“The Art of Resilience,” an event organized and led by my good friend Rev. Dr. Isabel Docampo, inspired and challenged me. The title perfectly described the event that employed creative arts—poetry, music, painting, photography, sculpture, drama—to amplify the Latinx witness to strength and courage through our troubled times.
Dr. Docampo, director of The Center for the Study of Latino/a Christianity and Religions at SMU’s Perkins School of Theology, expressed her hope that “The Art of Resilience” would captivate our “intellect and soul through lectures, dialogue, and the arts.” The event, she said, was designed “to engage all our senses to emphasize the message of including all in the work of justice and liberation.” It offered “an opportunity to interact with outstanding Latinx scholars, local artists, and religious and community leaders” in reflecting “deeply on race, gender, and immigration as matters of moral and faith concerns.”
“The Art of Resilience” did speak powerfully to my mind and soul, engaging all my senses to explore the intersection of race, gender, immigration, and other social justice concerns. Here are some of the highlights.
The event began with a theme interpretation through the poetry of Rev. Dr. Hal Recinos, professor of Church and Society at Perkins, and the music of Brazilian composers Lucas Ferreira Fruhauf and Márcio Steuernagel. Recinos’ poetry, interwoven with the music pieces “Four Sad Songs” and “Wasted Beauty,” created a solemn, moving experience. Here is one of the poems Recinos read.
crossed the border
when the faithful joined
the president to pray for
a great big wall and the
Fox News host with the
barrel of a gun said spic
just leave. today, I crossed
the border when every face
on the TV screen was
brown and white illegals
ran around free to carve
their English names on
detested migrant skin.
today, I crossed the border
in the local shop with the
sign saying English only
or you don’t get served.
today I crossed the border
when the big church bells
began to ring, the migrants
were outside sweating grass
and God was in the sanctuary
forgetting the obscenity of
America made rich from our
© h.j. Recinos
The music joined with the poetry to engage us as co-participants in the drama of Latinx experiences across borders. The music pieces and the poetry invited us to suffer with those who have to leave their homes and to find compassion in one another and signs of hope.
Dr. Fernando Segovia, professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at Vanderbilt Divinity School, presented one of the keynote lectures. His research includes early Christian origins, cultural studies, postcolonial studies, minority studies, and non-Western Christian theologies, especially from Latin America and the Caribbean. His publications include Decolonizing Biblical Studies: A View from the Margins and Interpreting Beyond Borders.
Segovia talked about the emergence of U.S. Latino/a theology in the 1980s and 1990s, influenced by earlier Latin American liberation theology. He addressed the current struggle in academia for Latino/a studies and the needs of non-white student populations not being met. These students have suffered the consequences of the upsurge of white supremacy and xenophobia and of unjust economic and political realities. Changes in one country affect other countries; violence and economic injustice have resulted in the migration of large numbers of have-nots. Segovia also connected migration to ecology. Climate change has affected some of the most economically disadvantaged people, causing them to have to leave their homes. He ended on a note of hope in the power of collaborative efforts, like The Center for the Study of Latino/a Christianity and Religions at Perkins.
This Center, formed in 2007 by Perkins faculty, creates a counter-force to all the hate and division that threaten our world. Dr. Hugo Magallanes, Perkins Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, celebrated the success of the Center. Included in the important work of the Center is the promotion of a deeper understanding of the different religious expressions of the Latino/a communities in the U.S. and in Latin America, the facilitation of research that shapes theological education in light of the rapid multiethnic change in the U.S. and a resulting demographic shift in the Latinx mosaic, the sponsoring of interdisciplinary collaborations and travel-study immersions to the U.S./Mexico border, the Caribbean and Latin and South America, and the empowerment of students to make positive contributions as global citizens.
Another keynote speaker was Rev. Dr. Daisy Machado, Professor of Church History at Union Theological Seminary and the first U.S. Latina ordained in the Disciples of Christ. Her publications include Borders and Margins: Hispanic Disciples in the Southwest, 1888-1945 and A Reader in Latina Feminist Theology: Religion and Justice. She has a special interest in the concept of “borderlands,” not only as a specific location, but for Latinas and other women of color also refers to social, economic, political, and personal location within the dominant culture.
Machado emphasized the inseparability of religion from the practices of everyday life, from the desires and hopes of people, from the spaces we inhabit. The U.S.-Mexico border is an open wound, where two worlds grate against each other. To live in the borderland is to experience an unnatural boundary, a constant state of transition. She stressed the important role of religion in the U.S. borderlands; beliefs, practices, and devotions help marginalized people in the borderlands make meaning, find hope, and resist. The fluidity of religion in the borderlands, Machado continued, “helps to maintain a resiliency where despite the bloody encounters between U.S. colonizer and Mexican colonized that led to the death of so many, and despite the assimilation, forced and organic that has taken place, borderlands people still seek the sacred and do so by merging the religious understandings of the past with their present.”
Machado talked about people’s blending their devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe and Santa Muerte into their Catholic faith. People marginalized by race, class, sexual orientation, and gender identity especially identify with Santa Muerte, who is excluded from official Catholic rituals and who is nonjudgmental and accepting of all. Machado explained that while Santa Muerte has been associated with violence, she is more often invoked for her power to bring health and healing, justice, success, protection, and safe passage to the afterlife.
Following this keynote address, Rev. Dr. Isabel Docampo facilitated a panel of awesome scholars and activists that included Rev. Dr. Machado along with Dr. Maria-Pilar Aquino, Professor of Theology & Religious Studies at the University of San Diego; Maria José Recinos, Director of the Oscar Romero Center for Community Health & Education. and Dr. Mayra Picos Lee, Senior Lecturer in Counseling at Palmer Seminary. They discussed their work of education, healing, and social justice activism.
The Art of Resilience” theme was also carried out through an exhibit, curated by Sofia Bastidas and Gerado M. Robles, featuring artists from the SMU Meadows Division of Art and the Dallas artistic community. The exhibit illustrated the complexity of socio-political and geographical borders, both visible and invisible. Through the lens of theology, the works in the exhibition highlighted important Latinx issues, exploring migration, identity, and culture through painting, photography, sculpture, and other media. The artistic works not only focused on the turmoil of our times but also on the inherent hope that exists in human nature.
The meals added to our experience of “The Art of Resilience.” Break Bread, Break Borders, a social justice enterprise empowering refugee woman, catered lunch and dinner. The mission of Break Bread, Break Borders, which serves the Dallas/Fort Worth community, is “to raise social awareness over meals eaten together, to create safe spaces that offer a full stomach and help create an open mind.” Founder Jin-Ya Huang talked about the rewards of providing training and professional mentorship to refugee women and of sharing stories along with healthy, delicious food. I resonate with Huang’s belief that sharing food and stories is a powerful way to break down borders and inspire our work of equity, diversity, and inclusion.