The Power of Latino Leadership

Culture, Inclusion, and Contribution

Juana Bordas (Author)

Publication date: 05/06/2013

The Power of Latino Leadership

Based on her personal experience as a longtime Latina leader, Juana Bordas takes us on a journey to the very heart and soul of Latino leadership.

  • Written by a distinguished, much-honored Latina leader, this is the first comprehensive book on Latino leadership
  • Offers ten principles that guide Latino leaders
  • Features numerous examples of these principles in action and interviews with nine accomplished Latino leaders

Over 50 million Latinos live in the United States, the largest minority group in the country. Their numbers grew by 43 percent in the last decade, and it's estimated that by 2050, one in three of the US population will be Hispanic.

What does it take to lead a varied and vibrant people who hail from twenty-two different countries? And what can leaders of all cultures and ethnicities learn from how Latinos lead?

Based on her personal experience as a longtime Latina leader, Juana Bordas takes us on a journey to the very heart and soul of Latino leadership. She offers ten principles that guide Latino leaders and features numerous examples of these principles in action.

Bordas begins with a concise history of the Latino people, from the Old World to the New, documenting how extraordinarily far Latinos have come-in every sense. Since Latino leadership ultimately stems more from who you are as a person than from what official title you hold, Bordas's first three principles describe personal characteristics and qualities that have traditionally prepared Latinos to lead their communities. Culture is the soil from which Latino leadership grows, so her next two principles touch on common cultural values that unify this diverse people. And finally, she brings it all together, offering five action-oriented principles that animate Latinos' inclusive, community-oriented, socially responsible, and life-affirming approach to leadership.

Bordas includes the voices and experiences of distinguished Latino leaders, vivid dichos (traditional sayings) that illustrate aspects of Latino culture, and even notes on how the Spanish language itself influences and reflects the Latino worldview. This unprecedented and wide-ranging book shows that Latino leadership is indeed powerful and distinctive and has lessons that can inform leaders of every background.

  • Written by a distinguished, much-honored Latina leader, this is the first comprehensive book on Latino leadership
  • Offers ten principles that guide Latino leaders
  • Features numerous examples of these principles in action and interviews with nine accomplished Latino leaders

Over 50 million Latinos live in the United States, the largest minority group in the country. Their numbers grew by 43 percent in the last decade, and its estimated that by 2050, one in three of the US population will be Hispanic. 

What does it take to lead a varied and vibrant people who hail from twenty-two different countries? And what can leaders of all cultures and ethnicities learn from how Latinos lead?

Based on her personal experience as a longtime Latina leader, Juana Bordas takes us on a journey to the very heart and soul of Latino leadership. She offers ten principles that guide Latino leaders and features numerous examples of these principles in action.

Bordas begins with a concise history of the Latino people, from the Old World to the New, documenting how extraordinarily far Latinos have comein every sense. Since Latino leadership ultimately stems more from who you are as a person than from what official title you hold, Bordass first three principles describe personal characteristics and qualities that have traditionally prepared Latinos to lead their communities. Culture is the soil from which Latino leadership grows, so her next two principles touch on common cultural values that unify this diverse people. And finally, she brings it all together, offering five action-oriented principles that animate Latinos inclusive, community-oriented, socially responsible, and life-affirming approach to leadership.

Bordas includes the voices and experiences of distinguished Latino leaders, vivid dichos (traditional sayings) that illustrate aspects of Latino culture, and even notes on how the Spanish language itself influences and reflects the Latino worldview. This unprecedented and wide-ranging book shows that Latino leadership is indeed powerful and distinctive and has lessons that can inform leaders of every background.

 

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Overview

Based on her personal experience as a longtime Latina leader, Juana Bordas takes us on a journey to the very heart and soul of Latino leadership.

  • Written by a distinguished, much-honored Latina leader, this is the first comprehensive book on Latino leadership
  • Offers ten principles that guide Latino leaders
  • Features numerous examples of these principles in action and interviews with nine accomplished Latino leaders

Over 50 million Latinos live in the United States, the largest minority group in the country. Their numbers grew by 43 percent in the last decade, and it's estimated that by 2050, one in three of the US population will be Hispanic.

What does it take to lead a varied and vibrant people who hail from twenty-two different countries? And what can leaders of all cultures and ethnicities learn from how Latinos lead?

