My Grandmother’s Braids 

The Pedagogy of Ancestral Memory in Faith and Resistance

Growing up I was fascinated with my grandmother’s long hair. Her hair was not only an extension of herself but the physical manifestation of her thoughts and the strong connection of care and resistance. If someone asked why she has long hair, she always answered, “Women are beautiful with our long black hair; we need to take care of ourselves.” I have memories of my grandmother braiding early in the morning and every night before she went to bed. She braided her hair while she prayed and, other times, sang. Her long braids transmitted to me her womanism while at the same time showing the ancestral roots to a traditional way of living for native women in Abya Yala.

My grandmother Candelaria was born between mountains, a generation of native people in the land for millennials. She was born in February, the month of rain and the time for carnival. Her face was beautiful; wrinkled, long hair and small eyes, her face always filled me with magic. She was proud of her gray hair because she said it resulted from age and wisdom. She was a weaver and farmer, so her hands were rough, cracked, and deep. She works with her hand, which were connected to the land; our ancestral motherland took care of her.

My grandmother raised seven children; she became a widow a month after her seventh child was born. She faced challenges and efforts to raise her children and feed them. Grandma was grateful for life; although hard and painful, she knew how to survive and thrive. As part of the native population, with no access to education, the church was one of the few places she was welcomed and encouraged to learn. At the age of 30, through the church she learned how to read and read her Bible daily for everyone to hear. She sincerely believed in God, who brought her freedom and renovated her spirit. 

But who taught my grandmother how to braid her hair? When did it begin? My grandmother must have learned from her mother and grandmothers. Recognizing the story of their lives and care from one generation to the next is our great value. This is perhaps the school of life, full of memories and affection for learning from one age to the next. But seeing firsthand is one way to learn by example. For this reason, I feel very connected to my grandmother in the magical and ancestral relationship between us—a legacy of how to take care of each other.

I wanted to learn more because I remember stories from elders that mentioned that all native women and men were not allowed to have long hair. Interested in digging into this past I read more about the history of colonization and the cruel consequences to the native population.

During the invasion and subsequent colonization, oppressors cut native men and women’s hair. That tragedy, even for centuries, broke that harmonious relationship in Abya Yala. In our native land, my ancestors suffered genocide, slavery, and rape of their bodies and hair. Colonization was a rupture between mothers to daughters, fathers to sons, and entire communities were destroyed. The hair of men and women was cut as a sign of enslavement, powerlessness, and humiliation. To look more like the colonizer, look like a “human being,” something that the oppressor perceived as “civilized.” This was a tragic event for us. It took many centuries for the native population to regain the right to bodily autonomy. Resistance was a way of living.

For this reason, in native communities still present today, the tradition of women having long hair is very much present. Through hair, native women show power in self-care and practicing ancestral traditions. Tying hair into braids has become a symbol of resistance against colonization in the last centuries.

Braid is the intertwining of three strands of hair, crossing them alternately with each other and tightening them; it is linked to the life of humanity. That’s how my grandmother combed her long hair and braids. It was a form of identity, ancestral memory, protection, and resistance. This is why she braids her hair, to make them strong.

Between my grandmother and me, there is more than a century of history. How can I continue my grandmother’s ancestral memory and pedagogy?

In the last years, my hair has grown, and I comb and braid it daily. Her presence draws close to me every time I braid my hair. I remember my grandmother with joy every day. As we can read in the Bible: “Your testimonies are my heritage forever, for they are the joy of my heart. (Psalm 119:111)

The last time I talked with my grandmother was a week before she passed away at 90. When we spoke, she recited several passages from the Bible, and I sang several songs together. I listened to her happily from a distance (we were in the midst of the first wave of COVID-19); I could hear her on the phone. I learned from my grandmother about our family history, which has prepared me to understand my life, faith, and courage to speak up and write about womanism, decolonization and the importance of ancestral memory. Her story and strength are passed from generation to generation. Still, DNA carries its entire history; that main story of survival, care, and resistance we learn seeing our grandmothers practicing is a better example of faith. 

