August 21, 2010. Minneapolis International Airport.
“Welcome back home.” The immigration officer at the Minneapolis International Airport smiled as he handed me back my passport and residency card. As I walked to the conveyor belt to collect my luggage, I was relieved by the good feeling of being back “home” in the United States.
But then I remembered that I had been greeted by the exact same words, “Welcome back home” by an immigration officer at Entebbe airport on June 20 as I started my summer in Uganda. Two months at “home” in Uganda had gone very fast, between family visits, meetings, a pilgrimage and other events; and now I was back to another ‘home.’ As I retrieved my luggage, I thought about this reality of my life: the gift of having more than one home, but also the challenges and adjustments, the pain and loneliness of moving between homes, never fully settling in any one home.
A friend once told me that I have a ‘confused’ identity. That is true, for I often find myself between ‘homes,’ living a hyphenated existence as “both- and”: African-American; Catholic-Protestant; priest-professor; scholar-practitioner. In this case, I suppose I am Mestizo – “in-between” (this Spanish word was first used to describe the children of the violent encounter between European fathers and Amerindian mothers; neither European nor Indian, these children belonged to a new people, a people of mixed heritage).
But belonging to a new people – a mixed heritage, a people “in-between;” in a word, being Mestizo – is the gift and calling of every Christian. And as it is, it is the gift and calling of every Christian; to be Mestizo – bearers of a new identity as both-and: divine –human; here-not yet- thus ambassadors of God’s new creation.
Nobody has captured this reality as well as Fr. Virgilio Elizondo, who spoke at the Center for Reconciliation’s Summer Institute this June. (See an interview Fr. Virgilio conducted during the Institute with Faith and Leadership ) The Future is Mestizo is the title of Elizondo’s book (first published in 1984!).
“The core of our existence,” Fr. Elizondo writes, “is to be other”; is to embrace a ‘new identity’; it is to live “in between” cultures – neither this nor that but fully both (26), always straining (“journeying”) toward the fuller reality of a new humanity that Jesus himself represents.
Speaking of his own hyphenated life as a Mexican-American, and what that has taught him about the Christian life, Elizondo writes,
“Mestizo are part of both while not being exclusively either….Yet in neither am I ever considered one of the group. I am always both keen (at home) and foreigner at the same time. This “in-between” is the pain and potential, the suffering and the joy, the confusion and the mystery, the darkness and the light of Mestizo life. As I claim this ambiguity and recognize it for what it truly is, I become the bearer of a new civilization that is inclusive of all the previous ones. No longer do I carry the burden of the shameful news, but rather become the bearer of the good news of the future that has already began in us….
“This in-between, far from being negative, has tremendous advantage. I am an insider-outsider of both and thus have the ability of knowing both from within and from the outside…. I can know them in ways that they can never know me or suspect. I can truly become the interlocutor who will help both to see and appreciate themselves and each other in ways they have never before suspected….
“Furthermore, the mestizo “in-between” keeps expanding as the ‘frontera’ keeps expanding both north and south at the same time it keeps including more and more peoples, more ethnicities, and races…” (128-9).
Not a bad way to describe the gift of new identity and the calling to be God’s ambassadors of the new creation – a gift and calling which is shaped and nurtured at the various intersections of our hyphenated existence in the world.