Based on her personal experience as a longtime Latina leader, Juana Bordas takes us on a journey to the very heart and soul of Latino leadership. She offers ten principles that guide Latino leaders and features numerous examples of these principles in action.

Bordas begins with a concise history of the Latino people, from the Old World to the New, documenting how extraordinarily far Latinos have come-in every sense. Since Latino leadership ultimately stems more from who you are as a person than from what official title you hold, Bordas's first three principles describe personal characteristics and qualities that have traditionally prepared Latinos to lead their communities. Culture is the soil from which Latino leadership grows, so her next two principles touch on common cultural values that unify this diverse people. And finally, she brings it all together, offering five action-oriented principles that animate Latinos' inclusive, community-oriented, socially responsible, and life-affirming approach to leadership.

Bordas includes the voices and experiences of distinguished Latino leaders, vivid dichos (traditional sayings) that illustrate aspects of Latino culture, and even notes on how the Spanish language itself influences and reflects the Latino worldview. This unprecedented and wide-ranging book shows that Latino leadership is indeed powerful and distinctive and has lessons that can inform leaders of every background.

  • Written by a distinguished, much-honored Latina leader, this is the first comprehensive book on Latino leadership
  • Offers ten principles that guide Latino leaders
  • Features numerous examples of these principles in action and interviews with nine accomplished Latino leaders

Over 50 million Latinos live in the United States, the largest minority group in the country. Their numbers grew by 43 percent in the last decade, and its estimated that by 2050, one in three of the US population will be Hispanic. 

What does it take to lead a varied and vibrant people who hail from twenty-two different countries? And what can leaders of all cultures and ethnicities learn from how Latinos lead?

Based on her personal experience as a longtime Latina leader, Juana Bordas takes us on a journey to the very heart and soul of Latino leadership. She offers ten principles that guide Latino leaders and features numerous examples of these principles in action.

Bordas begins with a concise history of the Latino people, from the Old World to the New, documenting how extraordinarily far Latinos have comein every sense. Since Latino leadership ultimately stems more from who you are as a person than from what official title you hold, Bordass first three principles describe personal characteristics and qualities that have traditionally prepared Latinos to lead their communities. Culture is the soil from which Latino leadership grows, so her next two principles touch on common cultural values that unify this diverse people. And finally, she brings it all together, offering five action-oriented principles that animate Latinos inclusive, community-oriented, socially responsible, and life-affirming approach to leadership.

Bordas includes the voices and experiences of distinguished Latino leaders, vivid dichos (traditional sayings) that illustrate aspects of Latino culture, and even notes on how the Spanish language itself influences and reflects the Latino worldview. This unprecedented and wide-ranging book shows that Latino leadership is indeed powerful and distinctive and has lessons that can inform leaders of every background.

 

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Meet the Author


Visit Author Page - Juana Bordas

Juana Bordas learned leadership from her immigrant parents especially her mother, Maria, who cooked food and scrubbed floors in the school lunch room so Juana could get a scholarship to a Catholic school. “Their vision for the future, determination, and sacrifice taught me the very essence of Servant Leadership."

The first in her family to go to college, she joined the Peace Corps and worked in the barrios of Santiago, Chile. Juana later received the U.S. Peace Corps’ Franklin Williams Award for her life-long commitment to advancing communities of color.

Juana was a founder and executive director of Denver’s Mi Casa Resource Center recognized today as a national empowerment model. She was founding President of the National Hispana Leadership Institute, the only program in America that prepares Latinas for national leadership. In 2001, she launched the Circle of Latina Leadership in Colorado “to prepare the next generation of Latina leaders.” For her extensive work with Latinas, she was commended by Latina Style Magazine for creating “a Nation of Latina Leaders.”

A former faculty member at the Center for Creative Leadership—the most highly utilized executive program in the world—Juana served as advisor to Harvard’s Hispanic Journal on Public Policy and the Kellogg National Fellows Program. She was vice-chair of the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership’s board and a trustee of the International Leadership Association.

Her best-selling book Salsa, Soul and Spirit—Leadership for a Multicultural Age was awarded the 2008 International Latino Book Award for leadership. The Power of Latino Leadership was released in 2013 and was awarded the Nautilus Prize for est Multicultural Book and also the 2013 International Latino Book Award for leadeship. Juana received Denver’s Martin Luther King Jr. Award for Social Responsibility and the Wise Woman Award from the National Center for Women’s Policy Studies. She is in the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame. In 2009 the Denver Post and the Colorado Women’s Foundation named her the Colorado Unique Woman of the Year.

