Project Description

Canta y no llores – Finding Life in the Midst of Life – Latina/o theology

American Academy of Religion 2014 – San Diego, CA 

Latina/o Religion, Culture, and Society

GroupTheme: Cruzando Fronteras:  Latina/o Catholic/Pentecostal Dialogue Centered on Issues of Immigration in Honor of Otto Maduro


Sing: ayayayay canta y no llores, porque cantando se alegran cielito lindo los corazones


My brothers and sisters, I must confess that I miss the strong Marxist liberation theologians in our midst. I was educated by liberation theologians from the first and second generations in Brazil, and in Brazil we were not afraid to say we were socialists–we were not afraid of using Marx to do theology. In my Presbyterian seminary I read Lukaks, Althousser, Marx and Lenin.


My professors didn’t shy away from saying that the situation of our beloved Latino America was a disaster and that we had to fight against injustice and oppression. At the heart of our studies there was something very clear: lucha de classes! By the way yesterday a friend of mine went to several sessions on theology and many speakers didn’t translate whole phrases spoken in German, perhaps because German seems to be the official language for proper theology.


So I will do the same and I won’t translate my broken Spanish or my Portuguese. And for those who cannot understand my Spanish or my Portuguese, que se vayan todos a la mierda.


So, being part of this great cloud of great liberation theologians, even if as a sociologist, Otto Maduro transformed the lives of so many with his teachings and writings. The Jewish scholar Marc Ellis says this about Maduro: “In Latin America, I witnessed a radical side of Christianity I didn’t know existed. It influenced me deeply. It changed my life. My eyes opened wide. Raised in the tradition of the prophets, I was soon to go prophet too. Liberation theology in Latin America was a good schooling for the prophetic reborn. Otto was the first Latin American intellectual I ever met.


Though a sociologist, he helped open the world of Latin American theologians to a searching Jew. Unbeknownst to me at the time, meeting Otto was the first step on my journey toward a Jewish theology of liberation. (his work) helped heal me heal from the wounds of the Christian anti-Semitic past. It provided strength for my journey as a Jew of Conscience to confront the wrong turn in my own community.[1]


Otto Maduro was one of those unapologetic Roman Catholic thinkers. From his upbringing in Venezuela, seeing his people suffering, early on he saw Robin Hood as his image of a vindicator, the one who steals from the rich and gives to the poor. Later, he saw he needed something a little more real than Robin Hood, and liberation theology and Marxism gave him tools to think and live in our world.


Maps for a Fiesta: A Latina/o Perspective on Knowledge and the Global Crisis is an amazing, simple, but deep engagement with the production of knowledge. This book raised awareness in generations of thinkers in Latin America, and I was one among them. He was along the decolonizing people in Latin America such as Walter Mignolo who said: “living is knowing and knowing is living. And when living is no longer possible, it requires a different epistemic path.”[2]


In this book Otto tells us that human knowledge is about drawing “maps for the fiesta, a screenplay for us to find paths, ways that will bring us back to the happy life, a life that is worth living, maps that will help life to be celebrated often with joy, pleasure and excitement.” (13)


“Human life,” for him “was about fiesta, since life moves constantly in the direction of celebration.” However, this statement has nothing to do with what we find in many self-help books. Pointing life towards joy is to find ways of resistance against a smashing presence of death, suffering and pain. Following Rubem Alves, Maduro starts by saying that thinking begins with suffering, but then he turns thinking into a way to create possibilities of happiness, of defying suffering and death and bringing life back to what is its main call: joy!


I think he had to do it in his own life as well. He lost two children, and had to come out of that to find joy. And he was deeply in touch with the pain of our people throughout Pacha Mama. However, he knew that our soul is made of fiesta, of dancing and signing and eating and celebrating. Even death comes to join us and dance and eat at el dia de los muertos in Mexico.

Having seen so much pain and suffering, it is hard for me to know that life is joy, and Otto is a sign post on the road reminding me of that. We cannot forget that we are to draw and redraw maps, many maps to help our people to find joy, to celebrate their lives. Moreover, we can’t forget that we are to be taught by our people how to find the maps, traces, and paths to joy and celebration.


