Hispanic-Latino Representation is a Kingdom Matter [Sin Vergüenza Response] (Op-Ed)
I have to start this article off with an important note. Everything I will say from here on is not intended to minimize anyone else’s experience in the slightest, but an attempt to highlight the beauty in the diverse body of Christ and how important feeling accepted can be. As a fair-skinned Puerto Rican young man from New York City, I’ve struggled with questions of identity for years, particularly as I became an adolescent. Because I’ve never been fluent in my homeland’s language, there’s always been some distance from it, even though every time I visit, it feels like home.
Even so, I can’t help but remember all the dishes I grew up with, the slang I picked up on, and the family I lived with, there’s a world of difference between me and all the “real” Boricuas who are native to the island. The ethnic mix of Puerto Ricans and many other descendants of Caribbean heritage complicates this all the more.
Being from the Caribbean typically means one is a mix of, at the very least, three different ethnic groups: Black, Indigenous Islander, and white. This means we have direct blood family members who can be entirely different pigments, and within our context, no one bats an eye. While the means by which we became a mixed-race people are generally agreed to be a historical stain, we have adapted. Whether because of desire or necessity, we’ve had to accept the facts of our existence. While we may be accustomed to this reality, it’s often difficult for Americans on the continental mainland to appreciate these nuances.
American culture is largely divided into binaries. You’re either tall or short, thin or heavy, man or woman, black or white. Some of those clear-cut divisions can be helpful, but there’s little room for a middle ground within them, which leaves many who come from backgrounds like mine feeling a sense of cultural homelessness. We can be too black, or not black enough, too white, or not white enough, are just too far outside these arbitrary categorizations. We don’t fit in a neat box.
But that’s supposed to be perfectly fine, in the Kingdom of God. Paul was addressing ethnic and social divisions long before our concepts of blackness and whiteness were developed. As he told the Galatians, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:26-28; NIV).
Our faith is supposed to remove the divisions the world has drawn between Kingdom citizens. It shouldn’t take away our uniqueness but affirm it as a beautiful part of a global family. Nonetheless, the divisions remain. Even unintentionally, many believers struggle to associate with those who look or speak differently than them. We’re not nearly as united as Christ Himself once prayed, “…that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21).
We continue to fall in line with temporal distinctions, damaging our witness among the body and unbelievers in the process. Rather than invading culture with the Gospel, we have allowed some of the worst parts of culture to separate us.
Enter the world of Hispanic-Latino believers. While the divisions I’ve spoken of thus far do indeed exist in our culture, we also may be part of the key to breaking it apart entirely. We are the descendants of the oppressed, their oppressors, and the tribes that died along the way. We are children of God born into the Kingdom through the spirit of adoption, saved through the grace of our Savior, and existing as testaments to the reality of His image impressed upon all peoples. We are a depiction of how God uses all circumstances “…for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, ESV).
We are Black. We are White. We are Us. We are His.
And that’s why having Hispanic-Latinos represented in media is especially encouraging to me, even if I don’t have the complete connection to my roots I wrote about above. The Reach Records-No Apologies Music Sin Vergüenza project means everything because it communicated all the ideas I’ve written about in this article through music. Sin Vergüenza united the energy of my people and our primos in a subgenre I’ve fallen in love with, for the glory of the God who first loved us. When Wande raps, “[t]o rep Christ you ain’t gotta speak inglés” or WHATUPRG tells us (translated) “this is for the hood and the church,” it tells the Hispanic-Latino believer we are seen, we are loved, and we are appreciated.
When our Pen Game 101 crew interviewed Cardec about Sin Vergüenza, the No Apologies founder spoke of what having a figure as large as Lecrae speaking in Spanish represented, stating, “for the Latino culture it means so much to them, the fact that they’re trying and they’re embracing us… we feel accepted. We feel, yo like Lecrae acknowledges us, like Lecrae is one of us now.” That comment represents the other beauty of representation. Lecrae, Tedashii, and Wande speaking Spanish makes our community feel seen, and our culture welcomes them and others who work towards being a bridge.
The love in being acknowledged is reciprocated by grateful people who know they are more than another stream, ticket sale, or 116 tee-shirt in the crowd (when crowds were a thing). Reach Records and No Apologies Music declared Hispanic-Latino culture as so much more than that. With more projects of this nature planned, it seems that statement is not just a moment in time, but a movement of its own within our space.
There’s a scene in the new Spider-Man: Miles Morales game (which features new music from Lecrae) where Miles’s mother is preparing a holiday meal, and if the player wanders over to the stove, they’ll be able to see a pot of pasteles, a typical Puerto Rican dish, boiling. When I recognized this small detail, I nearly cried because, for one of the first times, I didn’t feel media was imitating my culture for profit, but to honor my people. I say “one of the first” because Sin Vergüenza did the same thing. Sure, the organizations behind the game and album will make money because, after all, these are businesses. But in doing so to show love to an entire demographic of neighbors, these teams have assured people like me we not only have a place in culture, but are contributors to it. The Kingdom of God is one composed of all nations and languages, so seeing mine honored reminds me just how good our God is, and when we choose to, how we can bring that goodness out into the world.