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Can Baptists Bridge the Racial Divide?

As a person of color who attended the New Baptist Covenant, I was and continue to be a bit skeptical about the outcomes. I have learned in my 32 years of life how important it is for a person of color to keep his or her expectations low when discussing race and ethnicity with others. It’s not that we do not hope for the best, but it is a way to protect ourselves from further cultural wounding.

As a little girl, my mother would tell me stories about life prior to the Civil Rights Movement. She told me about the signs that said “whites only” or “blacks only”.

I would ask her, “Mami (mother), where were we allowed to sit?” She told me, “Hija (daughter), sometimes we would sit in the back and sometimes in the front.” And sometimes there were signs that said, “No Dogs or Mexicans allowed.” I learned at an early age that we didn’t fit a pattern.

As the largest minority group in the United States, I am left wondering–is there room in the family photo for Latino Baptists?

I often tell people that while race and ethnicity may not be personal for you, they are personal for me. I talk about race and ethnicity with my family and friends as often as I drink water. We talk about it at the dinner table, in the car and at the grocery store.

It is not my fault that the color of my skin has defined the struggles and joys that I experience today. And while I would sometimes like to forget the struggles these very moments are mixed with equivalent joy.

For example in 2001 I had the privilege to be the first Latina graduate from Baylor’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary and in 2004 I became the first full time Latino/a employee for a denominational agency. Until others pointed it out to me, I didn’t know that I was the first Latino to fill these roles. From my perspective, I was a person called by God to be the presence of Christ to a hurting world.

As a Latina-in-ministry in a predominately Anglo Baptist movement, I was overjoyed that the New Baptist Covenant gave me the opportunity to hear male and female ministers-of-color talk about the unique joys and challenges that we face. I had the opportunity to thank one Latino Baptist scholar for writing articles and books chronicling the journey of Latinos in the United States. I spoke to several African-American Baptist scholars and thanked them for their courage and witness because, whether they knew it or not, their journey made a difference in my life. Over the years, I have had several Anglo male and female mentors, and I am just as thankful for them. As a young minister with a multicultural, multiethnic worldview, I realized early in my journey that it would be important for me to have cultural guides to help me navigate all of the worlds in which I find myself.

Although the New Baptist Covenant gave me a sense of hope, I was left wondering, is there room for Latino/a Baptists at the table in the 21st century? African-Americans have four Baptist conventions, and Anglo Americans have a handful of their own.

While this is indeed a sign of progress, where in the 21st century, in a post civil-rights era, should a Latino/a make his/her home? While I don’t have the answer to the question, I can’t help but wonder if Latinos should form the Baptist Convention de las Americas, or should we sit back and hope to be included in the black-and-white Baptist family photo?

Laura A. Cadena is a fifth-generation Tejana, a graduate of Baylor University and George W. Truett Theological Seminary. She is a member of Peachtree Baptist Church in Atlanta.