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The future is mestizo…

May 4, 2009

30569854In this post I want to engage the integrative motif of Elizondo–mestizajeThe Future is Mestizo:  Life Where Cultures Meet, Revised Edition, Virgilio Elizondo

Mestizaje:  the process through which two totally different peoples mix biologically and culturally so that a new people begins to emerge, e.g., Europeans and Asians give birth to Euroasians; Iberians and Indians gave birth to the Mexican and Latin American people.  (Elizondo 17)

Elizondo explores the socio-cultural dimensions of mestizaje found within his own experience of growing up as a Mexican-American in San Antonio.  The integral characteristic of mestizaje is perhaps the reality that one is a complex synthesis of two (or more) socio-cultural realities.  Elizondo describes mestizaje as an increasingly global reality that is emerging as distinctly different cultures and stories meet along border or as a result of migration.

These cultural realities meet and mingle producing a new mixture which is a rich blend of the previous generation.  Elizondo reflects on the struggle of becoming something new that challenges old social, cultural and political assumptions.  This is expressed in every area of life from food, clothing, language, customs, to religion.

A central question Elizondo raises is that of belonging.  Where am I from?  How do I belong within the current socio-cultural milieu?  These questions are inherently charged with power dynamics.  The relationship of Truth to Power is one that is undeniably messy and complex.  The postmodern suspicion of meta-narratives is born out of a close examination of the power interests which hide behind Truth-narratives.  I love this quote by John Caputo on postmodernity.  Who decides, explicitly or implicitly, who is important or privileged–who belongs.  If the future is mestizo, will there be space for the synthesis to belong…to be legitimated by the power structures and institutions.  Or, will the old politics…the old narratives perpetuate patterns of exclusion and marginalization out of fear or greed.

Elizondo seems to be projecting a vision of the new humanity that transends socio-cultural migration and synthesis.  Elizondo elevates mestizaje as an integrative metaphor for reading Scripture and perhaps even interpreting the historical process through a salvific lens.  He says for example:

A new world order is beginning to emerge.  It is beyond Marxism or capitalism, it is beyond Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, or Islam.  Something totally new is beginning to emerge.  (Elizondo 90)

I love my U.S. culture, but I refuse to adore it as if it were a god.  I am comfortable and at home in it, but I am not blinded or enslaved by it.  There are many aspects of it that need confrontation, challenge, questioning, reform, and repair if it is not going to self-destruct.  (Elizondo 91)

There is a hopefulness that germinates as old divisions are torn down and a “new humanity” emerges that is more tolerant toward the alien and stranger.  Elizondo seems to be suggesting that the mestizo future is predicated on leaving behind the colonial/imperial dispensations of power and order.  The mestizo future is only truly possible in an open democratic society that is willing to let go of hegemonic ideologies which covertly preserve a certain order.  Here we could talk about totalitarian regimes of truth which preserve the status quo through violence.

The religious embodiment of this is perhaps the most complex point of discussion.  Elizondo asks the question:  is religious mestizaje possible?  An interesting question.  I think of a number of passages from the normative Christian text–the Bible.  I think about the Gospel that offends.  The metaphors that Jesus uses of yeast in the dough, salt… images that point to a distinctively primal function of truth and good news emanating outward.  The yeast must function in such a way that it does not lose it’s properties which cause the bread to rise.  The salt must not just become a new thing–“conformed to this world”.  A salt-sugar mestizaje.  If so, we lose our flavor.  But the question is this–is any cultural embodiment of the way, truth and life salt in a pure form?  And what does a Christianity look like that preserves it’s salt-like qualities, yet does not become embodied in the extremes of isolation (the sectarian vision…the illusion of separation from culture) or assimilation (no difference…no flavor added to culture).

Is the Good News–synthesis or transformation?  And does it just flow one-way (i.e. just from the rich to the poor…the haves to the have nots…the insiders to the outsiders…the saved to the unsaved…) or in multiple directions?  I think about this question in my own context where there is a meeting of various socio-economic realities.  I think about how easy it is for middle-class cradle Christians to interact with our neighbors who live below the poverty line in paternalistic, judgmental ways.  How does someone who lives in a $350,000 house interact with someone who lives in a $50,000 delapidated structure?  How does the middle-class culture make room for poverty culture in a way that does not perpetuate societal narratives of value that is measured financially?