Today, Juana is President of Mestiza Leadership International (MLI)—a company that focuses on leadership, diversity, and organizational change. MLI’S mission is to prepare collaborative and inclusive leaders for our multicultural and global age.

To learn more and to exchange ideas with Juana, contact JuanaBordas.com.  Friend Me on Facebook   Follow Me on Twitter

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Table of Contents

Preface

Introduction: Leading Latino Style

PART I: La Historia: Latino Fusion and Hybrid Vigor

Chapter 1 Ancient Roots and Mestizo Ancestry

Chapter 2 The Latino Legacy in the United States

PART II: Preparing to Lead: A Latino Perspective

Chapter 3 Personalismo: The Character of the Leader

Chapter 4 Conciencia: Knowing Oneself and Cultivating

Personal Awareness

Chapter 5 Destino: Personal and Collective Purpose

PART III: The Cultural Foundations of Leadership

Chapter 6 La Cultura: Culturally Based Leadership

Chapter 7 De Colores: Inclusiveness and Diversity

PART IV: Putting Leadership into Action

Chapter 8 Juntos: Collective Community Stewardship

Chapter 9 ¡Adelante! Global Vision and Immigration Spirit

Chapter 10 S­ Se Puede: Social Activism and Coalition

Leadership

Chapter 11 Gozar la Vida: Leadership That Celebrates Life!

Chapter 12 Fe y Esperanza: Sustained by Faith and Hope

PART V: Latino Destino

Chapter 13 Building a Diverse and Humanistic Society

Notes

Glossary

Index

About the Author

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Excerpt

The Power of Latino Leadership

CHAPTER 1

Ancient Roots and Mestizo Ancestry

MOST PEOPLE TODAY ARE genetically mixed. Our blood has intertwined through ongoing migrations—our genetic streams run together from unknown sources. The difference for Latinos is that the fusion of races, nationalities, and cultures was so pervasive that it spread across our entire hemisphere, producing a people traditionally known in Central and South America as Mestizos, the offspring of the indigenous people and Europeans, primarily the Spanish.

The mestizaje, as the process was termed, is not a commonly embraced concept by Latinos in the United States. There are advantages, however, to including it as part of the complex Latino identity. What is important to note is that the Mestizo experience is a precursor to the Latino culture and the bedrock of its inherent diversity.1 (Although México is technically part of North America, in this book it is considered part of Central America due to cultural and historical antecedents.)

The lineage of many Hispanics comes from Indian mothers and Spanish fathers. Mothers traditionally preserve—and transmit—tradition, values, spiritual practices, and customs. Much of the culture, consequently, reflects this indigenous background. The integration of the Spanish and native cultures can be seen at the family dinner table. Rice and beans is a primary dish for all Latino subgroups. The Spanish introduced rice, while beans are indigenous, or American Indian. Corn tortillas come from native cultures, and flour for white tortillas comes from Europe. The many varieties of chilies and salsas are from the Americas. Ham, or jamón, and chorizo, now Latino favorites, were brought by the Spanish.

Whether the term Mestizo is used or not, much of the Latino culture reflects this blended ancestry. Since US Latinos were identified as a group only from the 1980 US census on, and their roots go back more than five hundred years, Mestizo is a more accurate historical reference. Taking a look at the mixing of culture and races in Spanish history will shed light as to why the mestizaje occurred in this hemisphere.

The Spanish Are the Mestizos of Europe

LET’S BEGIN IN 200 BC, when the Romans commenced their seven-hundred-year occupation of Spain. Roman influence is visible today in the aqueducts that stand like centurions across the Spanish plains. The term Latino comes from Latin, the language spoken in the Roman Empire (and painfully studied in the Catholic high school I attended). The major Latin-based languages are Spanish, French, Portuguese, Romanian, and Italian.2 Latin also refers to Latin America, which includes México, Central and South America, and the Caribbean islands.3 Because of these global, historical, and cultural connections, Latino is becoming a preferred designation for many people.

After the decline of the Roman Empire, the Visigoths, or modern-day Germans, began invading Spain in the fifth century. German rulers converted to Christianity and maintained much of the legal system and institutions developed by the Romans.4 The melding of cultures rather than the imposition of one over the other was a trademark of Roman occupation and would carry over when the Spanish came to the Western Hemisphere in 1492. (This was very distinct from what happened in North America, as the Anglo-Saxons did not integrate their culture with that of the native people.) This tendency to meld cultures is still integral to Latinos today.

