I Am Mujerista


ines velásquez-mcbryde -i am mujerista-3

The main task of theology is liberation. Our gospel is a liberating gospel that frees us from the cosmic power of sin that takes on different shapes and forms in the world. One of these powers is the domination and subjugation of people, one over another, as part of the curse in the garden. Racism and sexism were birthed there. The context changes around the world, but the rhythm and rhyme of oppression remain the same. No matter the cultural context or how the melody sounds in different languages, racism dehumanizes, while sexism silences and subjugates women.

One specific form of liberation theology is mujerista theology, a term that was coined by Ada María Isasi-Díaz, who became the mother of mujerista theology. This is simply a lens that one wears to understand the double marginalization of mujeres Latinas. It contains an awareness of the intersection of racism, sexism, socio-economic oppression and immigration status that imposes itself on Latina sisters. If liberation theology in general speaks acutely to historically oppressive structures, Isasi-Díaz took it a step further to texturize and speak truth to the patriarchal sexism still embedded in liberation theology emerging from Latin America.

The following is an excerpt of my final research paper for my Race, Religion and Theology course at Fuller Theological Seminary. My aim was to analyze the effects of male whiteness as it imposes itself on the female, brown bodies and minds of Latinas. It explored a theology of Latina mestizaje and the tension of being ni de aquí, ni de allá (neither here nor there.) Male whiteness has dispossessed Latinas from an identity rooted in the imago dei and has acutely colonized both body and mind. Latinas navigate across margins often with a distorted identity that has been deformed through the lens of whiteness. In order to flourish, Latinas must explore the impact of displacement of land, language and people in our own colonized imagination. We must become decolonized in our liminal places and spaces and appropriate a new liberated identity of mestizaje, empowered by the Holy Spirit.

If conquered and enslaved bodies were distorted and set on a destructive trajectory at the origins of the slave trade, female bodies found this marginalization to be twice as oppressive. The domination of the female body is as old as the cursed dirt in the garden of creation. Genesis 3:16 after the first sin, Yahweh tells the woman, “… your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” [1]

Loida Martell-Otero recognizes the experience of the presence of the female Latina body in unwelcomed spaces “treated as no-bodies and invisible nothings”.[2] This double-marginalization is not lost on me as an inherited patriarchal whiteness. Martell-Otero argues in Latina Evangélicas: A Theological Survey from the Margins, “We recognize the social symptoms of being invited to places … where we must dress in white in order to survive as a people of color who speak and dance in different rhythms and see life from different perspectives. We have learned to survive amid a dominant group who prefers to captivate and dominate, rather than partner and form communal relations in order to become familia to each other.” [3]

If the curse of the dirt in Genesis and the curse of the domination of Spain in the Americas dehumanized Latinas, it is only the dance of the Trinity that will liberate us. Martell-Otero names it as the “redemptive power of the Spirit to humanize [women]… the Spirit is the One who gives us a vision of what life is, and exposes the lies of the nonlife that have been constructed for us by oppressive social structures.” [4]

Latinas have been dispossessed of identity in both body and mind, bodies laid bare and minds distorted. We have all been conditioned to negotiate our behavior as women when we enter a room. At the leadership table, especially, we are fully aware of the tone of our voices, the clothes we wear, the manner in which we assert out leadership abilities. We fear that we could be too much or not enough. As compared to what, though? What is normative? Are we acting like a man or can we lead as women? We need a recalibration of the Spirit to reclaim our identities in our contextualized spaces around the globe.

For obvious reasons that could limit the liberating force of mestizaje as contained within the Mexican reality according to Virgilio Elizondo, I draw upon Ada María Isasi-Díaz’ mujerista theology as she reconceptualizes mestizaje beyond the Mexican American experience. She encompasses the multi-faceted plurality of the Latino/a experience within the United States and the preoccupations of the marginalization confronting Latinas. [5] She posits the two main preoccupations of mujerista theology as: marginalization and economic exploitation.