I remember my grandmother as a womanist, elder and healer. Her faith and memories accompanies in my daily walk, reflections and every night as I braid my hair grandma ancestral memory is alive.

¿Es la Iglesia Evangélica Luterana en Estados Unidos una comunidad inclusiva?

Por Yenny Delgado

Cuando la Iglesia cristiana en los Estados Unidos afirma apoyar a la comunidad migrante, ¿qué significa? ¿Cómo demuestra que es una iglesia inclusiva ? ¿Qué sucede cuando los miembros de la iglesia son tratados en un formato patriarcal, no se les da información completa y son tratados como miembros de segunda clase en la mesa comunal? Estas son las preguntas que nos quedan después del impactante despido del reverendo Nelson Rabell de su llamado en “Misión Latina Luterana” en California.      

El domingo 12 de diciembre, la Iglesia Luterana mostró el rostro de la supremacía blanca cuando la Obispo Megan Rohrer y el Consejo del Sínodo de la ELCA Sierra Pacifico decidieron remover al Pastor de la congregación sin consultar a la congregación ni dialogar. Ese domingo, la congregación Misión Latina Luterana en Stockton, CA, tenía la intención de celebrar a la Virgen de Guadalupe. Sin embargo, a diferencia de los domingos anteriores, su amado Pastor no estuvo presente y no predicó. En cambio, la reverenda Hazel Davison predicó un mensaje sin proporcionar información o contexto a la congregación por qué su pastor no estaba presente. 

Esa mañana temprano, la obispo Megan Rohrer despidió al reverendo Rabell y le pidió que no participara en el servicio. Más de 100 mujeres, hombres y niñas quedaron sorprendidos por la falta de sinceridad y respeto. Después de que el Rev. Davidson terminó de predicar, la congregación comenzó a preguntar dónde estaba el Rev. Nelson y por qué no estaba allí.

El Rev. Rabell trabajó de manera comprometida con los miembros de la comunidad para construir una misión latina luterana en Stockton, CA. Su ministerio y testimonio se han centrado en la dignidad de la persona independientemente de su sexo, etnia, estado migratorio u orientación sexual. De hecho, trabajó en defensa de los inmigrantes,  demandó la equidad de trato a través de su participación en el movimiento “las vidas negras importan”, movilizó a la comunidad en medio de la pandemia de COVID-19 para que participen de la vacunación y reciban atención medica.

La congregación no recibió respuesta al solicitar información sobre lo que estaba ocurriendo, la obispo Megan Rohrer y el reverendo Hazel Davidson, por lo que los miembros de la congregación decidieron dejar el templo y caminar hasta la casa del migrante, a dos millas de distancia. Su indignación al marcharse hizo eco de las palabras proféticas de Jesús en Mateo 22:27: “¡Ay de ustedes, maestros de la ley y fariseos, hipócritas! Sois como sepulcros blanqueados, que por fuera se ven hermosos, pero por dentro están llenos de huesos de muertos y de todo inmundo”. 

La comunidad se abrieron paso cantando y cargando a la Virgen, la cruz y las flores que habían colocado ese domingo por la mañana en el Altar, decidieron hacer el Altar en “el Camino”. La comunidad de Cristo sabe que las cuatro paredes de un edificio ni las sillas no forman la iglesia; en cambio, la comunidad de fe inclusiva y solidaria se unen para resistir y aunque sin templo, saben qué son iglesia en comunidad.     

Hasta el momento la única comunicación oficial de la ELCA solo menciona que “el domingo fue un día muy difícil en nuestro sínodo. Muchos de ustedes han escuchado que el Sínodo tuvo que informar a Mision Latina Luterana que ya no tenían un desarrollador de misiones “. ¿Qué quieren decir? ¿se puede descartar a un “desarrollador”? Las acciones y actividades reflejan un sistema colonial y patriarcal para eliminar un liderazgo que trabaja en favor de la población migrante. Y como dice el reclamo de los miembros, ¿tenía que ser el día de celebración de la virgen de Guadalupe?      

