by Brianna Brotzman
My mother is Dominican and my father is American. Mi familia is very special to me. My mother comes from a fairly big family, most of whom live on the same street in our beloved República Dominicana. There are many days I wish we lived there, too, but the Lord has called me to South Louisville. On the days they feel extra-far away, I think of the things that have marked them and the ways they have marked me. It leads me to ask who exactly has gone before me? Who has paved the way in hope, perseverance, and, most especially, faith?
Who are we to celebrate?
I could write of the great Latino and Latina figures who have gone down in history as artists, activists, theologians, rebels, and revolutionists. People like the Mirabel sisters, Dolores Huerta, Cesar Chavez, and Lin Miranda Manuel. While those names are important to know, learn about, and honor, I have a different list of names I’d like to share.
Maria Virgen González Lluager, my great-grandmother, or to us Mama Cuca, was small and frail in frame but strong and wise in heart. She passed away a few years ago, and the family felt great loss as we mourned our matriarch. She and I would sit and sip our afternoon cafecito with her signature heaps of sugar and a small slice of lime as she would speak to me of love and dreams: “It’s in the eyes, mi niña bella. You have to look at people and know that you will have deep care for them.” I knew what she meant, because I always saw it in her eyes. Mama Cuca would pray EVERY SINGLE DAY for her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. This was no small venture as our familia is very big! I always knew she prayed for me.
Altagracia Rojas de Gabriel, my grandmother, my Mama Tata…where to begin? She is strong and deeply grounded. Her hugs are firm and her laugh is almost always accompanied by a wink. This woman will walk down the street at night with women from her Bible study group with more confidence than anyone you’d ever seen. No weapon formed against these women of faith!
I have seen this woman battle Stage 4 cancer and her neighbors respond by gathering at the church, fasting and praying through days and nights for healing. In the mighty name of Jesus, she was miraculously healed. That was 15 years ago, and she continues to preach and proclaim the Good News of Jesus and His power in her teaching and consistent living. A mother and minister, she has nurtured, supported, and empowered generations of men and women who look at her and see the hands that brought us in, fed us till we were full, and gave us a firm pat on the back when it was time to move one step at a time into what the Lord had called us to.
Ramón Antonio Gabriel, my grandfather, my Papa, is a lover of the Cubs, generally all sweets, and people—not in that order, of course. In truth, I don’t believe that I will ever be able to grasp the sacrifice and love my grandfather has poured out in his life…from the way he embraced my American father as family to the way he believes in grace upon grace.
I’m not sure my earthly eyes or mind will ever fully comprehend the ways Maria, Altagracia, and Ramón fought to love one at a time despite their circumstances. They have always modeled generosity, not just with whatever materials they had, but with their presence and love.
Hispanic Heritage Month—September 15 through October 15—marks historical events of many Hispanic countries that have declared independence, but it also serves as an invitation! It’s an invitation to celebrate those cultures not just through their food, dance, and art, but to acknowledge and honor the victories and perseverance of many of our Hispanic brothers and sisters.
I’m reminded of these things through my friend Nathalie and her family who attend Southeast’s South Louisville Campus. They are a Spanish-speaking family who moved here from Cuba. Even though they don’t speak English yet, they come and worship with all they have and call Southeast their church family.
Kat Armas, author of Abuelita Faith, writes of how we often hear that we need to make space at the table for those in the margins. However, she challenges us not to be the host, but the guest who comes only to listen and learn. Nathalie and her family have allowed me and others to sit at their table—literally and figuratively—where we have experienced radical hospitality through the food we have eaten and the prayers they have prayed over us. They have prayer walked with us through South Louisville and encouraged us with their testimonies of God’s faithfulness to them.
The other night, Nathalie and I were exchanging stories of ways we’ve seen the power of prayer. I told her of my memories of Mama Cuca, Mama Tata, and my own mother, Sandra. So many memories of hearing the fervent prayers from my grandmothers and just as many memories of catching a glimpse of my mom through a cracked door, where she would be on bended knees before Jesus. I asked Nathalie, what is it about Latinas that there is such fervor, such persistence in prayer?
“Mi hermana, my sister, life is painted by many colors,” she answered. “Pain has its own unique color. It’s different and moves us into patience and faith.”
Nathalie spoke of how she saw Jesus changing the lives of those around her as well as her own. She shared of great hardships they endured and the difficult journey it was. Then, she said something I’ll never forget: “Your circumstances may not change, but your faith can still grow. How does our faith grow when our circumstances don’t change? It’s a miracle, but then again, so is the cross and the resurrection.”
There’s an old Spanish hymn that goes like this:
Y esos montes se moveran con Su Santo Espíritu
(Those mountains will move with His Holy Spirit)
No hay dios tan grande como Tú, no lo hay
(There is no god as great as You, there is not)
No hay dios que pueda hacer las obras como las que haces Tú
(There is no god who can do the works that You do)
No es con espada, ni con ejércitos
(Not with a sword, or with armies)
Mas con Su Santo Espíritu
(But with His Holy Spirit)
This is the God we sing about. We pray in faith and expectancy that He will move mountains by His Spirit. We pray, we see, we remember, and we testify of His deliverance and healing.
So, yes, we are marked by the bachata rhythms that blare through homes on early Saturday mornings and by strong coffee with heaps of sugar! We are marked by the value that family is forever, that laughter should be loud, and that love is to care deeply and give freely. Hispanic culture can’t be reduced to simply one culture, one shade of skin, one song, one rhythm. It is far too vast and beautiful to be contained in these ways. It is a full mosaic that bursts forth with various songs, sounds, and stories. Above all, Hispanic culture is a vivacious and emboldened one that pours out prayers with faith that they may rise like an offering to the Lord who sees us. It is faith that is forged through the patience and prayers that never cease. For in Jesus there is power, freedom, and a hope so miraculous that we cannot help but sing, dance, and fall at His feet.
Happy Hispanic Heritage Month—may you celebrate our Hispanic brothers and sisters who have gone before us, who are among us, and who will come after us.
Brianna Brotzman serves on staff at Southeast’s South Louisville Campus.