Isasi-Díaz states that the central task of theology is liberation and recognizes the particularities of the faith of Latina women linked to struggles of liberation. [6] For her, the liberation of Latinas must include: a political liberation from oppression, a personal liberation from lack of self-worth, and a religious liberation that impedes the two former. [7] In her book, En la Lucha/In the Struggle: Elaborating a Mujerista Theology, she proposes methodology of conscientization as liberating praxis with one of the goals being to develop the moral agency of Hispanic women. Isasi-Díaz proposes four phases in this conscientization:

  1. telling stories
  2. reflective analysis,
  3. liturgy and celebration and
  4. political strategizing. [8]

Isasi-Díaz recognizes the importance of naming and declaring, which I believe, assists us in reclaiming a reconstituted identity within our own marginalization. Soy mujer. Soy Mestiza. I am Woman. I am Mestiza. Her mujerista theology extends an invitation to become a “self-determining agent in history” and  “naming oneself as the most powerful act one can take.” [9] If the struggle of Latinas is as old as dirt itself, then la lucha (the struggle) of Latinas is to take ownership of our liberation, body and mind, and rewrite history. The intersectionality of Latinas is multi layered. In my journey alone: I am woman. I am mestiza. I am Spanish. I am Nicaraguan. I am pastora (a female pastor). I am an immigrant. I am mother. I am wife to a US American. I am bilingual and English is not my first native tongue.

Latinas must recenter and decentralize their locus of self-identification to be liberated women renouncing an inherited patriarchal whiteness. We must become liberated on our own terms in the power of a risen Christ and not the structures raised by humans. Latinas must not be so much concerned with structures as with the rhythms of a life-giving Holy Spirit of Pentecost. It is a liberating act to hope in Christ for Mary Magdalene whom Jesus calls by name at the resurrection. (John 20.) Jesus liberated her of all her demons and healed her whole stigmatized and demonized existence. Consequentially, Jesus deposits both his authority and message of resurrection to commission her as the first preacher of the resurrection. We need an eschatological mujerista mestizaje that walks in the tradition of Tamar and Rahab in the genealogy of Jesus of Matthew 1, where two foreign, Canaanite women take active roles in their own liberation and thread a messianic scarlet rope that reaches to us now. O, that we would have the faith of demonized women!

If the silencing of women has rendered our voices inarticulate and our stories ineffective, the retelling of our stories will invite us into liberating healing. An untold story never heals. That tomb of oppression? It is empty. So, Sister, go and tell. If the very gift of being woman and made in the image of God has been weaponized to destroy us, receiving the gift of being mujer is a liberating force punctuated by the craftsmanship of a Creator God who declared us ezer kenegdo. A mujer is one with equal strength and equal power.

Zaida Maldonado Perez states, “The Holy Spirit emboldens us … And it reminds us all, even those who would confuse patriarchy for orthodoxy, that we do all of this as nothing other than hijas de Dios–women, mothers, daughters, leaders, pastors …instruments of God’s will and glory.” [10] In the prophetic imagination of Joel 2:28, the Spirit of God is poured out on mujeres and they shall prophesy and usher in a liberating Kingdom.

What does this mean for the SheLoves sisterhood? It means that as women we will hear echoes of our own oppression as females when we explore mujerista theology. It also means that as sisters we can stand in solidarity with sisters of color who have experienced a particular form of oppression because of our Latino/a heritage. It is a hope-filled and sacred space where hermanas and sisters of all colors, can become liberated together by the re-telling of our stories.

Indeed, liberation never happens in isolation. It has to be for us all.


[1] All Scripture references taken from The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. 1993. Catholic ed. Nashville, TN: Catholic Bible Press.

[2] Martell-Otero, Loida I, Maldonado Pérez Zaida, Elizabeth Conde-Frazier, and Serene Jones. 2013. Latina Evangélicas : A Theological Survey from the Margins. Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 19.

[3] Ibid, 19.

[4] Ibid, 20.

[5] Ibid, 95.

[6] Ibid, 94.

[7] Ibid, 96.

[8] Ibid, 98.

[9] Ibid, 99.

[10] Martell-Otero, et al, 16.