I have other questions about Elizondo’s thesis.  They are eschatological.  Elizondo seems to envision mestizaje as a necessary pathway toward the new humanity, but I’m not sure whether he is clear on whether any one relgious narrative provides a unique revelation of truth.  The new world order that Elizondo envisions seems to be utopian–a blending together of all streams into one stream.  Every religion and culture bringing unique gifts into a universal whole.  As I contemplate that vision, I also think of the parable Jesus tells of the wheat and the weeds (Matthew 13):

And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37 He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38 the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age.

I will come back to this parable.  Elizondo seems to offer the Virgen of Guadalupe as a central example of what religious mestizaje might look like.  The narrative of Juan Diego provides a way for indigenous populations to see themselves as a valued participant in the Christian (Roman Catholic) narrative.  The vision of the Virgen of Guadalupe coming to Juan Diego provides a redemptive space in which the indigenous populations who have been conquered by the Spaniards are legitimated by someone who shares their skin color.  It is a subversive narrative–a redemptive space.

The Virgen of Guadalupe narrative subverts the narrative of conquest and power that is embodied by Colonial Christianity coming to the the “pagan” new world.  It is a narrative of synthesis which to some might be seen as compromise.  The question is how does the narrative continue to be regenerated organically in transformative ways so as not to be reduced to mere cultic ritual.  Perhaps, it is intuitively, subconsciously a part of the DNA of the conquered to gravitate to the Guadalupe figure as an image of compassion and liberation.

Bringing this example of synthesis–mestizaje–back to the parable of weeds and wheat.  I wonder if the key question becomes one of epistemological humility.  The fascinating point–if we use this parable as a point of departure for a historical survey of religious self-understanding–is not that we see no differentiation between wheat and weeds throughout history.  Rather, it is that often those who considered themselves wheat, are often responsible for much violence and oppression among the weeds.  This is the legacy of Christendom, Conquest and Righteous Empire.

Perhaps a voice like Elizondo is needed, one who understands what it is like to be the least of these, in order to call into question the tendency of religions to categorize those who are in and those who are out.  The point of the parable does not seem to be identification of wheat and weeds.  It is not about how to eliminate weeds from culture through legislation or violence.  Let them grow together, Jesus says.  If you try to eliminate the weeds from culture (Conquest) you will inevitably damage the wheat.  History would seem to prove this over and over again.

Within the Eastern Orthodox tradition a central way of understanding the Good News is the process of theosis. Within the language of the parable, we might understand this term as the life-long process in which the soil of our lives (cultures and world) are transformed from weedy to wheat-bearing.  But this is only made possible through a life-long unselfconscious ascetic struggle.  The paradox is that we always take the posture of a penitant who is continually aware of the propensity to bear weeds in words and actions–in things done and things left undone…in hidden attitudes and dispositions.  So we are enjoined to enter into the ascetic struggle (of discipleship in the way of Jesus) through the life of the church to give ourselves daily to the task of cultivating the life of Jesus in ourselves through prayer, fasting and almsgiving.  The Jesus Prayer becomes a base chord that continually calls to a center out of which epistemological humility might be sustained:  Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.

Perhaps this prayer provides the orienting spirit required of the new humanity which is qualitatively different than anthropocentric synthesis.  The gifts that are resident within each cultural perspective and experience are brought into the New Jerusalem (Rev. 5).  The critical interpretive center that provides the hope for transformation is not a cultural artifact.  It is a mystery.  Not the ideal forms of Plato, but Incarnation in time and space.  Creation.  A slain Lamb who holds the scroll of human history.  A cross which transforms.  A call to be seeds that die so that agape might be re-generated and embodied within creation.  The Truth deconstructs each iteration into a continual process of becoming, a perichoretic dance as we are invited into the generative process of becoming.  For God so loved…that he gave…the gospel of condescension.  This space is God’s space.  God’s creation is pregnant with the new humanity.  Perhaps the midwives of justice will be willing to assist those from every tribe and nation find their space at the table.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 22, 2009 12:00 am

    This is the second mention of John Caputo that I’ve seen in a blog post. Perhaps I should investigate further.

  2. August 10, 2009 8:25 pm

    i am writing this as my second-generation canadian-born husband of japanese parents plays with our daughter. i am from germany. we live in vancouver, where most children’s birthday parties are like a UN gatherings.


    i have a part-time job at MCC, the best organization i’ve ever worked for (this is how i found you). the arm of MCC i work for is unusual because there are no requirements to be christian, only a strong affirmation the non-explicitly christian values of MCC.


    i grew up lutheran and am proud of it. this background as well as buddhism, paganism and the 12-step tradition inform my daily spiritual practices in ways that work well for me and the world around me (especially when i’m discreet about this mix that most people find extremely contradictory).


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