For the third post as part of Hispanic Heritage Month, Nicole Garcia – candidate for word and sacrament ministry in the Rocky Mountain Synod – shares a painfully poignant reflection on her life as a Latina in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. Her family tracing its roots to the southwest in the 16th century – she shares how the rich guidance of her family’s Roman Catholic roots gave her direction, but how this latinidad of her background can often be at odds with the ELCA. Please read and share lovely friends – stories like hers are common in our church, and we must respond.
Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of the LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”
At the churchwide assembly in 2016, the ELCA passed a resolution, “Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery” which calls for the church to “explicitly and clearly repudiate” the doctrine and “to acknowledge and repent of its complicity in the evils of colonialism in the Americas.” The ELCA took responsibility for the part the Lutheran church played in taking lands from Native peoples in the northeastern part of the United States; far away from my ancestors who lived in the southwest.
The people of the southwest had been colonized centuries before the arrival of the Lutherans. My blood is the blood of Spaniards and the blood of the native women raped by the men who claimed our land for their own under the Doctrine of Discovery. Centuries later, my people were colonized once again after the relatively young government of the Untied States renamed the doctrine—Manifest Destiny—a concept that justified the invasion of Mexico by the United States in 1846. When the war was over in 1848, Mexico ceded more than half of its territory to the United States under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Tracing my roots to the southwest all the way back to the late 1500s, this second land grab impacted my family directly and immediately.
So, Mexico abandoned my ancestors while the people of the United States cared only for the land we lived upon and what’s more we were told to assimilate and become “Americans.” We were part of North America already, but the people from the north coopted the name “American” and told us to speak English and adopt their values. Not paying much attention to the latest conquerors, my people created a culture separate from Mexico and the United States. We created our own food and music. We created our own spiritual beliefs and practices and so we lived in a world within a world.
One of my earliest memories tied to my faith is that of my Grandma Celia, my father’s mother. I remember standing next to her as she prayed the Rosary. I don’t think I was yet five years of age when I stared at her lips as she prayed in Spanish to the Virgin Mary. When I left the family farm that day, grandma gave me the Rosary she had used. The beads were already well worn from use when grandma gave them to me and I still pray the Rosary on those beads from time to time. I now keep that Rosary on the altar by my bed, next to the other precious religious artifacts I treasure.
Why is the Rosary and the Virgin Mary so important to me? I must relate a story of La Virgen de Guadalupe; an intricate tale of the love and devotion of the Virgin Mary for the people colonized by the Spanish conquistadores and priests.
In a nutshell, the Virgin Mary appeared to a native man, Juan Diego, on the hill called Tepeyac in December of 1531, ten years after the conquest of Mexico by Spain and the fall of the Aztec Empire. The Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego three times. Each time, she told Juan Diego to go to the Bishop of Mexico and to tell the bishop to build a hermitage on the side of the hill so her people could come to her and be comforted by her. The bishop did not believe Juan Diego and ultimately the bishop demanded a sign to prove Juan Diego had actually seen the Virgin Mary.
The last time Mary appeared, on December 12th, she told Juan Diego to collect the flowers that grew at the top of the hill. He gathered the flowers in his tilma, the piece of cloth he wore around his shoulders, and took the flowers back to Mary. She arranged the flowers in the tilma and told Juan Diego to take the sign to the bishop. When Juan Diego unfurled the tilma, the flowers fell at the bishop’s feet and the image of La Virgen de Guadalupe was etched into the fabric of the tilma. That piece of cloth hangs on the wall in the Cathedral of Guadalupe built at Tepayac. Why is this story so important to me? I came to this earth on December 12th—the day of this final, holy apparition—making me a Guadalupana (a devotee of the La Virgin de Guadalupe) by virtue of my very birth.
I was baptized and confirmed in the Roman Catholic Church and was fiercely Roman Catholic in my teens and 20s. In my 20s, however, I learned how my people became Roman Catholic due to colonization and not because of faith. I realized didn’t want to be colonized anymore. I left that denomination in my mid-20s and stayed away from any church until my early 40s when I had an awakening of my faith, but I had no desire to return to the church of my youth. I discovered Lutheranism and fell in love with the theology. I discovered a rogue, excommunicated German priest who read scripture the way I read scripture and I learned I was saved by grace through faith and not through my own merit and works.
I was hooked, but the deeply held beliefs of my mother, aunts, and grandmothers are part of who I am as a Latina.
Yo soy una Guadalupana and I continue to pray the Rosary because the prayers remind me of my grandma Celia and reaffirm my devotion for La Virgen.
My faith is simple. My faith is strong, but I live in-between.
My face is brown, but I do not speak Spanish.
I love the work I do in the church, but I often feel I must prove I am “white enough” to be accepted in the ELCA—the denomination to which I’ve been called. I have occasionally felt the yoke of colonization upon my shoulders; a burden I have struggled to leave behind for more than half my life. I do feel loved and accepted in the church where I work as the Director of Congregational Care, but I often notice I have the only brown face in the sanctuary.
I do not want to believe the only place I truly fit in is with my family and God, but I know I live in-between two cultures. I have done as I have been told and assimilated, but at what cost? I fear the next generation will not remember from whence we came and the sacrifices made by our ancestors to live in our colonized land.
Nicole M. Garcia (she/her/hers) is an out and proud transgender Latina of faith. Nicole has a Master of Arts in Counseling from the University of Colorado Denver and is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the state of Colorado. Nicole is a Candidate Preparing for Word and Sacrament in the Rocky Mountain Synod and currently works as the Director of Congregational Care at Mount Calvary Lutheran Church – Boulder, Colorado. Nicole has a Master of Divinity from Luther Seminary in St. Paul MN.
 The resolution can be found at: http://download.elca.org/ELCA%20Resource%20Repository/RepudiationDoctrineOfDiscoverySPR2016.pdf?_ga=1.157204155.1478422222.1471218167 (Accessed September 15, 2018)
 Vince Blackfox, “A Reflection on the 2016 ELCA Churchwide Assembly’s Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery,” Journal of Lutheran Ethics (March 2017, Vol. 17, Issue 2), https://www.elca.org/JLE/Articles/1202#_edn2 (Accessed September 15, 2018).
 See the National Archives: https://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/guadalupe-hidalgo
 My favorite rendition of the Nican Mopohua, the original title of the story of La Virgen de Guadalupe, translated from the original Nahuatl language, and a detailed explanation can be found in:
Vigil Elizondo, Guadalupe: Mother of the New Creation (Maryknoll NY: Orbis Books, 1997).