Es lamentable que una organización no brinde transparencia y honestidad a sus miembros y despida a puerta cerrada a una persona tan importante en la comunidad. En un video realizado el servicio del domingo 12 de diciembre muestra el reclamo de las y los miembros. Para acceder al video está disponible en línea aquí.Escuche en el minuto 33 como la comunidad pide información de lo que esta sucediendo.

La experiencia de las y los miembros este pasado domingo muestra no solo un maltrato al Rev. Rabell sino a toda la congregación. Este sucede debe ser un llamado de atención para la iglesia cristiana en términos de superar su historia de discriminación y supremacía blanca para decidir y liderar la iglesia. Desafortunadamente, incluso en 2021, la idea de que todos somos una familia en Cristo Jesús no se sostiene según las noticias recientes.

¿Qué está sucediendo en el Concilio del Sínodo de Sierra Pacifico de la ELCA, y por qué la comunidad de la misión luterana son tratados como miembros de segunda clase en el Cuerpo de Cristo?

_____________________

Yenny Delgado

Psicóloga y teóloga. Escribe sobre las intersecciones entre memoria ancestral, etnicidad, política y fe pública.

Is the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America an inclusive community? 

When the Christian Church in the United States claims to support the migrant community, what does it mean?  How does it show that it is open to ethnic and ancestral diversity and that everyone is treated equally?  What happens when church members are treated in a patriarchal format, not given complete information, and treated as second-class members at the communal table. These are the questions we are left with after the shocking dismissal of Pastor Rev. Nelson Rabell from his call at “Mision Latina Luterana” in California. 

On Sunday, December 12, the Lutheran Church showed the face of white supremacy when Bishop Megan Rohrer and the Synod Council of the Sierra Pacific ELCA decided to remove a Pastor from the congregation without consultation or dialog. That Sunday, the Mission Latina Luterana congregation in Stockton, CA, intended to celebrate the Virgin of Guadalupe. However, unlike previous Sundays, their beloved Pastor was not present and did not preach. Instead, Reverend Hazel Davison preached a message without providing information or context to the congregation why their Pastor was not current.Earlier that morning, Bishop Megan Rohrer dismissed Rev.Rabell and asked him not to participate in the service. Over 100 women, men, and children who are primarily of Native American ancestry and identify as Latino attended were surprised by the lack of sincerity and respect. After Rev. Davidson finished preaching, the congregation began to ask where Rev. Nelson was and why he was not there.

Rev. Rabell worked committedly with community members to build a Latin Lutheran mission in Stockton, CA.  His ministry and witness have focused on the person’s dignity regardless of sex, ethnicity, immigration status, or sexual orientation. Indeed, he worked to mobilize the community amid the COVID-19 pandemic and in response to the growing cries for more significant racial equity after the shocking number of George Floyd.

The congregation received no response from Bishop Megan Rohrer and Rev. Hazel Davidson, so the congregation members decided to leave the temple and walk to the migrant’s home, two miles away. Their indignation in walking out echoed the prophetic words of Jesus in Matthew 22:27: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.” They made their way singing and carrying the Virgin, the cross, and the flowers they had placed that Sunday morning in the Altar and decided to make the Altar in “el Camino.” The community of Christ knows that the four walls of a building and pews do not make the church; instead, the inclusive and supportive community of faith is at the heart of the Christian message. 

The only official communication from ELCA to date only mentions that “Yesterday was a very difficult day in our synod.  Many of you have heard that the Synod had to inform Mision Latina Lutherana that they no longer had a mission developer.” What do they mean?  The actions and activities reflect a colonial and patriarchal system to remove leadership on the Feast of Guadalupe. 

It is lamentable for an organization not to provide transparency and honesty with its members and dismiss staff right before the most important holidays.  A video of the service from Sunday, December 12, is available online here; at minute 33, you can hear the members’ requests for answers and decide to go outside in support of Rev.Nelson Rabell. 

