I have never felt more Mexican than I have in the years since moving to Georgia.
Part of this is because I have felt more empowered to embrace and celebrate my heritage due to the cultural conversations about race that have erupted over the last few years. There is another reason, though…
I grew up in the East Valley of the Phoenix, Arizona metro area. Just by proximity to the border, you can imagine how both Mexican culture and residents of Mexican heritage were abundant. This meant incredible food, music, and art, representing unique experiences. Plus, it meant that a bi-racial kid from the Midwest like me had a hard time understanding my place ethnically. What I mean is that I wasn’t quite White enough to be clearly considered “White,” and I didn’t speak Spanish, which kept me out of the “truly Mexican” category. So what did that mean? Well, it meant that I was what the adults, classmates, and systems around me needed me to be.
We moved to AZ when I was just 7 years old, which meant that I was removed from the influence of my dad’s side of the family at an early age. They were the Spanish-speaking, Tejano music-playing, arroz recipe-holding family members that I was faintly shaped by but now thousands of miles away from. This meant I would grow up being shaped and defined by a distant heritage in a new place that saw me as something that I internally never really felt true to. This was my upbringing until some 20 years later when I uprooted my family, and my wife and I decided to move to Georgia.
The South is an entirely different place to live and to be a person of bi-racial descent. See, in Georgia, I quickly came to realize that what people see very early on is my tan skin and last name. Meaning I am recognized for my heritage regardless of my ability to speak Spanish or not. Yes, there are Spanish-speaking Latino people in the south who would categorize me differently because of my inability to speak Spanish or because I spent so many years in Arizona, being hesitant to truly dive into the culture of my heritage. Nonetheless, since being in Georgia, I have felt more Mexican than I ever have before.
This has unlocked so much in my life and leadership. I realize that because of the ethnic history of my family, the last name that I carry, and the work that I do, I now get to represent a demographic of our world that I am proud to be a part of. I also understand that because of my bi-racial identification, I am afforded opportunities and privileges that uniquely position me to say and advocate for more of all cultures to be celebrated and appreciated.
Here’s why I’m telling you all of this. . .
Many of the kids and students we will be leading in the years ahead will have stories just like mine. Our demographics in the U.S. are changing rapidly. Predictions are concluding that by 2045, we will live in a culture where the racial majority are people of color. This means that a majority of the students and kids we are trying to minister to will come from bi-racial and culturally diverse heritages. They will have family members who immigrated to the United States in their lifetime. They will be navigating their own circumstances of racial and ethnic identity. They will be celebrating cultures and heritage that we may have been formerly unaware of as their leaders.
We will be leading the most diverse group of kids and students the American church has ever engaged with.
This is why it’s important to do the work of celebrating moments like Hispanic Heritage Month. It’s not just a month to look back at great influencers, leaders, and creatives with heritage rooted in Guatemala, Venezuela, Colombia, Puerto Rico, or over a dozen other Spanish-speaking Latin American countries. Hispanic Heritage Month, like Black History Month, AANHPI Month, and the various other celebrations of cultures and heritage, represents an opportunity to look ahead to the future of the ministries we will be leading five, ten, or fifteen years down the road.
When we celebrate the heritage of our neighbor, we are able to affirm the beautiful expressions of creativity and culture that make us unique while also creating a space of inclusivity the Church was always meant to demonstrate.
I imagine the Roman Centurions bringing their food to the potluck alongside the dishes of the Judean citizens and foods of the former Pharisees who gathered together in a revolutionary movement that was known to the 1st-century world as Followers of The Way.
Today, the Church gets to celebrate the beauty of diverse heritage by recognizing, celebrating, and platforming many different voices that all represent the Creator in whose image all of us are formed.
When you decide to do the work of learning more about Hispanic heritage (not just this month, but all year round), you’re doing the work of understanding the complex realities facing those you lead and care about most. ” Ultimately, you’re better equipping yourself to help students be more of who God created them to be and inspiring them to see themselves as uniquely worth celebrating. For a 7-year-old, bi-racial kid with the last name “Sanchez,” this would have been a game-changer.
To be a leader of tomorrow, we have to understand just how diverse tomorrow will be. As we embrace this reality, we’ll practically find more ways to celebrate the unique differences of background, culture, and heritage we each have while also better understanding those we are united with because of Christ.
The Church is bigger than the lines that we have traditionally used to divide people. AND when we intentionally celebrate the beauty of diversity, we more fully represent what the Church is meant to be.
So, for the remainder of Hispanic Heritage Month, I encourage you to. . .
– Find ways to learn more about the incredible contributions of Hispanic people to the world as a whole.
– Listen to different kinds of music from Hispanic and Latin American artists(Spotify or Apple Music playlists are great for this).
– Enjoy different kinds of food: Arepas, empanadas, tacos, pupusas, patacones, mofongo, and so many more.
– Watch movies celebrating Hispanic heritage (Coco and Encanto are two solid ones for kids).
– Dive into the history of both the indigenous experiences of Latin Americans and the colonial realities that shaped Hispanic culture.
– Find a local celebration in your area.
– Please find a way in your own areas of influence to acknowledge and celebrate the beauty of Hispanic Heritage.
Not only will people in your community be grateful, but the students and kids of Gen Z and Gen Alpha will see you as a leader who is doing your best to understand and celebrate them.
Happy Hispanic Heritage Month, from your still ethnically emerging, bi-racial, growing in confidence, learning to celebrate my own heritage, Hispanic friend!
I can’t wait to see how we celebrate the diverse experiences of one another in the future.