The Tex-Mexico Dilemma
By Fr. Michael Montoya
Father Michael Montoya, a native of the Philippines, was sent to the US Province after his novitiate in 1990 for his theological formation. Ordained in 1994, he has been working in St. Joseph the Worker Parish since then.
Salt of the Earth...
Light of the World
The fire on the wicked of the candle dances briskly and brightly, giving a sparkling effect to the grains of salt on the platter next to it. A bible lies open at the Gospel of Matthew announcing, “You are the salt of the earth...the light of the world.”
It is a typical evening when a comunidad de base (basic ecclesial community) is gathered. A symbol is placed in the middle of the gathered group to remind them of the theme of the readings. And what a symbol it is during the night! It does not only lead them to a deeper reflection on the readings, but symbolizes who they really are in the community.
Why are we different?
St. Joseph the Worker Parish is one of the bigger parishes in the Diocese of Brownville. It is located in South McAllen, about seven miles away from Reynosa, a border city of Mexico. Its parishioners are comprised mostly of Mexican- Americans. As we always say, “It is 99.9 percent. Hispanics...the 0.1 percent being Bart Flaat, Albert Lelo, and me.” (All CICMers)
One of the main characteristics of the parish, that differentiated it from most parishes in the US, is the presence of a growing number of the Basic Ecclesial Communities, also known as comunidades de base. There are 35 communities at the moment, with an average of 15 members. They gather at last once a week to reflect on the Gospel reading of the coming Sunday and plan an action as a community for that week.
Their meetings are held in the houses of the members of the community. It is a time for prayer, singing, exchanging news, reflection, and convivencia. Each one is given an opportunity to share one’s own in faith life.
El Orgullo de la Raza
One of many problems facing the Mexican American on this side of the valley is the question of identity and belonging. In one family, an abuelo (grandfather) may be able to speak both Spanish and English, the father and mother speak both Spanish and English. As a result, a “new language” arises: Tex-Mex! Children are taught school the “American way of life” and go home eating tacos, tamales, tortillas, and frijoles.
This seeing contradiction can be seen in the different areas of life. On one hand, Mexican- Americans are not rally considered Mexican by those living in Mexico, although their roots may be from Mexico. On the other hand, they are not really a accepted in the mainstream US because of their “weird and unusual customs” or their different” way of speaking.
The comunidad de base has been instrumental in helping its members reclaim their pride in the customs and traditions, the religious practices, and language of their culture. Through various activities in the parish such as novenarios in the barrios and fiesta de la Virgin de Guadalupe, las posadas, la pastorela. El via crusis, or any big event that encourages them to dress in their best Mexican attire, sing songs in their language, have a fiesta with pin-ata and mariachis, pray in their own way of praying, celebrate in their own way of celebrating, they are bringing back the pride of their roots, of their tradition, of their culture.
This uniqueness in their religiosity and way of celebrating is one of the most important contributions that they can make to the American church, to which they belong.
In the comunidad de base, we encourage the members to appreciate their identity... that it is okay to be Mexican – Americans, that is okay to speak Spanish (or Tex-Mex, for that matter), that it is okay to do novenas and processions, that it is okay to be themselves!
Fountain of Leadership
through the comunidades de base, we reach out to those in the countryside and to people who normally do not go the parish center. I have personally witnessed the growth in commitment and leadership on the part of a lot of people. Liturgies, become more meaningful. One can feel the life and familial atmosphere in the celebration of the Eucharist. Because of the comunidades de base the Sunday liturgy becomes a celebration of people who know each other’s stories and can call each other by name. This sense of belonging and welcome has already been started in their own neighborhood why they gather. Seeing the dame people in the church allows even freer and more active participation.
Out of these basic ecclesial communities have risen leaders in the different areas of the parish. Leaders whose concerns is not simply personal nor “spiritual” but a wholistic and communal development – socio - political, economic, cultural, spiritual. Yes, it can be done!
One of the most effective processes of renewing the Church to its very basic entity is the formation on the basic of the basic ecclesial communities.
It is the church in its smallest form with the foal to keep alive the Christian faith through an active living out of the Gospel in the community. It responds to the different concerns of the people, where the people’s identify, experience, history, culture are the staring points and bases for living their faith life.
Or experience at St. Joseph the Worker Parish is a proof that our struggle for justice and peace, for personal and communal growth, for the total well-being of each person can be facilitated through an organized effort of a community that lives and celebrates its faith.