Black and Latino Catholics agree: Our lives matter

Demonstrators in Denver advocate for Black, indigenous and Latino communities July 4, 2020. (CNS photo/Kevin Mohatt, Reuters)Demonstrators in Denver advocate for Black, indigenous and Latino communities July 4, 2020. (CNS photo/Kevin Mohatt, Reuters)

As Black and Latino leaders within the church, we find ourselves at a profound crossroads. The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the inequities and injustices that have shaped and defined the struggles for life, opportunity and freedom for Latino (or Latinx, as we co-authors prefer) and Black communities in the United States for generations. The rates of infection and death within our communities far outpace those in the white community. We are reminded once again that the pandemic of racism never stops.

Generations of policies rooted in white supremacy and economic exploitation have plundered and pillaged our communities. Millions endure low pay in the workplace, a lack of access to health care, and family separation at the hands of militarized systems of policing and deportation. If we believe in a God who yearns for justice for those who are marginalized and oppressed, we must also recognize in this same God a Spirit of resistance and an enduring passion for justice rooted in love.

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Black and Latino are not distinct identities for millions of people who identify as being in both communities.

This year we have seen the Holy Spirit at work as people have taken to the streets to boldly proclaim that Black Lives Matter. For Latino people, it is vitally important to stand in solidarity. This means recognizing that Black and Latino are not distinct identities for millions of people who identify as being in both communities. It also means recognizing that not all immigrants are Latino, and that Black immigrants are also an integral part of our nation and of our church.

Movements for civil rights, just wages and dignified working conditions, the right to vote, and the elimination of Jim Crow and “Juan Crow” laws have shaped a long history of interracial solidarity in the United States. Now we must lean on those experiences.

We see signs of hope as a new generation of Black and Latino leaders show us a path forward. In our own city of Chicago, we have seen Black and Latino leaders standing together in the struggle for just wages and the right to unionize. Faith-driven Latino leaders have joined marches and proclaimed “Las Vidas Negras Importan” in their neighborhoods. And Black Catholic leaders recently joined Latino students and grassroots leaders on a pilgrimage from Chicago to El Paso to protest racist and xenophobic policies at our nation’s border.

We can illuminate our shared stories and struggles throughout history. Most important, however, is our faith, which has sustained our spirits, nourished our souls and kept us from losing all hope during generations of pain.

If we are to effectively confront the racism, poverty and state-endorsed violence that denies life and opportunities to millions, we must mobilize our spiritual, cultural, economic and political resources. This means recognizing that our Black and Latino communities have often been pitted against each other. Exploiting racial divisions is a tactic of employers who fear the power that racial solidarity would bring workers. And generations of crushing poverty, unending violence and financially starved schools have also often turned the Latino and Black communities against one another—politically, economically and in other ways.

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What is our path forward? We can illuminate our shared stories and struggles throughout history. Most important, however, is our faith, which has sustained our spirits, nourished our souls and kept us from losing all hope during generations of pain. The deep wellsprings of our faith traditions have fostered profound movements for justice and equality throughout our nation’s history. A commitment to the remaking of our country into one that is more humane, loving and just must be rooted in the example of Jesus, the first-century Palestinian Jew whose people and ancestors, like ours, were enslaved and colonized.

Jesus’ spiritual genius and prophetic witness inspired a movement of poor and marginalized people to confront the Roman Empire that stood in opposition to the vision for God’s reign. This divine movement fits a pattern within the stories of liberation in the Old and New Testaments of a God who calls upon those whose humanity has been denied to be the main actors in the pursuit of justice. Many of the most important social movements of the 20th century in the United States were driven by Black and Latino leaders who risked their lives and made countless sacrifices to achieve concrete moral progress—progress that went far beyond the symbolic gestures from institutions without a genuine commitment to racial justice.

The church must be a beacon of hope and a vessel for justice, and we must be the ones to move it in a direction that is far more bold, prophetic, anti-racist and anti-imperialist.

As Latino and Black Catholics, we are an integral part of the universal church and this country. Our leadership at this moment is more important than ever. The church must be a beacon of hope and a vessel for justice, and we must be the ones to move it in a direction that is far more bold, prophetic, anti-racist and anti-imperialist. This requires courage, love, decisiveness and a resolve for action.

Parish life is already changing during this turbulent time. Parishes offer spaces where Black and Latino people of common faith can come together to worship and work toward a new future. We offer two recommendations for Latino and Black Catholics to take in solidarity with one another.

First, we must form partnerships of solidarity between Black and Latino parishes and organizations in order to work together on racial, economic, educational and environmental justice issues. We can develop the kind of long-term solidarity that can meaningfully change our communities.

Second, we can facilitate voting in the upcoming elections and encourage Black and Latino communities to complete the 2020 census before the end of September. Both are necessary to advance racial justice in the public square. Voting across all levels of government is of the utmost importance, as our collective voices and values must be felt at all times but especially during this critical moment in our nation’s history.

As leaders within the church and within our communities, we can meet the profound crises of our nation through faith and through the courage to take bold and necessary steps. And as laity in a universal church, called to engage on these issues through our baptism, we should not wait for bishops to lead. We can be the embodiment of solidarity, guided by our shared faith to reimagine a society envisioned in Gospel manner: with enough for us all to thrive and care for each other. We are committed to this work, and we are hopeful that it may be so.

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