Latinxs, the Bible, and Migration

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Editor(s): 
Efraín Agosto, Jacqueline Hidalgo
The Bible and Cultural Studies
  • London, England: 
    Palgrave Macmillan
    , October
     2018.
     209 pages.
     $139.99.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9783319966946.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

The Latinx biblical scholars in Latinxs, the Bible, and Migration invite readers into a Bible that is immediate. Indeed, a central thread throughout these essays is the historicization of Latinx (im)migrant experience in a variety of relationships with biblical literature. Rather than treating the biblical text as a distant, abstract narrative, it is interpreted within a matrix of Latinx lived experiences. Central to the interpretive task is the decentralized “role of the text” and the “primacy of the reader” (99). The migrant is “read” in relation to scripture, and scripture interpreted in relationship to the migrant. As editor Efrain Agosto put it, “We should read our modern contexts to help us understand the past, including the biblical past” (165). In this collection, Agosto and Jacqueline Hidalgo compiled essays from Latinx biblical critics to “reconsider the Bible and the people who read it through the lens of migration, exile, and diaspora with a focus on migrants and the children of migrants” (2).

The migrant struggle to (re)create home is a recurring theme. Many migrants have been forced from their homes due to various forms of violence—“psychological, symbolic, structural, epistemic, hermeneutical, and aesthetic”—and use the Bible to construct “homes” in a variety of ways (49). Drawing upon experiences at Calvary Chapel of Claremont, Hidalgo explores the social and psychological relationships Cuban migrants formulate relative to the Bible as a means of constructing “home” at various levels: transnational home, otherworldly home, and domestic home. Hidalgo suggests the Bible functions as a “homing device” by which migrants create these spaces.

Ahida Calderón Pilarski invites the reader into the lived realities of migrant Latina farmworkers in relationship to biblical law and the foreigner (Hebrew: ger). Pilarski points to the experiences of violence and rape that are common to migrant women and underscores the development of Israel’s laws on behalf of immigrants as a model for stemming violence toward Latina farmworkers.

Gregory Cuéllar addresses the current “refugee emergency” at the US-Mexico border (73). Cuéllar provides a sustained comparative analysis that parallels the exilic poetry of Lamentations with the drawings of a young migrant girl named Génesis. He underscores the efficacy of art as a means of healing and resistance for traumatized migrants. Artistic expression, such as that illustrated by Génesis, provides one with “creative control,” Cuéllar claims, and a means by which to express migrant experiences as one who “commands the narrative of exile” (80–81).

In consideration of competing understandings of “American identity” and the frequent othering which occurs in US political discourse, Eric Barreto provides a reading of Babel in Genesis and Pentecost in Acts that challenges traditional interpretations (133). Many biblical scholars interpret Babel as an etiology for human difference, and Pentecost as the reversal of Babel. Such a reading, in Barreto’s view, suggests that diverse cultures and languages are a problem to be solved (135). He suggests it is not pride that motivated the construction of the tower, but the homogeneity of language and shared desire to stay in one place.

Thus, Barreto suggests “God does not object to some purported hubris in building a tall tower but to the builders’ attempts to remain one people speaking one language” (138). He then suggests Pentecost embraces the full complexity of difference engendered at Babel rather than fostering its reversal. Both Babel and Pentecost, then, demonstrate cultural difference and migration as divine gifts (143). Such a hermeneutic lens is needed in the US context where “we tend to inject our differences with notions of superiority and inferiority” (140).

These are only brief highlights of select chapters offered in this collection. The anthropocentric and liberative gaze of the authors provides important insight into the struggle-laden realities of Latinx humanity. Roberto Mata asserts that “[a]t a time when political leaders in the United States are citing biblical texts to justify various policies against Latinx immigrants, using migration narratives as legitimate lenses to read scripture is not only subversive but redemptive” (172). The importance of emic perspectives cannot be overstated given the vitriolic anti-immigrant rhetoric and multifaceted violence leveled against Latinx humanity, and the state of emergency for refugees at the US border.

The privileging of a hermeneutic “from below” may find detractors among biblical interpreters concerned with eisegesis (reading meaning into the text); however, the authors herein are careful to open multi-directional “traffic” across the world behind, within, and in front of the text. Of utmost import is the attention given to the application of biblical texts within the lives of everyday believers who seek to make sense of an “on-the-move” existence fraught with incredible hardships; thus, what seems to matter most is “scripture” that is efficacious for those migrants drawing upon it for strength, meaning, and guidance within la cotidiana (daily life).

With this in mind, perhaps the inclusion of ethnographic data would significantly enhance the cultural dimensions of this volume. Indeed, as Margaret Aymer notes, inclusion of “the very voices of migrants” would contribute valuable nuance and range to the discussion (201). Different kinds of migration stories could also add broader insight into the experiences of Latinx migrants, avoiding the “tendency to flatten all Latinx migrant stories into a singular land-crossing narrative” (194). Noteworthy, as well, is the complexity of the terms used to define the project, namely, Latinxs and migration. These terms are briefly addressed in the introductory chapter (2–6), but could be treated more thoroughly. In particular, the term “Latinx” is one which is highly contested and difficult to de-essentialize; thus, the work could have been strengthened by a more sustained analysis of its complexities. Also conspicuous is the absence of reflection centered on the Latinx LGBTQI+ community. Lastly, perhaps the inclusion of non-Latinx biblical scholars doing ethnically conscious scholarship could also contribute nuance to the discussion. These considerations notwithstanding, this is an excellent and accessible read, and a necessary contribution to the library of every student of biblical studies and Latinx cultural studies.

About the Reviewer(s): 

David Luckey is adjunct professor of religion at Dallas College, Richland Campus.

Date of Review: 
March 19, 2021
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Efraín Agosto is professor of New Testament studies at New York Theological Seminary.

Jacqueline M. Hidalgo is associate professor of Latina/o studies and religion at Williams College.

Keywords: 

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