The Top 3 Reasons Christians Should Study Spanish

Peruvian children

“If you speak to people in words they don’t understand, how will they know what you are saying? You might as well be talking into empty space.” 1 Corinthians 14:9 (NLT)

If you’re looking for motivation to study Spanish, there are numerous top 10 lists out there to help you out (here, here, or here for example) Most of them hit the usual points: it’s good for your career; it opens up travel opportunities; studying a second language makes you smarter. All of these are true, and are good reasons to take up Spanish. However, as Christians, there are three more important motivations for us to spend time learning a language integral to the Western Hemisphere. (These are applicable to learning any foreign language, but as a Latin Americanist, I’m obviously a bit biased.)

  1. Seeing the image of God in others: We all want to be respected and valued, but how often to you think about your monolingualism as disrespecting or devaluing someone else? You don’t do it out of hate or mean-spiritedness. You just don’t speak Spanish (or French, or Dutch, or…). Yet, the common refrain “but everyone speaks English” communicates a great deal to those who have to accommodate themselves to our language. Taking the time to learn the language such a large portion of our country speaks, (13% given the latest Census data, and it rises to 37% here in Houston), communicates that we value those members of our community as they are, and that their inherent worth is not dependent on what language they speak. Leviticus 19:34 (NRSV) speaks directly to us today in this regard: “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself… .” Whether alien or citizen, we are to love those living alongside us, and treat them with dignity. A first step is learning their language.

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Intoxicated by Easy Money

Intoxicated by Easy Money

A while ago, I wrote about the influx of Chinese money into Nicaragua to build a transcontinental canal.

However, beyond infrastructure and construction concerns, people are beginning to have other worries:

“The townspeople (in Nicaragua) haven’t seen any signs of canal workers in months. And the work that was done was marginal. A handful of Chinese engineers were spotted late last year making field notations on the east side of the lake; early this year, a dirt road was expanded and light posts were upgraded at a spot on the west side where a port is to be built.

Juharling Mendoza, a 32-year-old local entrepreneur, is so convinced that the project won’t proceed that he’s constructing a two-story house with three guest rooms and an attached convenience store just outside of El Tule. He says bluntly: ‘There isn’t going to be a canal.’” (Bloomberg.com)

People have taken to referring to the canal as a “phantom”, as there has been little to no progress in its construction. Given the current economic crisis in China, this should hardly be surprising. Continue reading

The Specter of Neo-colonialism Returns to Nicaragua

Nicaragua canal

After a long history of imperialism, dictatorship, and revolution in Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega (the same man who led the Sandinista charge against the US) has opened the doors to a new imperialist power. China has been invited to build a canal that would rival the Panama Canal, realizing a Nicaraguan dream put on hold by imperialist powers over a century and a half ago.

In mid 1800s, both the United States and the United Kingdom wanted to build a canal through Nicaragua. It was the logical choice. There was an existing river that ran from the Atlantic Ocean across to a large lake on the western side of the country, leaving only a small stretch of land to carve through to break through to the Pacific. It was relatively close to the United States and close to existing trade routes at the time. However, the two countries could not agree on who would control the canal, with Nicaraguan control never being considered. The US and UK signed the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty in 1850 which  resulted in neither country committing the resources to building the canal, as the treaty prevented either one from claiming sole control over it.

After the US built the Panama Canal, there were fears of competition from a future canal in Nicaragua. Continue reading

Competing Calls for Compassion and Justice

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“Man’s relations with foreigners are two-fold: peaceful and hostile: and in directing both kinds of relation the Law contained suitable precepts” Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, (I-II. Q. 105 Art 3)

This past week, I had the privilege of moderating a roundtable discussion on immigration here at HBU, sponsored by the Latin American Studies Program and the Department of Law and Society (full disclosure, I organized this event as Asst. Prof. of Latin American Studies). Our panelists included Texas State Representative Rick Miller, the Reverend Uriel Osnaya of the Episcopal Church, and Dr. Craig Ferrell, Asst. Prof. of Criminal Justice at HBU, and former general counsel for HPD.

(Read what the Episcopal Diocese of Texas had to say about the event here: http://www.epicenter.org/article/the-rev-osnaya-advocates-christ-like-solution-at-hbu-immigration-roundtable/ )

As you can imagine, there was a wide array of viewpoints represented at the table. These largely came out in the discussion as the competing needs in our society to, as the Rev. Osnaya stated, “love people and love families,” and to enforce the law of the land. The roundtable afforded our students, which packed out Mabee Theatre for the event, the opportunity to hear and contemplate how as Christians we should care for the foreigner and alien among us (Leviticus 19:34) in a way that respects the legal authority of the land (Romans 13: 1-2).

While I do not pretend to have the answer to this issue, I do recognize the needs within our own community for a resolution. I am particularly struck by the situation of students at HBU who live with the fear of family members being deported. I cannot fathom the life of my student whose family member was recently critically wounded by a gunshot to the chest, nor the student whose parents have barely an elementary education and are trying to provide for their child pursuing a bachelor’s. Their lived experiences are hard enough without worrying about family or friends being sent away. These students, and countless others, have a harder row to hoe than many of us. What change might it make in their daily lives knowing their parents, or cousins, or grandparents can come out of the shadows and not fear deportation. Their reality is heartbreaking, and their reality is what leads some to argue that the standing laws should be circumvented regardless of the legal ramifications.

Yet, there are certainly “hostile” foreigners who have taken advantage of a broken system to enter our nation, looking to profit through nefarious means. The continued concerns of terrorism certainly warrant securing the border and better regulating immigrants’ entrance to our country. There is also the higher need to uphold the rule of law, which, as I constantly teach my students in Latin American Studies classes, is a necessary requirement for democracy to flourish.  The existing laws are the laws we have to work with. If we do not respect and enforce those, then how do we treat everyone justly and equally under the law?

While I do not believe that playing fast-and-loose with executive orders and the Constitution is the answer, the laws of our land, and the implementation of those laws, need to be reformed so that the Christian is no longer torn between compassion and justice. In the words of Aquinas, our laws must contain “suitable precepts” for dealing with both peaceful and hostile foreigners who desire to live among us.