Lies, Damn Lies, and Government Surveys

Tweet of the Day: When Labels Don’t Fit: #Hispanics and Their Views of Identity #latinos http://t.co/Ugav1WeY

My relationship with government surveys is complicated at best. Pew Research tweeted a report on the Latinos yesterday comparing 2010 census data to their own survey. The census, more than anything, reveals the social construction of race in this country. Starting with the 2000 survey, the government made the act of pigeonholing oneself even more convoluted. There are now fifteen racial categories in the census.

Latino or Hispanic? White or ?

As I grew up, virtually every survey that asked about race used "White (Not Hispanic)" for the white category. My Arizona birth certificate declares that I'm white, since at the time separating white from black was most important. My grandfather was more indigenous than European, but how does one categorize that as race when only "American Indian" is an option. In my undergraduate career, I learned that, in California since the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in the nineteenth century, Mexicans were considered white. Except when they were more often not. Politics in the state of California are nothing, if not fickle. 

Fast forward to 2000 when race and culture were mixed up in the census. The census report and the subsequent news coverage focused on the fact that a large percentage of Latinos consider themselves white. The media also conveyed a good deal of surprise. My reaction to the news was anger. How are people supposed to categorize themselves? When asked by Pew research this time around if Hispanic or Latino is a preferred term, Hispanic was chosen more frequently. After thirty to forty years of "White (Not Hispanic)," Hispanic would be a logical choice for most.

Where Do We Come From?

Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?
Where - do - we - come - from? 
Mystery. Mystery. Life is a riddle and a mystery.
Where do we come from? Where are we going?
Singing the Journey, Hymn #1003

The first line of the Brian Tate hymn in our turquoise Unitarian Universalist hymnal, Singing the Journey, is taken from the title of a late nineteenth century painting by artist Paul Gaugin. These questions are common to the human experience, and often religion is used to answer them. As I've journeyed through seminary, one of the most important lessons is or knowing one's "social location." By knowing where I come from, I will continue to know why I must speak out in the face of injustice. So what does this mean for my ministry?

Where do I come from?
 I was born in Phoenix, Arizona to a Mexican American mother and an Irish/Scandinavian American father. My paternal grandfather was thrilled to see his first grandchild with her eyes open. According to my mother, he compared his own children to kittens at birth. "They didn't open their eyes for weeks!" My maternal grandfather had passed away the year before. According to my grandmother, the full head of black hair that I was born with would have thrilled him. I was the first of the sixteen grandchildren born at that time who was dark like him. 

                               

Bob and Sandie(Olga) McGregor      Jennie(Juana) and Paul(Porfirio) Huerta

What am I?
As I grew up, the differences that my grandparents and step-parents focused on helped me become aware of the difference in how people were treated. One by one, racism became real, as did sexism, classism, and homophobia and religious intolerance. My adult social location is that of a queer, working class, Unitarian Universalist, feminist/mujerist multicultural woman. As I found myself other in each category, I could not help but see the injustices perpetrated by those who were the dominant culture. I had that ministry moment of clarity when I realized that those in power identified with the punishing God, the oppressed identified with the suffering Jesus. The politics around those caught in the increasingly unraveling social net is theological.

Where am I going?
Upon realizing that injustices are built into the system of this country by those who make the laws, I saw that politicians have been influenced by a form of Calvinist punitive theology. Self-righteous Christian politicians and media personalities blame the poor, the sick, the hungry, the underemployed, the imprisoned for their circumstances. The current election cycle has only served to escalate the hate. The common good is no longer a priority in politics, and what was once considered liberal has been dragged to the center right of the political spectrum just in my lifetime.

I have a passion for our seven Unitarian Universalist principles. As a person who grew up Catholic, the poor and the oppressed are never far from my heart. As a critical thinker, I search for stories beyond the distractions of the mainstream media. As a person who lives on the margins, I am responsible for providing a rational voice on the religious left. As I begin to blog regularly to Both/And, I hope it will reflect my "free and responsible search for truth and meaning," for life is a "riddle and a mystery."

How does your social location inform your own spirituality?

How Will Social Media Impact LGBTQI Muslims?

I found the article, "How Will Facebook and Twitter Impact Islam?" of interest because it was highly critical of social media in the Muslim context. Dr. Guessom referenced an article, "Twenty five reasons why Twitter is Spiritual," that was a list of spiritual practices from different faith traditions. As a Unitarian Universalist(UU), I appreciated the breadth, and what amounted to a vision of twitter's potential. Guessom dismissed the list entirely. I will acknowledge that the list does not fit within the aims of Islam. 

Still, just in the past several days I have been witness to, and peripherally involved in one such transformative experience that the author Frederic A. Brussat wrote of in the "Twenty Five Reasons..." article. The conversations, facilitated by Twitter and a blog were poignant and beautiful.

A young Muslim is opening dialogue about different aspects of Islam on her blog. She posted interviews with a number of  LGBT Muslims. The comments section includes the usual comparisons of LGBT people with pedophiles, practicers of bestiality, rapists and serial killers. These arguments were not original by any stretch. What I did find original was an interview with a UU that I've met on Twitter. He wants to convert to Islam. 

After at least a year of reading his tweets, I have observed that he truly loves Allah. He loves Arabic music. He loves to  give thanks and praise. It's genuine, not forced or fake. I remember when he was utterly heartbroken several months ago, after he was rejected by yet another imam for being gay.

There was such an outpouring of love from the blogger and numerous other Muslims who signed on to the love letter she wrote. A
n imam in his area would like to meet with him. My Twitter acquaintance was brought to tears. In a side conversation, the blogger told the imam she wished she were local to study under him, and the imam responded that they teach each other. I watched this unfold over the past couple of days with awe. A gay man finally found an online community, and has a real possibility of finding an embodied community with which he can worship in the way he desires. A brave young woman was affirmed for her own contributions to her religion.

The Internet has been revolutionary for LGBTQI folks since the advent of the World Wide Web in  the 1990's, because people who were isolated and alone have been able to find others like themselves. Whereas moving to a city had been the main strategy in the past, LGBTQI folks could find one another and become a part of online communities. The explosion of the social media onto the scene should enable more folks to find their voices and find each other. 

I suspect that there are individuals who have been isolated and by social pressure forced to work within the dominant culture of Islam. LGBTQI Muslims may be just such a group. Social media may prove to be a Godsend to LGBTQI Muslims.

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Acknowledgments

wizdUUm.net is made possible in part by generous support from the Fahs Collaborative