The Myth of Latinx Comunidad among Religion Scholars

Latinx community

Cultivo una rosa blanca, en julio como enero, para el amigo sincero, que me da su mano franca.      

Y para el cruel que me arranca, el corazón con que vivo, cardo ni oruga cultivo: cultivo una rosa blanca.   –  José Martí

Those of us who engage in the academy for the study of religion, who are Latinx, have made the error of unquestionably accepting the tenet of comunidad;[1] essentializing what it means to be a Latinx. I too have been guilty of uncritically imposing the reality of comunidad existing among the poor and disenfranchised of the barrios upon the relational interplay of privileged Latinx intellectuals. But after years of writing and singing the praises of comunidad as reality among Latinx academics; I have come to the sad conclusion that all of our talk about comunidad is a romanticization masking gossip, back-stabbing, and petty jealousies. Yes – the old adage is just as true among Latinx scholars as the rest of the academy – “The academic battles are fierce because the stakes are so low.”

I say comunidad is a myth among Latinx scholars of religion because I have witnessed tragic ends to fellow acquaintances who lived under the dark shadows of allegations – only to be reported with glee by those same Latinx academics who with crocodile tears later morn their demise. Whenever I mention a Latinx intellectual who I respect and admire to fellow members of our so-called comunidad, scholars who are well published and have helped younger nontenured get their first works in print or find employment, I am shocked by all the gossip impugning their character. I remain baffled as to how unfounded accusations are repeated as fact, and I am confounded by how those of us who are supposed to be research experts would rather revel in titillating chatter instead of seeking out, as we are trained to do, what is most likely a boring truth.  Maybe our desire to tear other Latinx scholars down has something to do with petty jealousies. Emilio Estefan is reported to have said it best, “As one climbs the ladder of success, one’s ass becomes a larger target for those below.”

Let us never confuse cliques with comunidad. The sad truth is that most of the knives protruding from my back where not placed there by Whites.  The fingerprints on the handle have usually been from those of my so-called comunidad. And before we think this phenomenon is limited to just Lantix religion scholars, it should be noted some African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Native People, feminists, and those of the Queer community also talk of the comradeship of their identity community being a false construction where disunity is the norm.  In other articles and books I have written about the image of “crabs in a bucket,” but as a colleague reminded me – when crabs are in their natural habitat, among the rocks upon which the waves crash, they pull each other up to safety. Colonialism and white supremacy has placed us in the bucket, which is not our natural habitat. How do we return to our inclinations before being placed in the bucket?

Although we can detect the oppressive structures perpetrated against us, we remain oblivious of our complicity with oppression. Being placed in a bucket risks the danger of replicating new oppressive structures where the faces and/or ethnicities of new oppressors are the same of those who remain disenfranchised. The marginalized often shape themselves in the image of the dominant culture, learning to mimic the attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, and actions they have been taught to see as superior. Colonized minds reinforce the marginalized lack of self-worth which often leads to self-loathing.

Educator Paulo Freire noted that everyone in some part of their being seeks to be a “subject” who is able to act and transform her or his environment. Thus, members of marginalized communities who are objects acted upon rather than subjects who do the acting have an escape route. While habitually alienated and acted upon, they desire acceptance and want to become subjects in their own right. The safe route is to imitate the dominant society whose acceptance they crave. In a very real sense, their consciousness becomes submerged. They become unable, or unwilling, to see how the operating interests and values of the dominant culture are internalized. As long as we refuse to critically analyze how deeply our minds are colonized, and how complicit we are in el chismeteo, we will never create comunidad.

But just because comunidad does not exist does not mean it never will. We can talk about comunidad as if it will occur ex nihilo, or we can labor to make it a reality. I don’t know what others might do, but I choose and commit to the latter. Comunidad is not some utopian concept, it can be a reality if approached with a good dose of humility. I recognize that in the past, I too engaged in activities not necessarily conducive in creating comunidad. For that, I offer my sincere apology to whomever I might have offended, and look forward to making the apology in person. I am also painfully aware of grudges held against me for several decades now, for which I have no idea what was my original sin. Recognizing those Latinx scholars who, for whatever reason, see me as an enemy, or simply despise me, I offer to cultivar una rosa blanca, and encourage you to contact me to begin reconciliation and maybe model what comunidad should look like (Mt 5:23-24). And for those who prefer to loathe me rather than reconcile, cardo ni oruga cultivo: cultivo una rosa blanca.

[1] Comunidad – the Spanish word for “community,” implies that while the Eurocentic model of academic participation is based on individualism, Latinx are more communal, working with each other in a selfless act of promoting and helping others in the community, even to the detriment of the individual.

– Miguel A. De La Torre









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