Society/Culture

Identifying Challenges Among Emerging Latinx Christian Leaders in Fresno’s (CA) Evangelical Context

On August 14, 2016, I met with a group of six Latinx leaders (“x”–prevents gender categories from dominating the ethnic label). The purpose of this meeting was to have a conversation about our experiences in Fresno’s (CA) Evangelical context. Every person in this group was, what we now call, an Emerging Latinx Christian leader (ELCL): a young professional who not only has a complex, Latinx, ethnic/cultural identity, but also a stake-hold in Fresno’s Evangelical / Protestant setting, with an increasing level of leadership therein. This conversation turned into several discussions that brought to the surface a common concern for the spiritual, social, and professional well-being of other ELCLs. As a result, this group formed into an intentional cohort that has been meeting on a regular basis, and in February 2017, this cohort decided to launch a self-reporting survey to explore how to better understand the broader experience of other ELCLs in Fresno’s Evangelical Context.

According to this survey, most respondents shared that although they tend to seemingly function well in Fresno’s Christian (viz. Evangelical and predominantly White) setting, they have experienced different forms of racism and levels of social anxiety . The results of this survey have compelled us to deeply reflect on the following question: Is there unresolved / unaddressed racial dynamics taking place in Fresno’s Evangelical / Protestant context that need to be discussed / engaged?

*The following presents the results of the survey. This survey was completed on March 16, 2017 by 47 emerging, Latinx leaders from Fresno. The Data was compiled by Sarah Cuevas and Dallhana Garcia in May 2017.

Demographic Data, Education, and Church Affiliation

332211

5544

General Experience of Emerging Latinx Leaders In Fresno (CA) Christian Context

Top three “challenging things” about being a Latinx Christian in Fresno, CA (in ranking order)

  1. Dissonance with dominant, white culture
  2. Being misunderstood (from both white and Latinx groups)
  3. Facing barriers to leadership

Top three “best things” about being a Latinx Christian in Fresno, CA (in ranking order)

  1. How we embrace our culture (food, language, family, etc.)
  2. A strong community
  3. Beauty in our diversity

Experience of Explicit Racism

Have you ever experienced explicit racism in Fresno’s Christian context?
Yes 36.2% 17
No 57.4% 27
Not Sure/ NA 6.4% 3

Sample of Descriptive Answers:

YES

  • “Preached from the pulpit, excluded from certain meetings, denied financial support, flamed on social media.”
  • “I have had to confront explicit racism several times”
  • People have used scripture to support legalism/racism (in regards to immigration)
  • “I’ve been treated lower or ‘not good enough’ because of my upbringing”

NO

  • “Not been in Fresno’s Christian context enough to know”
  • “Not necessarily, but some older folks have misconceptions about inner city missions”
  • “Lightness of my skin

MAYBE

  • “Hard to say”
  • “Not that I recall”

Experiences of Microaggressions (Implicit Racism)

Have you ever experienced microaggressions in Fresno’s Christian context?
Yes 59.6% 28
No 34% 16
Somewhat 6.4% 3

Sample of Descriptive Answers:

YES

  • “Been asked questioned based on [racial/cultural] assumptions”
  • “I love Mexican people, but if you can’t come legally then you should expect to legal consequences. Nobody is above the law, not even me”
  • “Border jokes”
  • “Being offered lower paying position, while White friends move up the ladder”
  • “Not asked to speak at church functions”
  • “Power dynamics of white leadership”
  • “Only being welcomed to tables because I am Latina/Christian/ Educated/Connected to the community”

NO

  • “Half Mexican. Half White. Treated as white”
  • “Not that I remember”

SOMEWHAT / SOMETIMES

  • “I just felt like my experience or perspective was not deemed as important or valued or less willing to be understood or validated”

Functioning Well / Experiencing Anxiety

Do you tend to overtly function well in predominantly white, social settings?
Yes 51.1% 24
No 21.3% 10
Somewhat 27.7% 13

Sample of Descriptive Answers:

YES

  • “Able to get by”
  • “I don’t feel comfortable”
  • “Adapt… [I need] to be twice as smart and accomplished to be at the table”

NO

  • “Become extremely self-aware”
  • “I don’t belong”
  • “I feel like an attraction”

SOMETIMES

  • “Learn to adapt and function”
  • “Feel out of place”
  • “Can’t be open or express my opinions”
Do you tend to experience internal anxiety in predominantly white, social settings?
Yes 51.1% 26
No 25.5% 12
Somewhat 23.4% 11

Correlation Chart: Experience of Internal Anxiety & Functioning Well

Functioning Well Anxiety Somewhat No
No 6 3 1
Somewhat 8 4 1
Yes 10 4 10

Experiences of Empowerment and Disempowerment

Empowerment vs. Disempowerment
Empowerment 51.0% 25
Disempowerment 34.7% 17
I dont know/ Somewhat 14.3% 7

Sample of Descriptive Answers:

EMPOWERED

  • “Overall empowered. The director of the Christian camp told me he would value any input I had about how the camp operates. “
  • “I feel empowered by my Christian mentors.”
  • “By my church, yes, but only because my husband was on staff with the church.”
  • “By my workplace, yes. My supervisor always gives me an opportunity to speak and share my ideas during our meetings and always nominates to speak at different engagements. His belief in me helps me believe in myself.”
  • “Yes, I have authority to craft the programs that our students participate in, and can speak openly about the ways that our church’s religious education system operates. However, in RC contexts the fixed liturgical rites make it difficult to introduce explicit justice-oriented activity apart from the initiative of the bishop, for example.”

DISEMPOWERED

  • “I’ve been disempowered by my church because there’s a family that thinks they have a right to run the church.”
  • “I do not feel empowered or invited by the leadership at my home church. Outside of the central valley, yes I do. “
  • “I have been invited but only to be used as a token or representative a my ethnicity or culture. asking for my perspective then shutting it down isnt really empowerment.”
  • “No, we have been in a Volunteer Pastoral role for eight years and since we serve a marginalized community all offerings goes to the upkeep of the church and to serve the neighborhood. We don’t have the denomination support and I am already burnt out. “

Correlation Graph: Level of Empowerment-Disempowerment and Level of Ethnic Identity

66

* For more information about this survey and its more comprehensive form, please contact Sarah Cuevas at sarahcuevas16@gmail.com
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