By Steve Tamayo

3 Latino Lessons on Racial Reconciliation

We’re sharing some of our favorite posts from over the years! This post was originally published in February of 2013.

My first encounter with racial reconciliation occurred at Duke University. Black students coordinated a sit-in at the administrative building to encourage dialogue around racial issues on campus. Some of us who weren’t Black joined them.

I remember struggling to find my place in that dialogue. I have white skin and blond hair. I’m definitely a White guy. But I am also Latino.

White people seemed to have a place in the racial reconciliation conversation that was happening on campus. Most of the dialogue was around the Southern White-Black power dynamic.

But what about Latinos? Should I just engage in reconciliation as a White guy? Does my Latino heritage offer anything in particular?

1. You have to reconcile with yourself.

Being Latino is, for many of us, an experience of being mixed. All jumbled up. Mestizo.

Latinos came to be when continents collided. Africa crashed into Europe to create Spain and Portugal. Spain and Portugal smashed into the indigenous communities in the Americas and the Caribbean, bringing Africa with them through the practice of slavery. Bam! Latinos.

Being mixed and jumbled can create tremendous identity tensions: “Am I Latino enough?” As we immigrate and find ourselves as strangers in a strange land and then strangers to the land of our fathers, this tension only increases.

Yet into this tension, we hear a voice saying things like: “God determined the times and places where you would live” and “God knit you together in your mother’s womb” and “God has formed one new person out of the two and has made peace between them.”

Perhaps this God can help us reconcile the pieces that are all mixed and jumbled and in tension inside of us. And as he does that, perhaps this reconciliation will spill over into reconciliation with others who are different from us.

2. You have to reconcile within your ethnic community.

Few people dislike Latinos more than other Latinos. This is our dirty little secret. The category “Latino” lumps together a broad spectrum of countries, traditions, languages, and dialects. And we don’t always get along.

This is not unique to the Latino community, though, is it? I bet, if you look around, you can find tension within your own ethnic community.

It’s tempting to think of reconciliation as happening only across ethnic lines: White to Black, Asian to Latino, ad infinitum. But there are lines everywhere. And while the lines may be thicker between Latinos and non-Latinos, the thin lines between Cubans and Chicanos still prove significant. Crossing these lines is a significant act of reconciliation.

I’ve experienced this beautifully in LaFe, InterVarsity’s Latino Fellowship. I’ve had close friends who are Argentine, Chicano, and Puerto Rican. There are real tensions between our communities. There are real tensions between us. But God has called us to be reconciled to each other. And he helps us to love each other.

Perhaps the experience of crossing the thin lines within your ethnic community can help you prepare to cross the thicker lines that exist in the world.

3. You can be an outside agent of reconciliation.

Latinos have a unique place when it comes to the racial reconciliation conversations that happen in the U.S., particularly in the South. Much of racial reconciliation gets framed as an issue between the White and Black communities. So we Latinos are outsiders.

But outsiders can be powerful agents of reconciliation.

We can mediate. We can name evil without sounding accusatory. We can be on both sides at the same time. We can empathize without compromising. We can advocate without seeking personal gain.

This in no way removes the need to be an inside agent of reconciliation. If you’re in the middle of ethnic conflict, God still has a role for you. But wouldn’t it be nice to have a brother or sister standing on the outside cheering for you, encouraging you, helping you? Latinos can play that role.

What unique gifts does your ethnic heritage provide when it comes to racial reconciliation?

Steve Tamayo is a strategist serving with InterVarsity’s Latino Fellowship (LaFe), Creative Labs, Graduate and Faculty Ministries, and Multiethnic Initiatives. You can can support his ministry using this link:


Señor Tamayo, I wish I had found this blog posting years ago, but I suppose that's moot given that you only just wrote it earlier this year. I have struggled since childhood with this very issue. Though I was born here in the U.S., my mother is from Mexico and my father was raised in French Canada (though he too was born in the U.S. and had U.S. citizenship). I look very much like my father, but my heart and soul beats to a very different rhythm. You see, after I was born my family returned to Mexico where I and my brother were partly raised. We came back to the states when I was almost 6 - my brother was almost 4. As I'm sure you can relate, imagine a 6 year old blond and blue-eyed boy speaking only spanish in school. It was then my mother turned her back on her own culture and assimilated to the dominant culture within the United States. Since that time I have struggled to maintain my "Mexican" or "Latino" identity, but struggle is just the tip of the iceberg. I am more accepted in my home country of Mexico than I am here in the United States. When I walk down the streets of Lagos de Moreno in Jalisco, I am greeted and treated as a Mexican. Here, when I speak in spanish or "come out" as a Latino, I am treated with disdain and in some cases contempt. At 47 I find myself back in school and still struggling with the community who themselves are 4th gen and want nothing to do with their own ethnicity other than hang out with others with darker skin like them. Even a few Latino professors have engaged in a bit of discrimination from time to time. Still, despite everything, I have fought hard for my community from the outside and often without them ever knowing. When I lived in Tucson I assisted those who had just crossed. Again, they treated me as one of their own, but not the suspicious latter generations. Here in Milwaukee I have worked tirelessly by writing letters, donations, time, talent, even ministry. In school I am often vocal in support of multicultural studies and events. But - para nosotros, los que no son de aquí ni de allá, reconciling with anyone can be a very difficult task. I have reconciled who I am to myself and have come to terms with the fact that my community may never accept me. There are always individuals within the communities who will connect and pave a path to greater acceptance, but prejudice ultimately prevails; at least that has been my own experience thus far. Having said all that - I fully believe we are at a critical juncture here in the United States. Working from the outside and the inside is something we, even those of us perceived to be other than what we are, should keep our eyes out for whenever possible. I was recently engaged in a conversation about multicultural and bilingual education. It involved some members of my community on both sides. One person made the mistake of saying they didn't want to hear that "mexi-crap" spoken in the schools. I took that moment as an opportunity to share with the individual that I too spoke that "mexi-crap" and that I was in fact Latino. Suddenly the tone in the room changed and people began to back pedal once they realized I was not joking. Things went from no chance in hell to "let's discuss this further and see what we can do." As you said, "God still has a role for" us and what we can do, we should do - not just for the Latino community, but for all people in our various communities. We need a bringing together of people, not a separation or segregation as with what happened in our immediate past. Anyway, your post hit me deeply today. I know I found it for a reason, though on my end it was purely accidental. Thank you for voicing what many of us have felt, but seldom say. May our God bless and keep you safe. Ken

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