Religion is a topic that’s been on my ReVista theme list for a very long time. It’s constantly made its way into other issues from Fiestas to Memory and Democracy to Natural Disasters. Religion permeates Latin America, the Caribbean and Latinx communities throughout the United States. It’s there in celebrations and mourning, politics and mysticism, the stuff of storytelling, the stuff of legacy.
I covered religion—predominantly Catholicism with a bit of the rise of evangelicalism—for the National Catholic Reporter in the 70s and 80s. So when it came time to put together this volume of ReVista, I was drawn by big issues: is liberation theology dead? What is the role and impact of Pope Francis? Is Latin America truly multicultural now in terms of religion?
But both in terms of assignments—the people who could not write because of pandemic-related reasons or otherwise—and what people chose to write about, the ReVista issue became an intimate one, with people’s autobiographical experiences of religion and spirituality that end up painting a more profound picture of Latin America today than any abstract analysis could.
The issue also became more diverse than I ever imagined—and it’s still missing a chunk of Latin America’s vast tapestry of religion and spirituality. When I started thinking about a ReVista issue on religion, I was mostly thinking about shades of Catholicism—ranging from liberation theology to Opus Dei to folk Catholicism—plus a bit on the growing evangelical movements. My colleague Edwin Ortiz suggested I include spirituality, and I took him up on his suggestion. As I researched, I began to become aware of all sorts of strands of religious and spiritual beliefs in the region, from indigenous practices to Judaism to Muslims, Bahai’s, Hinduism and beyond. Some of them ended up in the issue; others did not (we hope to include Muslims in a future issue on the Arab and Middle Eastern diaspora in Latin America).
The issue was undertaken with the expert guidance of David Carrasco, Neil L. Rudenstine Professor of the Study of Latin America at Harvard. I could not have done it without him, his careful and patient direction, his eloquent writing and, above all, his generosity with time, connections and intellect.
As an editor, there were stories that moved me deeply like Christopher Tirres’ account of working with immigrant detainees in a Chicago-area jail visitation program. There were stories that surprised me like an article by Harvard Divinity School Ph.D. candidate Rachelle Grossman, who traces the unusual collaboration between Mexican muralist Diego Rivera and Yiddish poet Isaac Berliner, who wrote Shtot fun palatsn, City of Palaces, a tale of a Jewish immigrant’s encounter with his new, Catholic country.
Then, looking at Afro-diasporic religion in an innovative way, Harvard Divinity School Ph.D. student Adrian Emmanuel Hernández writes about a Black Cuban artist named Belkis Ayón Manso and her book Nkame. He expressed in words so appropriate for this era of Covid-19,“The many images of Ayón’s collagraphs—ink prints pressed out of textured plates—on its glossy pages remain my guide and teacher. They not only teach me how to study the Afro-Cuban religion that inspires their content, but also guide me through my own mourning in a world seemingly determined to let the lives of so many fall away.”
Perhaps more than any issue of ReVista that I have done, this one was constantly surprising me with its intimate stories and with its power. Working with these articles was a revelation—how appropriate for an issue on religion and spirituality.
As an editor, these stories took me on an unexpected journey, a narrative pilgrimage, as it were. I hope you will accompany me to reflect on the many ways religion and spirituality manifest themselves in Latin America, the Caribbean and the Latinx communities in the United States today.
Winter 2021, Volume XX, Number 2
Ellen Schneider’s description of Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega in her provocative article on Nicaraguan democracy sent me scurrying to my oversized scrapbooks of newspaper articles. I wanted to show her that rather than being perceived as a caudillo
Cuba may be the only country on the planet that sports statues of John Lennon and Vladimir Lenin. Uruguay may be the first in planning a full-fledged monument to the victims of the Covid-19 pandemic.
I have to confess. I fell passionately, madly, in love at first sight. I was standing on the edge of Bogotá’s National Park, breathing in the rain-washed air laden with the heavy fragrance of eucalyptus trees. I looked up towards the mountains over the red-tiled roofs. And then it happened.