The suffering in the midst of our people is too great. The taste of death is too often in our mouth. There is no way to do theology in Latin America if not from the places where our people continue to be crucified. Maduro’s entanglement with knowledge is an empowering one that deals with the rigor and power of thinking along with the presence of emotions, frustrations and limitations. Imagination, temporality, critical assessment, checking power, learning and unlearning, and the movement from certainties received from the past to the uncertainties of the future, all of it is at stake when we are living. Because life is not only what we think but fundamentally how we think.


For that reason, I thank God for the liberation theologies that turned us from puppets in the hands of the powerful and made us agents and subjects of our own history. Yes I still believe that we own our lives, not the economic market, and that as subjects of our history, we can create resistance to the economic empire and stop the destruction of our communities.


Maduro’s work has the power to help us scholars to do serious research while not forgetting the sources of our latinidad, the happiness of our people as lived through many social threads. Here in the US, it doesn’t matter where we live, we are always around borders! And here in San Diego we are around the borders of USA and Mexico. And we must decolonize out thinking!


Here, our task as theologians and religious scholars, is to bear the weight of this monument of sin and hatred, un muro de la vergüenza, while finding maps to keep the fiesta alive. We must sit down under that wall and pray for our people. It is from the shadow of that wall that our theologies must be lived and written. The border evokes both a sense of tragedy and disaster, but it also challenges us to think anew and find alternatives. Along the border, we see crosses for people who died, but also art expressions of dreams of transformation. Along the steel heavy walls, phrases that say: walls will be turned into bridges!


As I crossed a trail where immigrants used to walk in Arizona, , there was a pair of underwear from a woman raped (was it a coyote or the border patrol?). At, under and around the border, there are communities of peace searching for a different way of living. At, under and around this high steel wall, like a Lutheran sacrament, there is a little superman doll breaking into one of the cracks of wall, and of the system.



We must visit time and again this wall and walk along it weeping with and for those who have been smashed by the evil atrocities of hatred, sex trade, drug cartels and detention centers who put every night here in San Diego, 35 thousand immigrants so they fulfill what is called a bed mandate.


At, under and around the border we weep with many broken families who are divided by the border. At, under and around the borders, gangues destroying countries such as El Salvador. Mara Salvatrucha, Barrio 18, maras, hormigas voraces, that are a result of this fucking horrendous immigration system that not only dismantles families but deports kids back to places they have never been. Disgrace! Anjos da morte aparecem de todo lado como fogo devorador, stealing the lives of our kids, de nuestras madres, de nossos pais.


Deeply wounded, we keep walking. Dancing, singing, celebrating life! At, under and around the wall, we defy deaf and give death the finger! Not anymore!


At, under and around the wall, we read our sacred texts and provide healing and wonder how these texts can help us face this wall and find courage and alternatives to tear it down.


At, under and around the wall between Mexico and US, we are reminded that we must go back to our people and cultural resources time and again in order to survive.

There with our people, at the ground of the fabric, in the simplest places, we find songs and images, dances and prayers, retablos and religious relics, food, soccer, quinceneras and community gatherings to help us keep going.


There, in the midst of our people, we are called to sing once again: “aiaiaiai canta y no llores.”


At, under and around the wall, we laugh! We laugh hard! We laugh in time and out of time. We laugh in place and especially out of place. We defy death with our stubborn laughter. We laugh during the day and cry when night comes. We laugh and cry together. When there is the news of a son that was found alive in the desert, when somebody goes to a detention center, when someone has crossed the desert safe, when someone is raped. We laugh and cry without ceasing!


The borders and the economic crushing of our communities are maddening. So to find life out of this maddening process we must laugh and we must continue to do theologies as a network of support and sustenance to our people. God is fundamental to our people and we have this gift and this demand to help our people, to be with our people, to create knowledge, discourses and practices of faith that will defy the maddening and destruction of our communities. So our theological work is unique.


Our theological work is filled with ambiguities and contradictions. But we don’t shy away from it! We don’t try to even it out or smooth the edges so we could create a good, proper theology. Our theologies are broken, nonsensical, ridiculous, outrageous. Half sophisticated, half old-fashioned. Half written, half spoken. Half conscious, half unconscious. Half clear, half obscure. Half tears, half laughter. Half discourse, half songs. Half academic, half something else, whatever the fuck we want! We do what we want! Don’t tell us what to do or not to do. We know it! The problem is that the academy might not consider it proper because we live in the midst of a magical realism. So go figure us out! Usted estan todos despistados.