Geographically, Spain is the southernmost part of the European continent and the crossroads between Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. In the eighth century, the Moors invaded Spain and remained for eight hundred years. During this period the Spanish became the most culturally blended people in Europe. The Jews, Christians, and Moors ushered in a golden age of learning while the rest of Europe grappled with the Dark Ages. More than eight thousand Spanish words are derived from Arabic; and over a thousand villages with Moorish names dot the Spanish countryside.5

In 1469, when Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon married, they set out to unify Spain and spread Catholicism as the official religion. Thus began a period in history where Jews and Muslims were forced to convert or leave the country. Many Jews were subjected to the Inquisition, which purged Spain of so-called infidels. It is estimated that at this time one-third of Spain was Jewish. Thus, the Jewish exodus to the “new world” began, and therefore, many Latinos have Jewish ancestry. The similarities of Latinos as an ethnic group to the Jewish community have cultural, historical, and genetic antecedents.6

When delving into Latino diversity, it is useful to consider that the Spanish heritage comprises Moorish, Arab, and Jewish lineages. The blood of Romans, Germans, and Celts had already mingled in Spanish veins. Thus, the Spanish were the Mestizos of Europe when Queen Isabella authorized the expedition of Christopher Columbus. Paradoxically, as Spain was becoming a more homogeneous and united Catholic country, the fusion of cultures was being transported to the new world. Diversity was already integral to the budding Latino soul.

The Prophesy and the Promise

AS IN MANY CULTURES still connected to their ancestry, there is a Mestizo creation story. Creation myths speak to a group’s essence and foreshadow the special contribution they will make to humanity. The US story, for instance, includes the resiliency of the immigrant spirit, the settling of the West, and the emergence of a new nation. The fight for independence and journey to freedom frame our national identity.

The Mestizo creation story begins with a painful birth almost one hundred years before the founding of Jamestown, the first colony in North America. When Hernán Cortés set foot on the expansive land that is now México, Tenochtitlan, which today is Mexico City, was larger than any city in Europe, with more inhabitants than London or Seville. The conquistadores found a radiant island metropolis laced with canals, opulent marketplaces, beautiful palaces, and mountains of gold and silver.7 Starting in northern México, maneuvering across the tiny isthmus to South America, over the high Andes, and into Peru, magnificent cities were built by indigenous people, and spectacular temples rose to the sky like the great condor. The conquistadores traversed these lands and made them their own.

It took only twenty-two years for the armies of the Spanish conquerors—mounted on horses, protected with steel breast plates and armor, and using firearms as formidable weapons—to reach across Central and South America. Francisco Pizarro marched into Peru, and the great Inca Empire fell in 1522. The extent, speed, and permanency of this military adventure were as devastating as the great plagues and diseases the foreigners brought.8

Unlike the Anglo-Saxons to the north, who were fleeing religious persecution, the Spaniards were overwhelmingly Catholic and united in the belief of the “one true faith.” The church issued an edict declaring that Indians and Black slaves had souls and should not be enslaved. To be sure, the Spanish oppressed the indigenous people, but they wrapped their mission around a holy grain. The Spanish would baptize the Indians and bring them into “the everlasting faith.”

Life for the Indians conquered by the Spanish, however, was not guided by a Christian conversion experience. An oppressive cloak was thrown over the Indians, who lost their land, wealth, and gold. Dominance and colonization resulted in desecration. Their gods were stripped from them, and their temples were in ruins. The Indian immune systems could not repel the invaders—85 percent died from diseases.9 The rest were shackled in mines, sweating in fincas (farms) and haciendas, or building the missions where the Spanish lived.

The Indians were losing their will to live and contemplated racial suicide. “If it is true that our gods don’t exist and have abandoned us, then let us die.”10 Even though this desolation began in México, this is not a story about the Spanish conquest of México but of the plight of the indigenous people across the Americas. During this time, the Indians needed a spiritual infusion, a reason to live and to hope for the future. They needed un milagro—a miracle.

