Over the years I have had the pleasure of visiting many predominant Euro-American churches. Without fail, some well-meaning person would usually approach me and ask a question that literally left me speechless.
Sadly, the following questions have actually been said to me. In true David Letterman fashion, however, I list here, based on my experiences, the Top Ten questions you should never ask a Hispanic visitor to your church.
No. 10: Where did you learn to speak such good English?
Not all Latino/as recently arrived. I’ve been living in this country for almost 50 years. You would hope that I have mastered the language.
No 9: Really? You don’t look Latino.
What does a Latino look like? Are Hispanics supposed to fit whatever stereotypes are conjured up by the dominant culture? Should I wear a sombrero to look the part? Latina/os are black, brown, white, red, yellow and any combination thereof. Our roots can be traced to every continent, so no, there exists no typical Hispanic.
No. 8: You are lucky being a minority. Aren’t you thankful that due to Affirmative Action you don’t have to worry about getting a job during this down market?
I got my job because I have a doctorate, three masters and have written over 14 books. There are those within the dominant culture who cannot reconcile the fact that a Hispanic is better qualified. Rather than admit they fall short, it is more comforting to explain it by Affirmative Action.
No. 7: Are you aware that we support a missionary in Latin America?
A certain arrogance exists in the belief that Latin America needs saving, especially considering that a greater percentage of the population identifies itself as being Christian than within the United States. Still, it is not Christ to which the dominant U.S. culture wishes to convert Latin America. It is rather to the U.S. construction of Christ–a Christ complicit with U.S. culture.
No. 6: Where are you from?
I am from Denver, but what they really are seeking is confirmation that I don’t belong. Most Hispanics are U.S. born, with several living on this land years before there was a United States. You can see how insulting this question is when the ancestor of the one asking it is probably the more recent “immigrant.” In my situation, I was born in Cuba. When I state this, the next question is usually, “What will happen when Fidel dies.” I respond by saying that they will probably bury him.
No. 5: What gang did you belong to?
One of these days I am going to make myself a T-shirt where the front reads “Yes, I am a Latino man,” and the back says, “No, I’m not a criminal.”
No. 4: Did you know we have taco night on Wednesday nights?
Why is it that Euro-Americans assume I like Mexican food, or worse, I would know where all the best Mexican restaurants are located? We are not a monolithic group
No. 3: Why are you people so passionate?
The Enlightenment maintained a dichotomy between the body (emotion, passion, base desires) and the mind/spirit (reason). Evolved creatures, like Europeans, were supposed to be more rational; while less-evolved creatures were more physical–more passionate.
No. 2: Oh, one of my best friends is Jose Gomez, do you know him?
There are over 45.5 million Hispanics living within the U.S., or about 15 percent of the population. Could we possibly all know each other?
No. 1: Nothing.
With exception of a fake smile and a faint “God bless you” during the “passing of the peace,” most people say nothing to me when I visit their church. There is seldom any genuine attempt to welcome me or “my kind.” I am the invisible man. As bad as the nine previous comments are, at least they recognize my existence.
Bonus Material: Sorry, but I cannot resist with providing more tidbits said to me while visiting predominately white churches. They are:
–Boy, you are so articulate.
–No way, Jose.
–If your people wouldn’t have so many babies, maybe you all could be lifted out of poverty.
–You just need to become more mature.
–Do you clean your house with Spic & Span?
Miguel A. De La Torre is director of the Justice & Peace Institute and associate professor of social ethics at Iliff School of Theology in Denver.
Professor of Social Ethics and Latinx Studies at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado, and a contributing correspondent at Good Faith Media.