In our theologies, we decolonize the content, the format, the procedures, and the establishment of theological and religious thinking. We dress the way we want and we continue to be scholars. We draw maps for the feast that the gringos read y se preguntam: Estan locos estes cucarachas? Que estan haciendo?


They don’t know that our laughter is like the redeeming power of God in Jesus Christ! Jesus Christ himself, a laughter out of place. We are also homo ridiculus! That kind of ridiculous way of living/thinking that troubles the status quo. We console by laughing and admonish by crying. Our accent is our resistance, our smiling faces our gentle dismissal. We are a ball of incongruences and complexities because our lives are incongruent to this white system of thinking. Our complexity comes from a mixture of people, sources, images and practices.


Tears and joys compose the main sources of the Hispanic/latino/a communities. We preach and pray when we write our theologies and when do theology when we pray and preach. Our ears are attached to the ground, and our people matter more than our ideas. We see our people’s brutal suffering, we see the thin line of our social fabric being destroyed faster than ever. We are at the edge of despair every single day.


We hang on a thin rope over the abyss. Nonetheless, our tortillas and tamales, our singing and our fiestas will keep us going. As a Mexican avuela use to say: Satanas quieres que desaparescas! But we won’t! We will take our place in this world and continue!


For we carry the esperanza transgressora de Oscar Romero. We carry and produce theologies that pulse life in the midst of death, that mark and show the ambivalences of life and death from our people’s main structures of life; namely, a life lived within utter necessities and demanding hopes, continuing disasters and ongoing faith, tears and pain, but also joyful songs of alegria. As the poet Cora Coralina said:


“Giving up … I’ve seriously thought about it but never really took myself seriously,

I have more ground in my eyes than the fatigue in my legs,

more hope in my footsteps, than sadness on my shoulders,

more road in my heart that fear in my head. ”


Grounded in the main metaphor of life and death, cross and resurrection, our communities continue to embrace death as they continue to create a knowledge that will be maps for the fiesta. Otto Maduro will continue to be a gracious presence, a map of fiesta and joy in our journey.


“aiaiaiai canta y no llores.”


Concluding, we are all lucha libre fighters! We get into the ring of life and we offer people a way to believe again. We then invite them to come to the ring to fight with us. We have no choice but to fight! We have no choice but to fight. The ring of life is not an option! The struggle is not an option.


Let me tell you a story of the luchador Blue Devil, El Demonio Azul. El Demonio Azul comes often here to the borders of California putting on Lucha Libre shows for the Hispanic/Latino/a communities. In each show, white, blue-eyed border patrol luchadores come to the ring and scream obscenities at the people. They ask people if they have documents and they say: We are going to take your ass out of this country. People get infuriated and boo them nonstop. After a while El Demonio Azul appears and he goes to the ring and says to the border patrol fighters: Let me tell you something: I am your daddy! They get into a huge fight and at the end, el Demonio Azul puts the border patrol to the ground. People go into a catharsis!


In an immensely symbolic way, this is our work as theologians! We are all demonios azules! True versions of Robin Hoods, Virgulino Ferreiro o Lampião. We are lucha libre fighters! Anti-hero’s protecting the life of our people! We are signs posts, we are war tanks in favor of the poor, and we go to hell to be with them. We announce to our oppressors: we are your daddy! WE go into a struggle and we find ways to win over the adversities of life.


Death and life at, under and around borders are inextricably intertwined in our Hispanic latino/a communities and we must reflect these forms of organizing life and death in our own work so as to sustain processes of creation and resistance and joy. So that we can continue to sing in spite of all the destruction, utter violence, death and desperate needs, our people’s song:


“aiaiaiai, canta y no llores, porque cantando se alegran, cielito lindo, los corazones.”



[2] Mignolo, Walter, “Decolonizing Western Epistemology,” in Decolonizing Epistemologies. Latina/o Theology and Postmodernity, Ada Maria Asasi-Dias & Eduardo Mendieta (Editors), (New York: Fordham University Press, 2012), 20.