A hodgepodge of wooden and plastic chairs lined the porch of my Aunt Kim’s childhood home. We all sat looking out at the street, Cokes in our hands, as we felt the June breeze and listened to the wind chime that seemed to be hanging there for a lifetime.
Looking around at everyone – my grandpa, his best friend, my aunt and uncle, my mother and baby cousin – I thought, This is it, huh? This is “my culture.” I think I love it.
It was just a normal Saturday in Santa Fe, my home.
I didn’t think much about my ethnic identity or culture until I moved out of it. It’s tempting to think we don’t have a culture when we grow up immersed in one.
I never went to a school that was less than 75 percent Hispanic/Latino growing up on the south side of Santa Fe, N.M. Nearly every kid around me spoke Spanish fluently or had family members who did. We went to the same celebrations and all had similar values even though we traced our heritage back to different countries.
But everything about me began to change when I became a Christian. My thinking shifted and I repented of sin. I hardly noticed that as my Christian community sounded and acted differently from the community I grew up in some of my Hispanic culture was falling by the wayside.
That was never the intention. But most of my Christian friends weren’t Hispanic — most Hispanics are not evangelical Christians.
My mentor in college, who is still one of my closest friends, helped teach my best friend, who is Mexican-American, and I more about Christ and modeled Him to us. She was from the Midwest, but loved our artsy Southwest town. Our most obvious need, it must have seemed to her, was independence. We, two 18-year-old college freshmen, made it a point to go home every week.
She encouraged us to go on a mission trip that trained young Christians in leadership. We did what we always did — asked our moms’ opinions.
Both were uncomfortable with the idea.
Every time we brought up the trip it felt a bit like an awkward tightrope walk, knowing the two sides thought very differently about what would be right and good.
Eventually, my friend opted out of the trip and I, after many conversations and much advice, went with a book from my mother called My Love Will Follow You Wherever You Go. I still treasure that book to this day.
God opened my eyes to the values I’d grown up with, Latino values, scrawled all over His Word after a conversation about the beautiful differences among cultures. I realized, because Christian Latinos didn’t teach me about Christ, I learned a lot about how majority American culture reflects Christ, and nothing of my own.
But we, Hispanics, were His brainchild too. Each of us and each of our cultures, reflects Him in specific, amazing ways. In learning more about our ethnic identity, we learn more about ourselves and more about the great God who created us in His image.
Here are some of my favorite Latino values that I believe are passed on from our Heavenly Father.
Familia is perhaps the strongest, most pronounced among Latino values visible in U.S. culture.
When I say family is a value, I mean something different than the way we all love and treasure our families. The way majority culture values independence, Hispanics value a constant community that cares for one another, particularly within biological and marital ties.
That’s best reflected with the idea many Americans have that once someone is 18, an adult, they move out and make it on their own. That thought was alive and well in families around me who were not Hispanic. However, my family and others who held to traditional Hispanic values were always willing to extend their home and family to anyone in need, no matter their age.
While both cultures reflect something of Christ, I was moved to tears when my friend Holly reminded me, “the value of family is biblical. The church is a family. And the church started as a biological family. The Lord delights in familial love.”
I’m a newlywed. My husband hails from New Hampshire and his ethnic background is primarily Swedish, Irish and English. He’s white. As we planned our very New Mexican wedding, he commented that he’d heard me talk about tradition, but he never saw it so clearly as he did in our wedding plans.
There are certain things done at every wedding: The mother and father give away the bride; La Marcha, a dance that includes everyone at the reception, kicked off the dance party; we all met up the day after to bless the bride and groom and open any gifts. It was tradition.
“It’s like, we’re married after we do all these things,” I explained to my now-husband. “It’s kind of initiating each other into one another’s families and blessing us as a new one. I hope you can appreciate that.”
“I definitely can,” he said.
God gave His chosen people plenty of symbolic traditions throughout Scripture. They served to remind the people consistently of God’s steadfastness, whether in justice or kindness or provision to the poor. Tradition was God’s idea.
While family is probably my strongest-held Latino value, celebration may be my favorite value. By nature, I am more contemplative and introverted, but I grew up attending large parties with lots of food, family, dancing and fun. That has made me always feel at home in a happy crowd.
The Santa Fe Fiestas is my town’s version of a celebration week many Hispanic-American towns hold annually to honor ancestors from Spain is one of my favorite celebrations. The week in September is full of parades with reenactments of Don Diego De Vargas and his court, as well as girls from 5 to 35-years-old named as princesas. There is Spanish dancing, Hispanic and Native American merchants selling jewelry and art, and the best food.
Sometimes we can forget that our loving Father wants to give us the fullness of joy and actually commands us to rest and celebrate.
God explains the Feast of Booths for all of His people like this, “For seven days you shall keep the feast to the Lord your God at the place that the Lord will choose, because the Lord your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you will be altogether joyful” (Deuteronomy 16:15).
What culture are you from? Whether you are a fourth-generation American descended from Swedish immigrants or your family has lived in the Midwest for as long as you can remember, you come from a culture and you live in a culture. And there are wonderful, God-honoring parts of your culture.
Ethnicity reflects and glorifies God, but it does not take His place in identifying us first as His children. We’re all part of a culture and as believers in Christ we are all counter-cultural. We have the privilege as Christians of working through the counter-cultural journey and the tension that comes with that.
What are some of your cultural values? How does your culture look like Christ? Let me know in the comments below.
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Even working as a writer for a Christian organization, Rebecca found it hard to reconcile the God she saw who was angry in the Old Testament with the loving Jesus in the New. Until a new resource helped her see the Bible as one big story.
For a long time, Rebecca Kelsall (formerly Rebecca Gonzales) wondered why some of the things she treasured looked different than the joys of most of her Christian friends. This article describes some of what she saw growing up in Santa Fe.
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