Mestizo theology

Yesterday I spent the day in Paris, visiting two good friends. Virgilio Elizondo is the Notre Dame professor of Pastoral and Hispanic Theology, an author of many theological books and articles, and lies at the origins of “mestizo” theology. Jacques Audinet is a Paris sociologist, who has also written about “métissage”. The theme of our conversations was, of course, mestizo theology.

Virgilio and Jacques conceive of “mestizaje” not only as an opportunity for creative human development, but also as a deep and inescapable part of human nature. No one of us can boast some kind of pure identity, a kind of self that would not be already the result of the encounter with others or of others. Of course, in concrete reality, as on the border between the USA and Mexico, the word “mestizo” is often used in pejorative sense: the mestizo person is neither this, nor that … there is no clear identity and, therefore, the person is split, the playground of opposing identities and forces. A first step, then, is to assume one’s identity ambiguity as a gift, an opportunity in which a new identity arises, with its own perspective on reality and its own creative abilities to act upon reality and transform it.

Virgilio’s theology is an invitation not to shy away from mestizaje, the dynamism and the movement to encounter the other, not as an opposite other, but as a part of the constitution of myself. In the intimate encounter with the other [intimate means: the other is part of myself], something new arises with new possibilities and opportunities. I view Virgilio’s approach also as the basis for an ontology of being: does not all real being arise from processes of mestizaje? Is not, therefore, identity always on the move, reshaping and rediscovering itself in the intimate encounter with others? Ultimately, one could maybe even argue that no other is ever a separate stranger, as in this world in some way the other is always also part of me.

Obviously, such mestizo understanding of reality, has social and political consequences: excluding mechanisms, in which some others are “othered” because that is what I want – for various reasons -, are not true to the deep structure of reality. Moreover, the same goes for these approaches that consider identities as unchangeable and well definable entities. Clearly, this does not mean that there exists no reality game between the same and the other, a game which precisely also brings about new forms of mestizaje; but this game of differences can only be conceived on the background of a more profound co-dependence and interrelatedness that are not undone by these differences. “Othering” cannot, therefore, become excluding: it would deny the very ground on which it stands.

Also in theology itself, mestizo thought offers interesting perspectives. On a fundamental and hermeneutical level, differences are not destructive oppositions, but opportunities towards processes of mestizaje that will provide new perspectives on reality.  The church(es) can be understood as the spaces in which such mestizaje is made possible and even promoted as an opportunity to more profoundly encounter God. Mission and evangelisation are not the urge to bring a clearly defined message to those who have not yet heard it, but the desire to encounter those others and to mix with them, as in this process of encounters the truth about the structure of reality and the encounter with God arise. Each encounter holds the opportunity to say the encounter with God anew.

Mestizo thought is an eye-opener: it turns a switch in our mental schemes and allows us to view reality in a new light. Mentally, we do not easily move into this direction, as we fear to lose our feelings of security built on identities that enter into conflicts by upholding their own unchangeableness in the face of others. Mestizo thought offers us a possibility to set aside our fears of others, our fears of not being unchangeable.


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