I grew up in rural Tennessee. When it comes to Latinos, the only framework I had was that they were temporary farm workers. In my context, most Latinos were Mexicans, and many of them worked on the tobacco farm. I remember one summer, there was a possibility that I might go work for the tobacco farm. I was told I would work alongside the “wetbacks.” I didn’t understand the historical baggage associated with that term, or that it was a term of disdain as it slid across my father’s lips. “You better work harder and longer than those ‘wetbacks’. They’re just waiting for a young white boy to be weak,” I was told. I remember thinking, “But they’re grown men…of course they can work harder than me.”
Because I only had this framework of working with Mexicans specifically, it has taken me some time to understand what the term “Mexican” really means. I had to recover from the idea that calling someone “Mexican” is somehow calling someone less than. Only now do I understand that the term “Mexican” actually defines a heritage that embodies beauty and richness.
Changing my understanding of Latinos has been a twofold process. First, I became a Christian and began to study the Bible. Studying scripture has helped me tear down some of my prejudices. Second, I began to hear more about the experiences and stories of different Latinos. Gaining these new perspectives have helped me enlarge the picture I have of God.
Since being in true community with Latinos, my framework has been broadened. I have been forgiven and healed of some of my past prejudices.I’ve come to experience the richness of various Latino cultures by observing a passion for family, and a resilience in the face of obstacles that I haven’t seen before. I have learned that immigrants that have actually journeyed to a new land, have done so at great personal risk. They have sacrificed so much of their lives to pursue new possibilities.
So why am I walking El Camino?
El Camino is a physical representation and reenactment of the journey that many immigrants have taken. A journey many did not desire to face. A journey that carries the echoes of tears, shame, pain, and the spectrum of sorrow and lament. A journey of hope and opportunity promised in a distant land. We get to participate, even in a small way, in that journey, and if we are created in God’s image, then the soil of this journey is tamped with the feet of Jesus.
Micah 6:8 says to “seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.”
This scripture has caused me to question what it really means to walk with God. What if it is literal? What if walking with those who have lost everything, suffered much, and have experienced their voices being suppressed, actually means we are walking with Jesus himself? I hope to find out by walking El Camino.
I have an opportunity to walk humbly with God. To learn. To walk in solidarity. To be transformed. To join the journey of the oppressed. I have the opportunity to explore my own story, to repent of evil directly or indirectly, and to use my privilege in a way that serves and benefits others. I’m looking forward to hearing more stories of those who have traveled this journey, not as an option but out of necessity. I pray that these stories will become sacraments of the living God. Lord help us.
Jerry Romasco is happily married to Faith Romasco, and grateful for the many people that have impacted his life along the way – friends, family, professors, and many more. Jerry is thankful to be working with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship: Graduate and Faculty Ministries.