El Milagro at Tepeyac

ON A COOL DECEMBER sunrise in 1531, an indigenous elder wrapped in a traditional tilma (poncho) and wearing a straw hat was walking in the foothills of what is now Mexico City. Juan Diego, on his way to church, suddenly hears celestial music and wonders, Am I dreaming? Am I already in heaven? Looking up, he sees a radiant brown woman with distinct Indian features arrayed as the Madonna, with stars in her mantle and a crescent moon at her feet. An angel lifts the folds of her azure dress. The mesquite bushes, thistles, and nopal cactus sparkle like fine turquoise. The earth glistens like the mist of a rainbow.

“Where are you going, the smallest of my children?” she sings in the Nahuatl Indian language. “I am the perfect and perpetual Virgin Mary, Mother of the True God through whom everything lives. I am your merciful mother, yours and all the people who live united in this land and all the other people of different ancestries. I want very much to have a church built for me. Here I will hear their weeping and heal all their sorrows and hardships and suffering.”11 Like a mother, she is offering solace. She acknowledges that the different races have clashed, but in spite of the horrendous upheaval this has cost, they are now inhabiting this land together.

The radiant lady asks Juan Diego to take a message about building the church to Bishop Juan de Zumárraga, who to the Spanish is the most important man in México. Well, that is like asking a peasant to speak to a king. Juan Diego goes and waits patiently for many hours. The bishop finally listens but does not believe him.

Juan Diego returns to the hill at Tepeyac to find the Madonna waiting. He laments, “Forgive me, but send a nobleman who would be held in high esteem. I am not important, and you are sending me to a place I do not belong.” Insisting that he is the one she has chosen, she asks him to return. Dutifully, after many difficulties, Juan Diego kneels down before the bishop, who has many questions and then asks for a sign to prove the story is true. Juan Diego returns and recounts this to the Madonna, who says she will give him a sign in the morning.

The miracle, some would say myth, at Tepeyac, has many hurdles. As in any great quest, obstacles are put in the way of this humble servant. The bishop is suspicious and has him followed, only to have Juan disappear into the hills.

When Juan Diego arrives home, his dear uncle is dying. Juan Diego leaves before dawn to fetch a priest to give the last rites. Ashamed and fearful because he has failed the beautiful Lady, he takes a different route, hoping to avoid her. But of course that it impossible! Here she comes as if floating on a cloud. “My dearest and youngest of my sons,” she says, “where are you going?”

He explains he is going to fetch a priest because his uncle is dying, but he promises to return. The Lady responds with compassion: “Let nothing trouble you, or in any way disturb your countenance, your heart. For I am here—your Mother—your foundation of life. You are in the cool of my shadow. I am your source of contentment. You are cradled in my arms. Is there anything else for you to need?”12 She then says his uncle has been healed.

“Now go to the top of the hill, cut the flowers that are growing there, and bring them to me.” The hill is stony, full of thistles, thorns, and mesquite. It is December, the time of frost and brown grasses. Yet it looks like paradise! Exquisite flowers are blooming, sparkling with morning dew. Gathering them in his tilma, he goes to the heavenly Mother, who arranges the flowers and sends him to the bishop, saying, “Trust in me. Am I not your merciful mother?”

It is still twilight at the bishop’s house. The servants ignore him. And so he waits for a long, long time, patient and steadfast, his head lowered, as silent as stone. The sweet fragrance inspires their curiosity. Looking inside his tilma, they see exotic flowers that do not grow on the cactus hillside. Amazed, they hurry to find the bishop.

Prostrating before the bishop, he opens his tilma. Beautiful crimson Castilian roses that grow only in Spain tumble to the floor. The bishop falls to his knees, making the sign of the cross and praising heaven. For there, embedded in the simple tilma worn by all the Indians across the southern continent, is the brown-faced image of the Holy Mother of Creation known today as Our Lady of Guadalupe. She is not a Spaniard; she is a Mestiza. Her image is still preserved five hundred years later in the church that was built at Tepeyac—one of the most venerated and visited religious shrines in the entire world.

Our Lady of Guadalupe

OUR LADY OF GUADALUPE is perhaps the most influential and prophetic spiritual voice of the Americas and a revered religious symbol of indigenous people. She has been an icon since the conquest of our hemisphere. Her familiar image can be found on wall hangings, paintings, key chains, jackets, baseball caps, and T-shirts. She was named empress of the Americas and patroness of the Western Hemisphere by a papal proclamation in 1998.13

The significance of her apparition in December 1531, even if understood as a myth, must be seen in the context of the time she appeared and in the message she brought to the Indian people. At this time, México was a huge land mass that extended north to the Colorado Rockies and across to the Pacific Northwest. Furthermore, the Spanish conquest commenced in México but quickly engulfed the entire Southern Hemisphere. The legend of Guadalupe, therefore, is pertinent to the Indian holocaust that was occurring across these lands. She appears just twelve short years after the conquest. She hears weeping and sorrows and wants to alleviate suffering.

