There have been countless times when I have happened upon a group of Latinos or one solitary Latina who “notices” me. Their inspection at a distance comes across as a scrutiny of expectant question, “Is she one of us or not?” Their eyes and body language seem to ask.
I enjoy it immensely when this happens because it tells me that I have fleetingly mirrored to “the other” something of themselves so much so that the question of whether I am one of them or not is aroused in their mind. The hope and expectant anticipation in their face is more than I can describe. It is as though I see a longing in their eyes, to be affirmed, to feel a bit of home here where they are. A bit of deep human longing to be known, revealed in a glance. I have not yet learned how to signal back, “Yes, I am one of you.” I would love to run to them and say, “Yes, I am your sister or distant cousin.” Except, I wouldn’t be able to explain that…
A couple of weeks ago I was soliciting representation from the Latino community in my neighborhood. I had an appointment with a young business owner. After explaining to him in English how he could represent his community’s interests and change the ethos of the neighborhood. I asked him what his goals were. He briefly mentioned a few of his goals, in English. He spoke English well. Yet, somehow, when we began speaking in Spanish, when I began to ask him questions in Spanish, the switch in his face and self expression became 5 degrees more intimate, more relaxed and more detailed. He spoke out of the depths of himself. He began to relate to me stories of growing up. He shared his goals, struggles and the struggles of his people, with much more expression than before. I felt like I was sitting in a holy moment. I left with tears in my eyes.
I have come to realize this mirroring can be either a dark art or a reflection of God’s passion revealed for us in incarnation. Professional con-artists and advertisers know what their audience would like to hear and use it for their own personal gain. I have also heard of people who are resentful of their own culture and seek to abandon it and clothe themselves in the culture and traditions of another. Yet incarnation is something altogether different from the former abominations of broken humanity. And I sense only a touch of the magnificent beauty in incarnation when, I, for a moment step into the reality of another and reflect it back to the other.
I hadn’t always lived with an awareness of the every-day-ness of incarnation. Many years ago I was plugging along through life, rebelling against that which I perceived to be unusually strict Mennonite dress-code, about which there was consistent tensions. In my frustration over the matter I cried out to God one day, “Lord, when will I ever, just wear what I wish to where.” In my surprise! God answered. “You will never dress as you wish. What you wear, you will wear for others.” I was speechless. I was in wonder at what this meant. A few years later I was in a situation where I did not want to give up my particular way of doing things, because it was MY culture, MY way of doing things, MY identity that hung in the balance. As the pressure of the situation built and I was beginning to feel cornered, I cried out to God, “What shall I do?” God responded, “Give up that which you hold to so tightly. Give up that which you call your identity and I will return it to you greater than that which you gave.” “How can this be?” I asked. Then it was as if my eyes were drawn to heaven to view God in his glory, before he divested himself of who he was to become a helpless babe in a barn in Bethlehem. All, so he could speak to us in a form that reflected our own bodily existence. So I could cast my gaze of hopeful anticipation upon his face and he would respond, “Yes, Yes! I am your brother.” I then, understood the meaning of risking all. I then understood the meaning of giving all. I understood the infinite importance of the other. And my pithy picky selfish and vain clothing preferences vanished for good.