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Jose Ballester, director of the Unitarian Universalist (UU) Service Committee's Just
Works program and associate director of Member Action for the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC), presented
the opening reflection which set the stage for subsequent discussion.
Ballester said, "My life is a dual life. There is a life I lead as a UU
minister working for the (UU) Service Committee, and a life I lead, actually
doing the work I do. I was born in New York City. My family came from Puerto
Rico. I identify myself as a Puerto Rican, and a Neo-Rican, with different
I grew up in an odd household…my father was, for all intents and purposes, a
refugee from Puerto Rico…he did not come to the mainland to seek his fortune…he
was a white aristocrat from a powerful family on the island. He was a political
refugee. He was a nationalist, and he had to leave the island because he was
about to be thrown into jail. My mother was a country woman from Puerto Rico.
She was dark skinned, he [my father] was light skinned. They arrived in New York
City, and I was born and raised. That is my personal history. But there are a
lot of assumptions that are made about my life.
"What does it mean to be a Latino, what does it mean in this particular
setting, in working with my fellow UUs…there are major differences between
us…not all of them good, not all of them bad. It is the differences in class
that concern me. An assumption is always made when you hear the word Latinos. Do
we understand UUism and how important a higher education is to understanding
UUism? I have heard reaching out into the Latino community, 'we have to wait to
have literature in Spanish.' [But] I am quatri-lingual. Many of my fellow UUs
are at least bilingual. We need to learn to speak Spanish. We need to be able to
communicate. I speak before you as an ordained UU minister, and I speak in a way
so that you would not know that my first language is Spanish. You don't hear
what my normal speaking voice is, how I grew up in NYC. If you did, you would
again make an assumption about who I am, how intelligent I am, and [you might
not know] that this person has a 163 IQ. It is a learned behavior, so that I can
take part in this world.
"A friend of mine is a CEO in an accounting firm, Caesar Martinez. The minute
he speaks, because of his heavy Latino accent, people make assumptions…I am a
New Yorker, I am a UU, I am many things…we have tried to oversimplify who we
are, what we are. I do not object to you trying to learn more about me, the
objection is to making assumptions about who I am and what I am. I did not grow
up poor, I did not grow up uneducated, or working class. I hate those titles. I
did grow up not really feeling the effects of poverty because my father worked
two to three jobs to make ends meet, and my mother was a seamstress. I am
successful at what I do with the Service Committee. I now make a salary that,
with my spouse, puts us comfortably in the middle class, but because I can
connect with the people I work with…people who have been destroyed by the
economic system in which we live, I hope that we [here at this conference] can
suspend any presumptions we make about what the lower class, poor class are
doing. We don't know what's going on there, because we don't know what the
"Until you have groveled for food, you don't understand
poverty. If you do not understand poverty, you do not understand the solutions.
We as a group understand that we are called forth to make a difference in the
lives of other people. Yes, we are. But we have to leave the confines of our
world and enter into another world. We have to be proud of who we are and be
proud of who they are. We can not simply hold up Thoreau, Emerson, and the other
greats who wrote about theology. We need to be with UU itinerant ministers,
going up and on the dusty roads, spreading a faith, living a faith as completely
as we can. There is hope, there is always hope.
Recently, I attended a chapter meeting of the Latino Professionals Network.
Here was a room of about 100 to 125 people…professionals, CEO's, COO's, ITT
professionals, lawyers, doctors, and young people coming in. And I looked around
that group, and they were all Latinos.
They were were there with their families, with their children, because that's
the way the Latinos are. I went up to the first person and introduced myself.
She explained what she did, and I said what I did. I said, 'I'm a UU.' She told
me she was too. And told me what church she attended. I was excited. I met
another man. He said, 'well I'm a UU, in a suburban UU congregation.' [A] third
person, from New York City, we talked about 125th street, the barrio, and then
got into the 'what do you do for a living' talk: 'I'm a UU.' Somewhere, somehow,
these three UUs, prominent people in their industry, were never truly
acknowledging their UU background. They did not share their background in UU
churches. If they did, people would stop looking at them as powerful movers and
shakers in industry, and look at them as those people who need, as those people
who have English as a second language.
"I hope you have the courage to address this openly. I invite you to go
through this process, and remember that injustice anywhere is a threat to
The group work commenced on examining discussion questions on this subject.
At the conclusion of the morning, with discussion and feedback having been
shared, Rev. Tracey Robinson-Harris closed with a reflection on the nature of
interconnection of our community. She talked of the "spider web in a corner of
her house, stretched between timber frames and granite columns." It is [she said]
a reflection of the strands between us that are real and constant…[and] a
reflection of the questions we need to ask: not just are we connected, but how
we are connected.
"The web is the heart of the matter…the web is the context for the other six
questions. An antidote to the excessive commercialism we can see…the web has the
strength and the fragility of all that exists…I can only ever see one side of
this web. One [is] visible, the one we choose to see, our public face, and the
other, an under face hidden because of cultivated blindness. Our task is to
break through the concealment, to know the other side of interdependence, where
the strands of oppression are the ties that bind.
Until the question, 'how are we connected,' is answered not by oppression but
by beloved community, I, and I pray we, will not rest. So may it be."
The Urban Church Conference of the Unitarian Universalist Association continues through Sunday at the
Congress Plaza Hotel in Chicago.
For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations.
Please consider making a donation today.
Last updated on Thursday, August 23, 2012.
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