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1. When I use the term “Latino” I refer to people from Mexico, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean who have made their home in the United States, though at times what I say is also applicable to people of those countries who do not make it here. These concepts and assumptions come from my understanding of scholarship on Latinos and over many years of congregating and worshiping with them. I also use the term “Saints of color” to refer to all peoples of color within Mormonism, though my thoughts are more applicable to those peoples who have at one time or another been referred to as “Lamanites”: Native Americans, Latinos of indigenous origin, Polynesians, and other islanders. Some non-indigenous origin Latin American Saints have also socially constructed themselves into either “Latino” or “Lamanite” and thus can lay claim to similar experiences. Black Latino Saints sometimes also see themselves more Latino than black, but that is a complicated issue not within the purviews of this essay. Other Saints of color—Asian, African, African American, and Middle Eastern people, etc.—might find that some ideas and concepts here fit their circumstances within the Church, but they are unlikely to truly speak to their experiences.
2. By a “white church” I mean that the institution itself was established on principles and encased within structures that favored the founding population group and its descendants. Because the founding members of the Church were white Americans, mostly semi-literate and unsophisticated due to the limits of their economic circumstances, they spoke of a gospel with unsophisticated but defined social, cultural, and racial boundaries. As more and more of these people converted, they brought their lived experiences and biases and transformed them into a cultural spirituality with large ambitions but little understanding of the world around them beyond the part that impacted their lives. Mormonism brought energy, creativity, communal yearnings, and spiritual awakening to its converts, but did so within contexts and structures they could understand, and Americans understood very little beyond their daily experience.
3. Many of the following incidents are recorded in my memoir Chicano While Mormon: Activism, War, and Keeping the Faith (Madison, Wis.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2015).
4. García, Chicano While Mormon, 65.
5. This was told to me by a home teaching companion I had as a young man.
6. See Mark E. Petersen’s talk to a convention of teachers of education at Brigham Young University, titled “Race Problems—As they Affect the Church,” August 29, 1954. For his view on Mexican Saints, see his Children of the Promise: Lamanites Yesterday and Today (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1981).
7. Professor Armando Solorzano, who was the first night’s keynote speaker at the “Multicultural Mormonism” conference, and I spoke the night before and he told me a story about an inconsolable woman with two daughters. One of them was light skinned and the other of darker complexion. The first one was told she came from the tribe of Ephraim while the latter was told she came from the tribe of Manassas. Mormon leaders use 1 Chronicles 5:1–2 and Jeremiah 31:9 and Doctrine and Covenants 133:26–34 to elevate those who are white above all others. The fact that the descendants of Ephraim are those who would write the Book of Mormon solidified their preferred status.
8. We see this kind of thinking in President Spencer W. Kimball’s—Elder Kimball at the time—talk “The Day of the Lamanites,” in which he spoke of the growth of the Church among Native Americans and how they were becoming “white and delightsome” because of their obedience and membership in the Church. Reading it now can be quite uncomfortable since many consider him a pioneer in expanding the Church, its services, and its fellowship to Saints of color. There is probably no doubt that many Lamanites at the time felt empowered and encouraged that they were shedding “the scales of darkness … from their eyes” (Report of the SemiAnnual Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, October 1960 [Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, semiannual], 32–37; also available at http://scriptures.byu.edu/gettalk.php?ID=1091&era=yes.
9. A case in point is my brother who after almost thirty years of inactivity came back to Church and became a voracious reader of Church books, but was unfortunately introduced to literature of an era gone by—mostly works from and by Saints in the Mesa, Arizona area, probably one of Mormonism’s most reactionary enclaves. It has taken him years to slowly shed some of the self-blame attitudes that Saints of color get from that kind of literature.
10. This was told to me by our stake Spanish-speaking patriarch, Victor Hugo Gamero.
11. David Montejano, Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas, 1836–1986 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1987), 220–34. See chapter 10, “Culture of Segregation.”
12. See “Empowering Latino Saints to Transcend Historical Racialism: A Bishop’s Tale,” in Toward a Post-Colonial Mormonism: Consciousness, Resistance and Adaptation (forthcoming from University of Utah Press).
13. By the middle of 2017, over a thousand people had come to see the exhibits, but less than one per cent of those were Latino, at least according to surname. This was told and shown to me by Fernando Gomez, the museum’s director.
14. Interestingly our bishop chose a public school teacher in our congregation to give the history lecture rather than me. I assume he worried that stake leaders might take exception to what I might say. That the bishop was a friend—and who knew or should have known that I would never embarrass him or the congregation—only accentuates our timidity in speaking openly about our history.
15. See Jason Swensen, “Mexico’s Rich History Preserved at Newly Dedicated Records Center,” Deseret News, April 20, 2017, https://www.lds.org/church/news/mexicos-rich-history-preserved-at-newly-dedicated-records-center?lang=eng.
16. See W. Paul Reeve’s Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015) and Spencer Fluhman’s “A Peculiar People”: Anti-Mormonism and the Making of Religion in Nineteenth-Century America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012).
17. No major work exists on Octavio Romano, but see my Chicanismo: The Forging of a Militant Ethos among Mexican Americans (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1997), 45–48. Another, even more extensive, discussion on Romano can be found in John Alba Cutler’s Ends of Assimilation: The Formation of Chicano Literature (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), 56–89.
18. By “circumstantial gospel experiences,” I mean to acknowledge that there are historical, political, social, and other boundaries that limit, expand, or channel our beliefs. These circumstances do not change the validity of the gospel message nor excuse wrong moral choices, but knowing of them does help us to understand why different Mormon communities live the gospel the way they do.
19. By “full evangelization,” I simply mean their ability to be part of the Church in all aspects, from being simple members to being allowed to write, participate, construct spaces of faith, and lead at all levels.
20. I have written about the effect this hierarchical approach has had on Latinos, and many years after the circumstances I have described this approach continues to be the norm. See my “Empowering Latino Saints.”
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