Being a student of history can be an interesting thing, particularly because history is a narrative of facts that, as Winston Churchill said, is written by the victors. This means that the voices and perspectives of the victors in history are much more dominant than those who have been conquered, dominated and/or oppressed.
There’s something interesting that happens when you study history from the perspective of those who, traditionally, did not get to write history—specifically when it comes to the history of the Church.
I’m currently learning about Church history from the perspective of women, or “deformed men” as Aristotle called us. It isn’t easy to swallow material from prominent men in the faith like Augustine and later Aquinas who taught that women were ontologically and biologically incapable of exercising virtue, or even intelligence.
However, while this material can be difficult to take in, it’s actually been quite helpful in realizing why we are where we are when it comes to women in leadership and what sort of belief was passed down from philosopher to theologian to modern voices in Evangelicalism…
Studying women in church history can be heavy, but to be honest, it hasn’t been as heavy as studying the history of my Cuban people.
In this same Church history class, I was given the option to write a paper of my choice. Because of my background, I thought it would be interesting to research the intersectionality of my ethnicity and gender. After a few days of thinking through several topics, I got myself to the library and checked out about a dozen books on Christianity, women, and Cuba. To my surprise, the mother of Mujerista Theology, Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz, is a Cuban woman.
The first book I picked up during my library binge was Miguel De La Torre’s The Quest for the Cuban Christ. I was excited to get home and read about the history of my incredible people. But, needless to say, my excitement quickly dissipated when I opened the very first page. The three beginning sentences read, “Women were raped. Children were disemboweled. Men fell prey to the invaders’ swords” (De La Torre, 3).
I immediately realized that this journey wouldn’t be light, easy, or even encouraging—it would be dark, heavy, and difficult.
I suddenly began to feel it—the grief. I didn’t realize this was a thing until I took my feelings to Twitter and the wonderful community there assured me that I wasn’t alone in what I was feeling. Some people who study history experience this research grief quite regularly.
The grief began to surface once I realized the story of my people would be the story of the native Cubans—the Taínos—being invaded and colonized by Spain. Worse than that, it would be about how Spain’s imported “Christ” would infect the island and justify the greed for gold and glory. This “Christ” would support the ethnocide of the Taíno people. Spain would exploit and oppress these so-called heathens in the name of this imported “Christ.”
And this isn’t just true of Cuban history, but most of Latin American history, as well as African history and the history of America’s indigenous peoples.
Reading about this colonial “Christ,” whom people used to justify domination is painful, to say the least. At times my readings about the colonizers forcing people to be baptized or else killed is met with physical pain, even tears. Every few pages of story after story of torture is followed by personal moments of prayer and lament. Even though De La Torre reminds me that the supposed Christian invaders who claimed allegiance to the “true” God of the Bible while ignoring the Bible’s basic call for justice were not the true representatives of Christ (De La Torre, 3), I still can’t shake the sadness.
This is the only Christ some people know of. This is the Christ that has infiltrated much of our theology and mission efforts—the Christ that is white, elite and of European decent.
While this is a reality, I know it isn’t the only reality. Jesus—the true Jesus can be found through the perspective of los humildes (the humble) as De La Torre calls them. And the more I read about Jesus from the perspective of los humildes—the colonized, the marginalized, those that didn’t get to write the history and theology books—the more deeply I fall in love with the Jesus these people represent—the indigenous Jesus—the Jesus that was born in a manger, rejected in his home town, tortured, broken and battered.
As I continue in my research, I remember that although the imported Christ infiltrated Cuba, the indigenous Jesus can be still be found beating in the hearts of los humildes—the truth and the beauty of this Jesus somehow still penetrated the island of my ancestors, my family.
Through this journey the past couple of weeks, I have been painfully reminded that I’m currently living about 3,000 miles away from where most of the exiled Cubans fled to during the Revolution in the 60’s—the second Cuba, if you will—my hometown, Miami. And my goodness, how easy it’s become to miss my culture and my people. But mostly, I find myself more than ever missing my Cuban Abuela—the matriarch of our family who lived most of her life in this country as a widow—supporting her family, working her own business, volunteering at church, maintaining a home, and ultimately leaving a legacy.
Living so far from her gets harder each time I realize that her time here is slowing coming to an end as her body becomes more frail and her mind more distant. Because of her dementia, calling her on the phone has gotten painfully difficult, as I don’t know who I will be speaking to… or if she’ll know who she is speaking to.
But a few days ago, after a deep breath and a sincere prayer for strength, I decided to pick up the phone…I just needed to hear her voice.
“Hola, Abuela. Como estas?” (Hi Grandma, how are you?)
“Bien, aqui. Necesito que me hagas un favor.” (Good, here. I need you to do me a favor.)
“Que necesitas?” (What do you need?)
“Necesito que me lleves a coger mi pasaporte. (I need you to take me to get my passport.)
Although I knew my grandma can’t travel, and that she wasn’t in a state of mind to understand why, I still asked,“Porque, Abuela?” (Why, Grandma?)
“Necesito ir a Cuba.” I need to go to Cuba.
Tears rolled down my face as I realized that while her mind wasn’t present with me in the conversation, her heart was where it will always be—where mine is longing to be—in that beautiful island with los humildes.
Kat Armas is a Latina, passionate about theology and coffee. She currently lives in Los Angeles, CA, and is pursuing a Master of Divinity at Fuller Seminary. Kat and her husband own a coffee roasting company (www.therunningover.com). Their goal is to provide the best “cafesito,” while building deep and meaningful connections with farms and communities overseas. Besides coffee, Kat enjoys vegan food, books and blogging. You can read more of her work at www.katarmas.com. Find her on Twitter @kat_armas.