This week’s post is by Rev. Elivette “Elly” Mendez Angulo (whose pronouns are she, her, hers, ella) serves as Project Coordinator of Encuentros de Gracia y Bienvenida, an initiative of the United Church of Christ that seeks to engage the faithful in prayerful dialogue regarding the intersection of sexual orientation and Latinx identity. Rev. Elly also serves as Co-Pastor-Teacher of Manantial de Gracia “Spring of Grace” UCC in West Hartford, CT.
In 1917 U.S. Congress passed the Jones-Shafroth Act. Among the many things that this act allowed is full U.S. citizenship to all Puerto Ricans born on or after April 25, 1898. What is often left out in the telling of that narrative is that the U.S. did not do this for the sake of charity or goodness on behalf of a country which they had taken possession, but rather this allowed for an influx of additional black and brown human bodies that could be compelled to join the armed forces as the U.S. entered World War I days earlier on April 6, 1917. Few Puerto Ricans joined but 18 to 22 thousand were conscripted to the U.S. armed forces during the war.
On September 20th Hurricane Maria arrived and attempted to destroy Puerto Rico. According to NPR, as of October 5th only 10% of the islands population had electricity. These are US citizens (including Veterans and their dependents) who have been unable to communicate with their “Seres Amados” across the island and into the diaspora community.
At times of disaster one of the most asked questions is, “where was God?” When we were hurt, when we wept, when we grieved our dead… where was God then? I suppose that the other question that I hear asked often is, why should I get involved. Why should it matter to me?
Because, though we cannot wave a magic wand and see Puerto Rico suddenly reappear on the global satellite map, lite up like sunshine in the night sky, these are beings. Human beings created in the image of God who are struggling and hurting and need help-¡SOCORRO!. And if that is not reason enough to do more than offer platitudes of prayers and crumbs of alms then because of these realities told in numbers.
Most recent United States Census data figures from 2014 indicate that Hispanics make up 17% of the total U.S. population (532 million people). They further indicate that there has been a growth of over 6 million Hispanic persons between 2010 and 2015. That growth is nearly equivalent to the growth in African American and Asian populations combined in the same time frame. Predictions that the Hispanic population would be the largest minority community in the United States by 2050 have already come to pass.
While the number of Hispanic congregations in the United Church of Christ has decreased from 1.4% in 2005 to 0.4% in 2015, these numbers may be a sign of changing demographics rather than Hispanics leaving the denomination… there has been an increase from 1.2% in 2005 to 4.0% in 2015 of congregations that now identify as Bi-Racial/Multi-Racial and Other. The 2015 Faith Communities Today survey of UCC congregations found that of the total denominational membership (914,871), those who identify as Latinx are now 19,200. We sit in the pews beside you at church!
Why help…because we are siblings, gifted to each other by God. And when they weep, we who proclaim ourselves to be Christians – Believers in the resurrected Christ by whose blood we are cleansed and made new, can in fact be the hands that God uses to HELP others in their time of need.
On June 12, 2016 following the events at Pulse in Orlando, Florida I met a Puerto Rican woman named Nancy Rosado of a team that would become Proyecto Somos Orlando. She took the time to help me translate the occurrences of that night in a way that has stayed in my spirit. I explained that I saw my Social Media timeline drastically change in language and story. I was alerted to the shooting in Spanish as many of my Latinx peers had been talking about going clubbing. This changed to distress as people attempted to find each other. By sunrise, I entered church with an English newsfeed talking about the events. Suddenly what had been an event that affected the Latinx community suddenly became a Queer heartbreak. Ms. Rosado explained that when you look at the event 93% of those killed were Latinx, 97% were from Puerto Rico. She explained that this mattered because the needs of the (migrant) Puerto Rican community would be different than the needs of the immigrant community. Even though all survivors would need trauma centered mental health.
Nancy is a WHIRLWIND all her own! When Hurricane Maria landed and I wondered what I could do to be of help to my community, I was not surprised to receive a call from Nancy Rosado of Windermere Union Church UCC.
Her words to me where: “Es tiempo que los hijos ausentes de nuestra isla digan presente y con la ayuda de nuestros hermanos que sienten nuestro dolor y quieren ayudar, ¡levantar nuestra isla! ¡Guerrera, ponte las botas es tiempo de trabajar! [It’s time for us, the absent children of our island to say “Present!” and with the help of our siblings who feel our pain and want to help, lift our island! You are a warrior. Put your boots on, it’s time to get to work!]”
To which I replied: “¿y ahora, que? [and now what?]”
How can you help, find your center of balance, breathe deep and know that there is a lot of work to be done in Puerto Rico. Pull your boots on and join a movement!
Nancy and members of the Puerto Rican diaspora have joined together to create an “Adopt a Town” website. When their website goes live, you will be able to join others in supporting the town of your choice. Nancy will be traveling to PR and visiting as many towns as she can access in order to photograph and assess the needs of their most affected areas. Each town will have its own PayPal accounts to be administered by local teams. If you are willing and able to help, reach out to them at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow them on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/adoptaunpueblo
 US Library of Congress
 Latinx Ministries: A Living History of the United Church of Christ Status Report – September 2016