General Assembly: GA Presentations: Presenter views and opinions do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the UUA.

LUUNA, Justice, and Diversity in Our Congregations

General Assembly 2006 Event 3013

Sponsor: Latino(a) Unitarian Universalist Networking Association

Speakers: Rev. Jose Ballester, Rev. Peter Morales, Rev. Patricia Jimenez

LUUNA, the Latino(a) Unitarian Universalist Networking Association, held a workshop on how to better integrate Latino and Latina people into our congregations. The Rev. Peter Morales, senior minister at Jefferson Unitarian Church in Golden, CO, and the Rev. Patricia Jimenez, community minister, began with an invitation for those so inclined to share their name, congregation, and ethnic background. The moderators stressed that UUs should strive to be more inclusive of Latinos/as, because they are such a quickly growing minority; in fact, in few years, 25% of the United States population will be comprised of Latinos or people of Latino heritage.

Rev. Morales recommended that UUs target Latinos who are culturally similar to us, because their spiritual needs are more similar to our own. He cited a study conducted by a school of public health in southern California that compared the mental health of Latino immigrants to that of second and third generation Latinos. They looked particularly at suicide rates, alcoholism, and drug use. Although they expected the US born Latinos to exhibit better mental health, the study found that immigrants had only half as many instances of mental instability as their U.S.-born counterparts. Jokingly, Morales said, "My black humor is that we live in a society that drives people crazy."

He theorized that these seemingly stable middle- and upper-class descendants of immigrants were "spiritually homeless" and that they lacked a strong religious community. He urged UUs to focus on welcoming these individuals into their communities. He explained, "The people who need us the most are those who look the best." He used the analogy of a point system in UU heaven. For every impoverished Nicaraguan immigrant with four children living in the slums which the congregation welcomed, they would get ten moral points. However, for a financially stable Latino physicist or social worker, they would only gain one point. He said we need to focus on recruiting the spiritually poor, who are not necessarily the financially poor. He said, "I think to often we try to reach so far beyond what is reasonable, we miss what is attainable."

Next, Rev. Jimenez spoke about how her parents were determined that she receive the best education possible and speak English without an accent. She said, "The privilege of education is a privilege, but it also serves to somewhat remove you from your community." She said that, like the Latinos in the study, her higher education had isolated her from her Latino community. It was only when she visited her Mexican family that she felt a sense of belonging.

Jimenez then invited those at the workshop to share the steps that their congregations were taking to include this minority group. Many shared that their congregations had Spanish hymnals and a few even had bilingual services. One congregation in Anaheim, Calif. went to far as to offer free lessons in English, sewing, and American citizenship, and had a twenty-four hour domestic abuse hotline. In a Texas congregation, Catholics, UUs, Quakers, and Mennonites banded together to organize peace and justice marches and gatherings with the Latino community.

Reported by Meg Young and Emma Richards; edited by Margy Levine Young.