For the Indians who worshiped the sun there was great symbolism in her image. The rays of sun circling her meant she came from their god. Her Nahuatl name, Tlecuautlapcupeuth, means “the one who comes from the region of light on the wings of an eagle.”14 The eagle represents vision and the future. Her hands are in the Indian style of offering—she was bringing them hope, protection, and acceptance at a time of desolation. The eyes are cast down in quiet composure, a stance many Indians would take to survive.

Her exquisite mantle was turquoise, a color sacred to the Indians. On her dress were gold flowers in the cross shape of Nahuatl glyphs symbolizing the four sacred directions and indicating that new life was coming.15 The Maya, Aztec, and Inca were great astronomers who looked to the sky for guidance and divination of the future. Her mantle was covered with exquisite silver stars.

Juan Diego was not a lofty Spanish official but a humble Indian. As the story is told over and over, the Indians recognize that by choosing one of their own and by speaking in their language, the Madonna affirms their worth and goodness. She looks like a Mestiza, like many children after the conquest. The Indians embrace her: “She is one of us.” As a conquered people, they were losing pride in their great civilizations and becoming ashamed of their ancestry. She was restoring their dignity and belief in themselves.

Our Lady of Guadalupe symbolizes the integration of the indigenous faith with the Catholic Church; this would be the spiritual fount from which the cultural mixing would flow. The place where she wanted her church was a sacred site to the Indian people. Unlike Protestant religions, which do not have a litany of saints or a strong devotion to the mother of Jesus, the Catholic Church had a strong dedication to Mary. This followed the traditions of the Nahuatl, Mayan, Inca, and Aztec religions, which honored the female aspects of God. As a result of Guadalupe’s apparition, the Church began incorporating native symbolism and rituals. The power of this integration is evident—eight million Indians were baptized into the Catholic faith in the next seven years.16

On December 12, the feast day of Guadalupe, Catholic churches across the hemisphere are littered with red roses. For the Aztec, flowers symbolize truth, beauty, authenticity, and divinity. Our Lady of Guadalupe’s message told the Indians that as perennial as the flowers, they would survive. Why? Because the black sash she wore was the Aztec symbol of a pregnant woman.17 The Catholic Church always referred to Mary, the mother of Jesus, as a virgin. To the Indians, on the other hand, their spiritual mother was of the earth and had children. This was a message tailor-made for them.

But who was the child she was carrying? To understand this we must take a short detour. Rest assured that the inception of the Mestizo people began on that small rocky hill at Tepeyac. Everything that has emerged since the apparition—the culture, the leadership traditions, the prominence of today’s dynamic Mestizo and Latino people—rests on the black sash of the Our Lady of Guadalupe, who was first known almost five hundred years.

Just as Guadalupe personified the Indian ancestry of México, so do the Cuban and Brazilian Madonnas reflect the Afro-Cuban and Afro-Iberian heritage of these countries. All three represent the mixed racial heritage that would become a defining characteristic of Central and South America. Likewise, these Madonnas embodied the cultural and religious integration that would occur. They gave hope to colonized people and were adopted as symbols for emancipation and liberation.

The characteristics embodied by these Madonnas are still evident in the expansive diversity, the integration of spirituality and social activism, the inclusivity, and the hopeful spirit of US Hispanics. The marches of César Chávez and the United Farm Workers drew people from many cultures and walks of life and were always led with a tapestry of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

The Mothers of the Mestizo Race

INEVER MET MY MATERNAL grandfather. As a child it never occurred to me to ask why my mother’s last name was the same as mi abuela’s—my grandmother’s. The first child of a beautiful Mestiza who had eyes like blue water and long raven braids, my grandmother had my mother when she was a young girl. Often they seemed more like hermanas (sisters) than mother and daughter. No one ever mentioned my mother’s father. These ancestral roots withered away and remain in the family closet, which shut tight when my parents died. Recently I was sharing this story with a Hispanic leader who said, “My wife just figured out the same thing, but it was never talked about.”

