Like many people who grow up Latinx, I was raised in a Roman Catholic household. While our household was divided about religion, my father is Baptist, my mother Catholic, my sisters and I were raised in my mother’s religious beliefs. Ones where Sunday school was mandatory, masses were rife with long services, and confessions and consumption of Eucharist and wine were tradition. I sang in our church’s choir, acted as an altar server and helped out at the church on days my parents went to mass.
For the most part, I liked church.
I’ve always felt the beauty of church architecture to be undeniable, the traditional structure of their buildings, the concept of Saints always gripped me with fascination, and much to my peers’ surprise I even enjoyed going to mass. It helped that attendance was almost always sealed with the sweet deal of after-mass doughnut. Still, despite all of what I enjoyed about church, even at a young age, I made my disbeliefs and skepticisms about the bible known. So much so that I began to build a reputation with my childhood church teachers as being a bit “rebellious”. I ended up getting kicked out of many Sunday school classes for voicing my opinions. It’s easy for me to recall the first time I was asked my a teacher to leave class. I was in first grade and when I required a deep disdain for a church nursery song we’d sing about the love we have for Jesus. There was a line that went “I got that love of Jesus in my heart. And if the Devil doesn’t like it he can sit on a tack!”
As a kid, I refused to sing that line and one day a teacher noticed and asked me why. I told her that it didn’t make sense to me, why would I want to be mean to the devil? Shouldn’t I show him kindness and teach him that God could love him too again if he said sorry? I remembered a lesson where if we were truly sorry about something and apologize to God, he would forgive us no matter what. I figured if I show the kindness God showed me to the Devil, he would realize he needed to be good and say ‘sorry’ to God. And then once God forgave him, all the bad things in the world would go away. My teacher didn’t quite see the logic in response and I soon find myself standing outside of the class.
I was nervous to tell my mom who was also a Sunday school teacher in the classroom next door, to my surprise she wasn’t angry, actually, she was quite pleased. It didn’t take much thought on her part to think about my answer and support my thoughts on my faith.
My mom isn’t like most Catholics, while she’s devout in her faith, she has always let her children believe what that want and question everything.
No doubt her experience fleeing Cuba, a country where indoctrination was well and alive, had a role in her belief that people, especially her children, should be able to think how they please. She wanted her children to be freethinkers, ones who’d voice their opinions despite popular opinion and most certainly in the face of extremism. Of course, she wanted us to love and know God like her, but she encouraged us to think critically.
My mother met her biggest challenge of understanding how to raise me when I turned ten years old.
At that time I went through a traumatic event that involved the disability I was born with. As a result, I spent longer than I have had before in the hospital, a whole summer plus three months on my sixth-grade year. With all that was happening with my health and my family only being able to “comfort” me through prayer, it made me resent them and my faith. One day as my mom was mopping the floor in the sala, I walked up to her and told her I no longer believed in God. I told her that God would have never put me in the position of getting, that my pain and trauma had to mean that, he and her faith couldn’t possibly be real. It saddened her to hear, but she didn’t attempt to convince me otherwise or correct me. She accepted me. I didn’t have to believe in him. This went on for a few years, and not once did my mom ever tell me to talk to God, to believe in him again nor did she pressure me to join her at mass. I expected her to be passive aggressive towards me about not believing but she never was. She was always open to me expressing my feelings about God as I wrestled with myself about him, giving me the best advice she could but made sure never to cross any boundaries. For her, it was important that I believed in God because in her heart she knew he would help me but it was just as important for her that I thought for myself and decided for myself what I needed, even if that meant without God.
Eventually, I decided on my own that I believed in God.
I have made my own choice to let God be a part of my life in a way that works for me, on my own terms. My relationship with my faith has become very personal and I always feel grateful to my mother for giving me the freedom to find the path that I found myself with my beliefs today. My mother, without me realizing it gave me the backbone and the foundation I needed to make my own choices, not just about my beliefs, but how I pursue my life. Although she was met with frustration and misunderstanding from her peers and family for her decision to allow me to have this journey, she knew to respect me and my views was the right thing for her to do for me. Today I view my mother is a strong Catholic Cuban, and I’m so grateful that she gave me the strength that I have today to find my own way in my life, career, and feelings related to faith.