Religious Mestizaje by Xochitl Alvizo

Some have said that all theology is autobiographical. Whether this is always the case or not, in my 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 all while also maintaining my Goddess devotion nonetheless. Therefore, Gloria Anzaldua’s understanding of mestijaze, and religious mestizaje in particular, has contributed to the ongoing revision of my religious identity.

The word mestiza or mestizo is born of the incarnation of hybridity and diversity.[1] 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.[2] 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.”[3] 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.[4] 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 mestizaje reflects 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 not only within the contemporary practice of Christianity but also within me, and represents my struggle to affirm the divine in all of her guises – 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.

A wall in Los Angeles, CA

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.”[5] 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.”[6] 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 to 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.

This is a revised and shortened version of a paper I presented at the American Academy of Religion – Western Region, spring 2011.

[1] Valentin, ed. In our Own Voices, quoting Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz, pg. 72

[2] Gloria Anzaldua, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (San Franscisco: Aunt Lute Books, 1987) pg 27.

[3] Oscar Garcia-Johnson, The Mestizo/a Community of the Spirit: a Postmodern Latino/a Ecclesiology, (Eugene,Oregon: Primpton, 2009), pg. 104.

[4] Z Budapest, “Political Witchcraft,” pp. 38-40 in Woman of Power: A Magazine of Feminism, Spirituality, and Politics (Issue 8, Winter 1988) pg. 38.

[5] Anzaldua, This Bridge Called my Back, p. 101.

[6] Anzaldua, Borderlands.

Author: Xochitl Alvizo

Feminist theologian, Christian identified. Associate Professor of Religious Studies in the area of Women and Religion and the Philosophy of Sex Gender and Sexuality at California State University, Northridge. Her research is focused in Congregational Studies, Feminist and Quuer Theologies, and Ecclesiology specifically. Often finding herself on the boundary of different social and cultural contexts, she works hard to develop her voice and to hear and encourage the voice of others. Her work is inspired by the conviction that all people are inextricably connected and the good one can do in any one area inevitably and positively impacts all others.

17 thoughts on “Religious Mestizaje by Xochitl Alvizo”

  1. Hi Xotichitl, We are both on the boundaries, though on different sides of the “boundary line” if you will. You say that you stay Christian because you want suffering not to happen to others. I am not Christian for precisely the same reason. But like you I remain on the boundary and in dialogue with Christianity because it is one of the places from which I come and I hope, one way or another, within or without, women and others will not continue to suffer because of Christianity.

    In an article I wrote reflecting on “Why Women Need the Goddess” 30 years later, I expressed my dismay that in most churches and synagogues it is still impossible to say God-She or God the Mother, let alone Goddess. I concluded that one of the reasons was that so many of those who had remained in the liberal churches (let alone the others) were actually quite comfortable with patriarchal imagery because they were quite comfortable with patriarchy. Where do you place your hope for change? Several women ministers have come on the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete, but they say that to be open about the Goddess they pray to in their hearts would be anathema to their communities.


  2. Hi Carol – sorry for my delay, I just started a new job! It’s temporary but time consuming right now.

    First of all, I appreciate the fact that you do stay in dialogue. I think dialogue across difference is so valuable and transformative. I also know it can be hard work, and not everyone can or should do it, but I am always grateful to those who can and do – like you :)

    And I agree with you – too many people really are comfortable with patriarchal imagery, language, and symbols. It’s heart breaking really, because what it reflects to me is the total disregard for how that limiting framework is harmful and damaging to people; it reflects a disregard for other people’s suffering…so where do I place my hope for change? In small, local communities that embody something different and do so in connection and partnership with others across the world who also do likewise. They are an embodied alternative – a beautiful one. And those who are ready for it, desiring of it, will then have that community with whom to live and partner. The pub church I participate in is christian affiliated but not exclusively so – and we openly use Goddess language and prayers and rituals. It’s unique, it’s diverse, it’s beautiful and it’s small. And I think small is sometimes key when birthing something new.


  3. Hi Xochitil,
    I really like the way you describe constant revision, negotiation, struggle and transformation as “a curious thing.” This idea really strikes a nerve for me and engages my imagination!… in part, because my undergraduate literary training and love of Star Trek takes me to this moment in my head where Data says to Captain Picard, “Curious,” before he discovers something no one else has seen in a sort of Sherlock Holmes kind of way :)…. and in part because I am finding my own efforts to live in-between constantly curious– something new to explore, something challenging and unknown… a puzzle…and often an incongruity, though I think, not un-harmonious ;)
    The act of suspending our sense of the ‘definite’ or the static (like artificial dualities) in favor of change-ability and possibility is exciting and scary too… . I have been challenged with this lately in the way that my attachment– attachment to certain outcomes and such– isn’t serving my conceptions of the loving possibilities that the intentional love that is god/dess can create with us… Also, when you said, “what I think makes this change and transformation hard is that too often those within a particular tradition think of their faith practice as already fixed and therefore petrify their particular interpretation/s of it,” I asked myself, is the reason I cannot identify as a Christian right now because I too have petrified my interpretation of it? … in part I can honestly say yes, but I do know its more than that too. I have actually been thinking about my stuck definition of my childhood faith a lot lately.
    Thank you for your thoughts :)


  4. Xochitl,

    You describe the tensions of identity so beautifully here. I also really appreciated your inclusion of Anzaldua’s description of moving from fear to courage and consciousness, as well as your encouragement to those who consider themselves on such a journey. Taking one’s spirit – and a desire not to petrify!! – seriously is no small task. Thank you!


      1. Dear Xochitl
        I have only recently been receiving mail from feminism and religion and have been inspired by many of the posts – including by yours and particularly by you being a feminist Christian identified woman who relates to goddess. In my explorations with goddess (which has been positive but solitary) I am puzzling about the possibility of prayer of intercession – something of which I have not read or come across. Do you know of any thing I could look at that might help with this? I have been helped by relating to goddess but in my concern for others I have previously been able to hold them in some sort of prayer – and I’m uncertain about that now….possibly more to do with me but still, that’s how it’s felt.

        If this is too personal a comment and you don’t feel it’s appropriate to reply I will understand – and thank you again for your posts.



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