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

This exhortation from the epistle of Galatians is the clarion call for the Christian church in terms of overcoming its history of outright discrimination, white supremacy, and hate. Unfortunately, even in 2021, the idea that we are all one family in Christ Jesus is equal does not hold based on the recent news. What is happening at Sierra Pacific Synod Council of ELCA, and why are migrant and many native populations treated as second-class citizens in the Body of Christ?

Inclusive Communities. Hope for women living with HIV

Women’s living with HIV increases every day in the face of discrimination, inequality, impoverishment. The lack of inclusive communities that promote healthy coexistence impacts women’s ability to navigate society after a positive diagnostic. As a community of faith, the church can and should provide support and accompany people living with HIV and AIDS.  

An open and inclusive community can give hope to women living with HIV and help to prevent discrimination.

Feminization of HIV

The United Nations’ most recent data from 2021 shows that 53% of people living with HIV are women and girls.  Many of the women live in impoverished situations and have adequate information. Moreover, approximately a quarter of people living with HIV do not know they are infected, and not knowing they are infected puts them and others at risk.  

Many societies have already marginalized women and girls’ voices and opportunities, but a positive HIV diagnosis’s added burden can further close doors.  Indeed, the rejection, stigma, and discrimination towards women have a significant impact, especially in a conservative society that does not openly discuss sexuality. 

Married and single women are infected every day. The marital and partnership infidelity and promiscuity of men coupled with abuse led to adverse situations. Patriarchal societies have created a system of double standards with different parameters to measure the behavior of men and women, justifying the mistreatment and exclusion of the female body, leading it to bear great suffering. The double standard is compounded by the expectations that women should be faithful, passive, modest, submission and resign themselves to all the conditions men set for them. 

The virus outbreak walks along with various factors in terms of gender and power relations. The behavior patterns regulated by an oppressive system show the inequality and abuse in which women live, which creates and maintains vulnerability in the transmission of the virus and, therefore, the feminization of HIV.  

Faced with this situation, many women may feel trapped and unable to do something to improve and deal with their condition, losing interest in continuing to live.  When starting treatment, women must be in situations daily and for the rest of their lives. It is essential to highlight that if medical treatment is accompanied by family support, a good diet, a positive attitude, and participating in a supportive community, infected individuals can manage many aspects of the disease.

Resistance is the action of hope

For women living with HIV, hope is a strength and a spiritual experience since it is related to the search for themselves, the value of their bodies, and the meaning of life. Some women mobilized and approached in support groups. Women are creating an alternative of coexistence that allows them to live in better conditions, creating communities that enable them to face discrimination and impoverishment more effectively, situations in which they live.

Living with HIV is no longer a diagnosis of death. Still, a new life condition allows them multiple challenges and opportunities to grow as women, show themselves, and assert rights they did not recognize before. 

From a pastoral and theological lens, congregations and community members need to be a place of sanctuary and welcome.  As individuals recognize that God walks by their side, restores dignity, and allows them to begin the process of restoring their identity, that is, of the image they have of themselves and the desire to revalue it, that they are God’s image. 

Women are no longer alone; it is God who has taken his side walking amid their suffering. Hope is now oriented towards the future, through the transformation of the present, and in the search for the fullness of life.

Inclusive faith communities

The proposal to live in an inclusive community is an alternative to the vertical, authoritarian, and exclusive system that separates and oppresses women living with HIV. We believe that an inclusive community must live the values of the kingdom of God, which allow us to think and resist, a place where we share our experiences, experiences, and struggles that living with HIV brings.

Undoubtedly, the hope that women have as the certainty that God is with them renews the struggle to continue living. Building this inclusive community is not only being a meeting space; it must be sought to be a space for spiritual development that allows us to grow, liberate ourselves and accompany us in resistance.

As communities of faith, we must believe God gives us a double portion of strength and hope that allows us to become a community that allows itself to be accompanied and accompanied. There is no doubt that God shows his presence in all its fullness.

__________________

Yenny Delgado

Psychologist and theologian. Ruler elder in the PCUSA. She is a doctoral student in Sciences of Religions at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland. She writes about the intersections between ancestral memory, politics, and public faith.