Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month with Rev. Dr. Edgar Bazan.
September 15, 2019
September 15 marks the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month, recognizing contributions and presence of Hispanic and Latino Americans and celebrating their heritage, culture and positive impact on our country and communities. TMF invited Rev. Dr. Edgar Bazan, a United Methodist minister in the North Texas Conference, to reflect and share his experience and insights as a Mexican immigrant to the United States. Dr. Bazan is the Senior Pastor at Casa Linda UMC in Dallas. He holds a Doctorate of Ministry from Asbury Theological Seminary and master of divinity from Southern Methodist University.
Can you tell us a story that illustrates how your Hispanic heritage prepared you to answer your call to lead and serve your congregation and community?
As a Mexican, I did not know I was Hispanic too. The term Hispanic refers to people from Spanish-speaking countries and, in the U.S., it is a technical demographic label or distinction used to identify people from a Spanish-speaking origin. Since in Mexico the primary language is Spanish, the term Hispanic is not commonly used to identify Spanish-speaking people. There is no need for it. Hence, I often say: I was not born Hispanic but Mexican.
It wasn’t until I came to the U.S. as an immigrant and that I was given this label or identity of being a Hispanic. At first, I did not think much of it since it was the norm, but after a few years, I learned the richness of the Hispanic culture in the U.S. (not just Mexican, but all the Spanish-speaking countries in the world), and some of the negative implications that come from having the label too.
Regarding the richness of being Hispanic, I was gifted with being a part of such a diverse demographic group of people in which we share our food, music, and traditions. For example, my diet was expanded from tacos to pupusas to Arroz con Gandules. One of the perks of serving as a pastor in the Hispanic context is absolutely the food! In this way, by being Hispanic, I get to share my Mexican heritage with others as much as I am enriched by the heritage of those from other countries of origin.
However, not everything is positive. One of the greatest challenges for immigrants is to learn a new identity, to adapt, and to fit into the new culture, language, and social expectations of their new homeland. This is a hard practice that has mental, emotional, and spiritual implications in the individual. For example, immigrant people may feel of lesser worth or with lower capacities to perform in life because of their skin color or English accent. This self-perception of inadequacy is primarily caused by the way they are treated, perceived, or seen by U.S. natives. These dynamics lead people to become isolated and limited in their opportunities to prosper (not just financially but culturally, intellectually, and socially).
Of course, not all Hispanics are immigrants, but many are like I am. I came from Mexico in 2004 to Dallas to do Spanish ministry in primarily English-speaking congregations. One of the first experiences I had was when I learned I was a Hispanic as I mentioned before. I did not think much of it, nor did it bother me until I learned the implicit biases against being a Hispanic pastor. For example, people would typically (if not always) assume that I was the associate Hispanic pastor for the Hispanic people as opposed to being the pastor of all the people.
This mentality is a tragedy on many levels for it teaches Hispanic children, for example, that they belong “over there, on the side, with your people.” In ministry, this presents challenges and opportunities to encourage and walk alongside Hispanic immigrants so they can live in their giftedness and be empowered to celebrate who they are rather than having to come “through the back door” to church or excuse themselves for who they are.
As a pastor, I often find myself encouraging people, particularly the young ones, to believe in themselves and open their minds to the vast opportunities before them, to not reduce their identity to the biases others may have about them, and to proudly celebrate their heritage.
Being Hispanic often means having to navigate at least two different cultures and languages and making twice the effort to level the playing field. Edward James Olmos describes this when he says, “We have to be more American than the Americans and more Mexican than the Mexicans. It's twice as exhausting!” (Selena Movie, 1997)
For this, being in ministry in a Hispanic context is both enriching and challenging. As Hispanics, we celebrate the rich heritage we contribute to each other and to the larger community. We are people of tasty food and many colors, of lively music and infectious rhythms, we love deeply and sacrifice everything for our families—including leaving our homelands to provide to our loved ones.
How would you describe the contributions (past and present) of your congregation and ministries to your community?
Hispanic churches are one of the greatest assets in our communities. They are on the front lines, typically doing ministry with the poor. The congregations I have served that do ministry with the Hispanic community are characterized by being concerned about providing educational programs (ESL, GED, etc.), food to families struggling to feed their loved ones, and skill-labored training so people can be better prepared to pursue life opportunities.
The contributions of these congregations to their communities not only provide for the immediate needs of people, but they change a challenging outlook on life into one of opportunity and self-confidence. Personally, I have witnessed parents learn the English language and how much confidence they gain in their capacity to communicate with their children’s teachers. This confidence also translates to high esteem and boldness to aim higher in their dreams.
The work many Hispanic congregations do have lasting implications in our communities for they plant the seeds of belief, confidence, and self-worth in the hearts of those that may not get it from anywhere else. This is a just and holy ministry.
What is your congregation doing to commemorate Hispanic Heritage Month, and why?
Every year we celebrate our Hispanic heritage month with a feast. We gather after church for a covered-dish meal where everyone gets to bring food that represents their culture. We decorate our hall with many colors of tablecloth and banners and play lively music on the background. As a Mexican, I enjoy mariachi music, of course!