During the 1980s, I met a Hispanic woman at a Los Angeles airport. She had come to the United States from Cuba five years earlier. I asked her what she liked about her new country. She readily mentioned the many things she enjoyed. Freedom and opportunity were highest on her list. Then I asked her what she didn'tlike about her life in this country. She adamantly said, "I don't like being called a Mexican," revealing feelings of being devalued. She was surprised when I informed her that I am of Mexican descent and born Mexican-American. She then added, " Oh, but I see you are not like one of them!"
What did she see? In a short time, the woman had unintentionally, yet incorrectly, categorized herself and other Hispanics in this country. Our short conversation revealed that Hispanics are not all the same and pointed to the need for a better understanding of the realities and subtleties of racial and ethnic diversity. However, what this woman missed was her own collective identity as a new American citizen—she is now a Cuban-American.
A Life in the Hyphen
The story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4) epitomizes his commitment to change the lot of those living an in-between existence. The Samaritans, being both Jew and Gentile, were the half-breeds or mestizos of the time. Despite strong historical, cultural, and religious taboos, Jesus speaks with the woman. His disciples, carriers of the dominant Jewish tradition, are numbed, indifferent and both literally and figuratively "out to lunch" during this prophetic encounter. Meanwhile, Jesus affirms the woman's personhood and leads her to faith in him. She, in turn, spreads the good news of the Gospel ...