As a Mexican, I did not know I was a Hispanic, too. The term “Hispanic” refers to people from Spanish-speaking countries and, in the United States, it is a technical demographic label or distinction used to identify people from a Spanish-speaking origin. Since in Mexico the primary language is Spanish, the term “Hispanic” is not commonly used to identify Spanish-speaking people: there is no need for it! So I often say that I was not born Hispanic but Mexican.
It wasn’t until I came to the U.S. as an immigrant that I was given this label or identity of being a Hispanic. At first, I did not think much of it since it was the norm, but after a few years, I learned the richness of the Hispanic culture in the U.S., and not just Mexican but representing all the Spanish-speaking countries in the world. I learned some of the negative implications that come from having the label too.
Regarding the richness of being Hispanic, I was gifted with being a part of a diverse demographic group of people in which we share food, music, and traditions. For example, my diet was expanded from tacos to pupusas to arroz con gandules. One of the perks of serving as a pastor in the Hispanic context is absolutely the food! In this way, by being Hispanic, I get to share my Mexican heritage with others as much as I am enriched by the heritage of those from other countries of origin.
However, not everything is positive. One of the greatest challenges for immigrants is to learn a new identity, to adapt, and to fit into the new culture, language, and social expectations of their new homeland. This is a hard practice that has mental, emotional, and spiritual implications for the individual. For example, immigrant people may feel of lesser worth or with lower capacities to perform in life because of their skin color or accent. This self-perception of inadequacy is primarily caused by the way they are treated, perceived, or seen by U.S. natives. These dynamics lead people to become isolated and limited in their opportunities to prosper (not just financially but culturally, intellectually, socially).
Of course, not all Hispanics are immigrants, but many like myself are. I came from Mexico in 2004 to Dallas to do Spanish ministry in primarily English-speaking congregations. One of the first experiences I had was when I learned I was a Hispanic. I did not think much of it, nor did it bother me until I learned the implicit biases against being a Hispanic pastor. For example, people would typically assume that I was the associate Hispanic pastor for the Hispanic people, as opposed to being the pastor of all the people.
In ministry, this presents challenges and opportunities to encourage and walk alongside Hispanic immigrants so they can live in their giftedness, empowered to celebrate who they are rather than having to come “through the back door” to church or to apologize for who they are. This biased mentality is a tragedy on many levels; for example, it teaches Hispanic children that they belong “over there, on the side, with your people.” As a pastor, I often find myself encouraging people, particularly the young ones, to believe in themselves and open their minds to the vast opportunities before them, and not to reduce their identity to the biases others may have about them but rather to proudly celebrate their heritage.
Being Hispanic often means having to navigate at least two different cultures and languages and making twice the effort to level the playing field. Edward James Olmos describes this in the movie Selena: “We have to be more American than the Americans and more Mexican than the Mexicans. It’s twice as exhausting!”
Being in ministry in a Hispanic context is both enriching and challenging. We are people of tasty food and many colors, of lively music and infectious rhythms, we love deeply and sacrifice everything for our families—including leaving our homelands to provide for our loved ones. As Hispanics, we celebrate the rich heritage we contribute to each other and to the larger community.