On Cuba and Why Seminary Sucks Sometimes

I’ve been kinda “blah” lately, even though nothing negative in particular has happened. In fact, life is pretty good—generally speaking—right now. And nothing is really new, either…well, except that I’m taking a church history course…

But, that’s pretty normal considering I’m in seminary and this isn’t my first church history course.

However, the difference about this course is that its focus is not history from the perspective of those who traditionally write history—i.e. the winners, the elite, or those “on top.”

Instead, I’m learning about the history of the church from the perspective of women, or “deformed men” as Aristotle called us. Sure, it sucks knowing prominent men in the faith like Augustine and later Aquinas taught that women were ontologically and biologically incapable of exercising intelligence, virtue or any sort of leadership qualities—which obviously influenced theologians after them, etc. While my reading material and class discussions are hard to swallow, it’s actually been helpful in realizing why we are where we are when it comes to women in leadership, and who sat on the shoulders of whom, and what sort of theology was passed down from philosopher to theologian to modern voices in Evangelicalism…

Studying women in church history can be heavy…but to be honest, that’s not the reason I’ve been “blah.”

In fact, what’s made me feel this way is research I’m doing for a paper in the class. We were given the option to choose a topic within history/theology and gender. As most of you know, I’ve already been doing intense research in gender for the past year or so, so naturally I had a long list of topics I wanted to write about. But, there was one particular thing a friend and fellow woman of color, Joyce, said to me recently that has continuously rang in my ear: “Kat, there are a lot of white women that are writing really good stuff about egalitarianism…but there aren’t a lot of Cuban women that are writing about it from their perspective….you should tap into that.”

This struck me because up until recently, my Latina-ness didn’t mean much. I had so thought of myself as “white,” that everything that is feisty and loud and intense and…well, Cuban in me was slowly fading.

After a few days of thinking through research topics all that I could think of was: “I’m a Cuban woman. There’s history…and theology there.” I immediately got myself to the library and checked out about a dozen books on Christianity and Cuba. To my surprise, the mother of Mujerista Theology (liberation theology from a Latina perspective) 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 so pumped 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. I honestly didn’t know 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. People have different names for it, but I’ve decided to name it: research grief. And yes, it’s a thing.

This 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. I find myself lately missing 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.