The Spanish commonly used Indian women as concubines or as common-law wives. The Anglo settlers did not procreate on a mass scale with the indigenous people. Western European concepts of racial separation and superiority, as well as religious beliefs, prevented this. But, as noted, the Spanish were already the Mestizos of Europe, with Roman, African, Arab, Anglo, and Celtic blood. (As previously noted, eight hundred years of cultural and racial integration ended in 1478 with the unification of Spain through the marriage of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile.) From the Sierra Nevada to the tip of Tierra del Fuego, the mixing of indigenous people with the Spanish conquistadores was so widespread that today Mestizos, or mixed-race people, are the majority population in Central and South America.

The progeny of this forced union were ashamed of their indigenous selves—for integral to any conquest is the denigration and subjugation of the culture of the conquered. Their Spanish fathers often did not recognize them as legitimate offspring, which denied the very talents and attributes they inherited from their European ancestors. This trauma carved a deep psychological scar. The resolution of the internal battle between their indigenous selves and their Spanish heritage would take generations to mend.21 (The emergence of the complex Latino identity is discussed in the next chapter.)

Just as roses unfold in their time, so did Indian grandmothers transform the pain of the conquest through loving and nurturing their Mestizo children. The anchor and salvation of the Mestizos were the indigenous culture, values, and hope passed on by their mothers and grandmothers. They could taste it in the tortillas, the black beans, and fried plantains they ate. Day after day they were told to hope for the future. Hard work and faith would bring a better life.

The flourishing of the Mestizo people would be a miracle, one prophesied by Our Lady of Guadalupe. The black belt foretold of a nativity—a new race of mixed-blood people—the proud descendants of many nations. During the conquest thousands of Indian women had been desecrated. Many felt ashamed and in great pain. Yet here was the mother of God, saying, “I am pregnant and I am holy.” This was a great benediction to the Indian women who carried the seed of the oppressor. It gave them a sense of destiny, of divine intervention, and most of all esperanza, or hope, for their children.

And yet, Our Lady of Guadalupe had a message for all of us who live in these times, because she said, “I am truly your merciful mother, yours and all the inhabitants of this land.”22 She appears as woman of mixed race, the face of the future who speaks of universal acceptance and portrays humanity as brothers and sisters. Guadalupe is not just the mother of the Indian Mestizos but also the mother of diversity—of the European and other immigrants who are part of this land. Perhaps because of this, people of all ages, races, and nationalities have embraced her message and honor her today.

The Birth of la Raza

IT WOULD TAKE GENERATIONS, but the Mestizos from South and Central America and continental United States would evolve into today’s Hispanics and Latinos. They are connected by their heritage, their history as a mixed-race people, the Spanish language and influence, a common spiritual tradition, and the struggle to free themselves from discrimination. Latino hybrids are the survivors of the conquest and racial conflict, but also represent resolution and cultural reconciliation. These traits are evident in Latino leadership today.

Latin Americans and Hispanic Americans today do not celebrate Columbus Day as the date of the “discovery” of America. After all, our indigenous ancestors were already here. Latinos across the hemisphere celebrate the encounter of cultures and the birth of a new race on October 12—El Día de la Raza. The term la Raza can be best translated as “the new Latino people of the new world.” A more inclusive definition of la Raza is a new family composed of the original inhabitants of the Americas and all the immigrants from throughout the world who since the time of Columbus have come to the new world in search of a new creation.23

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. To move toward this multicultural vision we must first understand and resolve a number of additional historical dynamics. We will circle back to the concept of la Raza in our final section.

¡Ándale!—Moving Forward

THIS CHAPTER UNDERSCORED THE cultural fusion that began in Spain and crossed the Atlantic with the conquistadores. These were the precursors of racial integration, the birth of the Mestizos, and the foretelling of la Raza. Now we will take a historical leapfrog to the continental United States, where a different experience was brewing, one that would mold the modern-day US Latino experience. The Spanish penetration into what is now the continental United States encompassed an area that was once half of territorial México. The United States forcibly acquired these lands from México and also began invading Central and South America. These acquisitions were sanctioned by a belief in Manifest Destiny and would seal the fate of US Latinos until the dawn of civil rights in the twentieth century. The next chapter concludes with a discussion of the growing cultural, social, political, and economic influence of Latinos today.

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