Feature photo by subzonica
There I was, eight years old, sitting on the playground of my new school, eating my torta when all of the sudden I heard, “Padre Olvera, Padre Olvera!” All the little girls ran towards this balding older man, who was wearing a ridiculously long, white gown. I ran towards him too, as I was always nosy. All the little girls kissed his hand. I was puzzled. When Father Olvera stretched his hand towards me, I did what any well educated niña would do: I shook it and said “Buenas tardes!” I think Padre Olvera took it well; he shook my hand and asked my name while the rest of the girls murmured and giggled. Later I would find out that I was a “Protestant,” but I did not understand why. After all, I did not think I was demonstrating against anything.
While I was not “protesting” anything, most people thought that when it came to religion, I was quite the rebel. I must admit that my attitude in the following years did not help my case. We went to mass every first Friday of the month, and while everybody would kneel during the service, I remained standing. On Ash Wednesday, all of my classmates would go to the chapel and get ash on their foreheads; I would refuse to do it. One year, a teacher “made me go,” saying “a little ash did not hurt anybody.” Of course, the ash stayed on my forehead for about 20 seconds, as I wiped it off with my sleeve. I know by now you are thinking I was a brat, but I prefer to think I was fighting for my religious freedom.
I am not exactly sure when things started to change, but by the time I was in seventh grade my interest in everything Catholic started to grow. I became fascinated with nuns, priests, monks, and monasteries. I even started researching if there were any “Protestant” convents out there (there is one somewhere in Europe, in case you wanted to know). I started going to the cathedral downtown. I would stay there, sitting on a bench, looking at the people kneeling and whispering their prayers. There was something mystical about it, something that was missing from my church with the plain walls and no icons hanging on the walls.
I ended up graduating from a Catholic University and I am now a graduate student at yet another Catholic school. Curiously enough, I have not “converted.” I am still a Protestant, an evangelical Christian, an “Aleluya” – like they used to call us back in Mexico. While I am proud of my religious heritage (my great grandfather was a pastor), I do realize now that I missed something. There were ceremonies, rituals and festivities of which I could not take part growing up because they were “Catholic.” I never went to a posada or rocked baby Jesus at midnight on Christmas eve. I did not have a nativity scene because at the time my parents thought that was idolatry. I never lit a candle or said a prayer for a loved one, even when I wanted to. I never gave anything up during lent.
Ever since I moved to the United States five years ago, I have been trying to hang on to my ties to Mexico. I have pondered what it means to be Mexican, and how that is connected to Catholicism. As I try to retain my roots I find myself trying to get closer to a faith that it is not completely foreign to me, but that I tried to separate myself from for many years. The fall is near and will soon give way to Christmas. I think this November I will set up an altar to celebrate “the day of the dead.” I will try to go to a posada and set up a Nativity scene for Christmas, and most of all, I will light a candle for my grandpa simply because I miss him very much.