Religious Mestizaje by Xochitl Alvizo
Some have said that all theology is autobiographical. Whether this is always the case or not, in this case, it is absolutely true. I came to the topic of religious mestizaje because of my own need to make sense of the fact that I fully identify as a Goddess loving person as well as a Christian-identified one. I have made reference to this before on this blog; I have admitted that even after my feminist awakening, even after coming to love and practice Goddess spirituality, even after reading all of Mary Daly’s books (some of them more than once), I have chosen to affiliate with Christianity while maintaining my Goddess devotion nonetheless. Therefore, Gloria Anzaldua’s understanding of mestijaze, and religious mestizaje in particular, has contributed to this ongoing revision in my religious identity.
The word mestiza or mestizo is born of the incarnation of hybridity and diversity. Historically mestizaje is the new hybrid race, a reference to Mexicans who are the mixed people born of Indian and Spanish blood in the 16th century. The Spanish invaded the land now called Mexico, and in partnership with rival tribes, conquered the Aztec people. Oscar Garcia-Johnson, in his book A Mestiza Community of the Spirit, states that mestizaje “represents a hub of dehumanizing stories and self-empowering templates.” Thus, there is an inherent violence implied in mestizaje as the word originated, and this violence is also implied in my Goddess Loving Christian mestizaje. Christianity has been the cause of much harm and dehumanizing violence, especially in its relationship to women, and really is in need of transformation and self-empowering templates. The origin of mestizaje implies the violence of one tradition or people dominating and suppressing another and the reality that new life, a new people and tradition, find a way nonetheless; I think this is part of what leads to my religious mestizaje. The new ‘way’ that I have found has taken form in a Goddess Loving Christian religious practice that reflects the concrete embodied reality of my experience – a religious practice that is always negotiated with a community of people. .
Feminist Goddess spirituality gave me something that I struggled to experience in Christianity – something Z Budapest says is the most important contribution of feminist and goddess affirming spirituality – that is, the self-affirmation of the divine within us as women. The essence of my feminist awakening was the realization of God as woman and I her daughter.
So yes, there is a violence, a harm that has been done to my person and humanity, to my very sense of self as valuable and divine, implied in my religious mestizaje. The language and symbols of Christianity did not affirm my being in such a way that I would know and love the divine within me. But, more significant to my everyday reality, my religious mestizajereflects my refusal to comply to the limiting and restrictive symbols within Christianity and instead prompts me to participate with others in expanding them and also creating new ones. My Goddess Loving Christianity is the concrete resistance to the erasure of the feminine divine within me and represents my struggle to affirm the divine in all of her aspects – not just the ones that dominate and have been held up as normative by patriarchal distortions. In community with others I work and struggle to transform key Christian symbols so that they reflect those aspects of humanity and divinity that have been displaced/erased. I am invested in this work for the sake of healing, wholeness, and integration – not just mine, but that of others as well. It is a refusal to be erased or separated from the Divine that is within us as women.
This is not an easy task of course. Gloria Anzaldua points out that there is a fear that comes with being mestiza; “the fear of going home and not being let in – of being abandoned, found unacceptable, faulty, no longer ‘one of us.” I can surely relate to this! But she also speaks of a mestiza consciousness; a consciousness that “spurs one to fight hard to resist stasis and the strategies that would deny aspects of her being, both in all that makes up who she is and all of who she is becoming.” The mestiza consciousness causes one to act to resist and breakdown dualities that serve to imprison and confine so narrowly. So although there is fear, there is also a deep commitment to work to change such structures, or, if not to change them, then to create new spaces/places where other resisters may find their home.
Those who are conscientiously mestiza choose to live on the boundary precisely because hurt and suffering have been great, so a greater desire emerges for this suffering not happen to others. A mestiza consciousness, once obtained, is a call to action that cannot be ignored; so actually, more than a task that one takes on, the mestiza consciousness represents a way of engaging in life.
It really is a curious thing to constantly be revising, transforming, negotiating, and struggling with ones religious identity/identities – and a lot of work when done in community and with a commitment to others as well. But I think transformation and change are a healthy and necessary part of any religious practice/tradition and necessary to how we engage within it. What I think makes this change and transformation hard is that too often those within a tradition think of their faith practice as already fixed and therefore petrify their particular interpretation/s of it. The challenge for all of us then is how to hold our tradition/s loosely while at the same time really putting our whole selves into it – invested so as to want to make it better and not being afraid to let it and ourselves change.
 Valentin, ed. In our Own Voices, quoting Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz, pg. 72
 Gloria Anzaldua, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (San Franscisco: Aunt Lute Books, 1987) pg 27.
 Oscar Garcia-Johnson, The Mestizo/a Community of the Spirit: a Postmodern Latino/a Ecclesiology, (Eugene,Oregon: Primpton, 2009), pg. 104.
 Z Budapest, “Political Witchcraft,” pp. 38-40 in Woman of Power: A Magazine of Feminism, Spirituality, and Politics (Issue 8, Winter 1988) pg. 38.
 Anzaldua, This Bridge Called my Back, p. 101.
 Anzaldua, Borderlands.