decide, lies in deftly navigating mainstream America, the African-American community, and the Evangelical Christian community. In a single day I accompany him to speaking engagements at a downtown bank, a large African-American church, and a White-led urban nonprofit. All day long his message of Christian community development is the same, but the way he says it differs in each location. The results? Always the same: Bullseye! I witness this day-long cross-cultural communications coup on so many occasions that I am convinced: You can be whole and happy person while having a triple-consciousness.
Quadruple consciousness. Can it happen with quadruple consciousness?
Summer, 1991. High in the mountains above Puebla, Mexico, I discover my personal Rosetta Stone:
“Caminante no hay camino?Se hace camino al andar?” Sojourner there is no path/It becomes a path as you walk.”
These words come from a sad existential Mexican poem. The poem, which ends with the sojourner dying in the desert alone, his body covered by wind-blown sand, is not an obvious choice for Christian edification. But those two lines free me spirit.
Caminante no hay camino.
Until that moment, I had put my life on hold. I searched, and waited, for a person like me who had already resolved my dilemma. A person who would show me the path of life for a person like me, so I could walk it. Hope had turned to disappointment, and my disappointment grew greater each time I encountered a prospective role model, only to find no exact fit. But when I hear caminante no hay camino, I feel released. The thing I am waiting for, my path, will never arrive, so I can take my life off hold.
Se hace camino al andar.
Nevertheless, though my ideal path does not exist, se hace camino al andar suggests I can still walk forward. If there is no mainstream-living, first-generation-Hispanic-sensitive, Latino Evangelical Christian role model out there that I want to emulate, to build upon, to improve upon, then it is possible for me to make the path as I walk. Then the Scripture comes to mind: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
I feel new.
Our God is truly a redeemer. From a myth of desolation he gives me a roadmap for a road that waits for me to build it.
In many ways my story belongs to the genre of American self-discovery. The issues and complexities I have described are not my sole province, but are embraced by a variety of Americans as well people whose lives transcend multiple borders.
But my story also has practical import. And is urgent.
The rapid growth among Latinos in the U.S. — at last official count 27 million — means heightened visibility of Latino issues in the American mainstream. Catching the eyes of Evangelical Christians are the many needs in poor, urban Latino communities. While many Latinos sprint down the fast track to success, others are plagued by low education levels, crime, gangs, teen pregnancy, and broken homes. Individuals, churches, and Christian ministries of all types are incarnating Christ in the midst of these needs. But the Scripture rings true: The harvest is great, but the laborers are few.
The laborers we need most, those representing the greatest hope for effective urban Latino ministry, are Latinos themselves. We know the urban situation, as most of us live in the city or just moved to the suburbs from the city. As Christians we are redeemed. With training, we can be highly effective in this vital work.
Yet while U.S. Latino Evangelicals number more than five million, urban ministers seeking to utilize Latino co-laborers invariably have difficulty finding them.
They ask ministries like the Hispanic Association of Bilingual Bicultural Ministries (HABBM) for help in finding such people. HABBM makes recommendations but in no way can fill the onslaught of requests received.
In a nation of 27 million Latinos and five million Latino Evangelicals, why is there a shortage of Latinos in urban ministry?
The reasons behind the shortage are many. One critical reason, I believe, is that many hopefuls are embroiled in conflicts associated with quadruple consciousness.
The Twentysomething Chicana journalist tells me she might leave her Latino congregation. The first generation pastor rejects suggestions by second and third generation young people in the church to adjust the worship style, use more English, and discuss topics more relevant to them. She has pleaded with the pastor for years, but to no avail. Now she has her eyes on a predominantly White superchurch, yet doesn’t feel entirely comfortable there. Last Sunday she had to drag herself to church.
A new generation listens as anti-Christian Chicano leaders bemoan the Church as part of what’s keeping our people back. The Chicano high schoolers who marched the streets in protest against California’s Proposition 187 turn and ask me why there weren’t more Christians protesting the initiative.
But those I wonder about most are the huge number of Latinos attending mainstream, White-led churches. HABBM conjectures that this group numbers possibly half of all U.S. Latino Evangelicals — more than 2.5 million people. I remember that I myself grew up in a mainstream White church, attended a predominantly White Christian college, and still almost dropped my faith. I can’t help but wonder: Are there others like me in that body of 2.5 million?