Nun, saint, or parish helper? For most, the idea of a woman
studying theology results in religious life. This mentality is dominant
especially within the Latino culture and has kept most women from attempting to
understand or question their religious beliefs. Until recent decades, Latinas’
involvement has become more visible in the scholastic theological field.
Latinas have gained a voice and position in theological work. Although feminist
theology has been around for a longer period, Latina feminist theology is one
of the most recent forms of theology, which continues to grow. It is through
this theology that Latina women have the opportunity to question, learn, and
understand their religious and cultural beliefs. What you may be wondering is
what exactly is Latina Feminist theology? In order to fully grasp the meaning
of this concept we must first define each term individually.
After 1920, when women received the right to vote and gradually
began to gain greater independence, the idea of Feminism and Feminist theories was
distorted with the idea of women burning bras or better yet, “men-hating”
women. All of the interpretations of the independence of women are wrongly portrayed resulting in the
hindrance of feminism. As a result many people today hesitate to recognize
themselves as a feminists’. In actuality, a feminist, as Isherwood and McEwan
define in their book An A-Z of Feminist Theology, is “the
advocacy of women’s equality and rights; advocating feminism, women’s rights,
the movement for the advancement and emancipation of women” (63).
As for theology, it has almost always been associated with
the study of God. Though at the core of theology is the study of God, it goes
beyond creating new forms of theology such as liberation theology and Latina Feminist
theology. Theology is understood as faith seeking understanding and it is this
definition that most scholars utilize when theologizing. Aquino, a theologian
scholar, states that liberation theology arose after the Vatican II introduced
a theology of critical reflection “on all historical activity combating forms
of oppression, impoverishment, death, and inhumanity suffered by people because
of unjust structure” (Aquino 62). From liberation theology came Feminist
theology, which “has its starting point [in] the experience of women” (Lorentzen
4). It is from experience of everyday life and daily struggles and
hardships through which women practice their theology. In particular, Latina
feminist theology arises from liberation theology because “theology done by
women shares in the liberation process of the poor, but pays special attention
to the liberation of women who are triply oppressed” (Aquino 109). Latina women
therefore must work harder to have their voices heard and their theology
recognized. While this theology is from a woman’s perspective, it is not only
for women; it aims to fulfill of both men and women “in accordance with the
gospel of equality” (Aquino 67).
Now, what exactly does it mean to be a Latina feminist
theologian or to study Latina feminist theology? Maria Pilar Aquino is a Latina
Feminist theologian who has been studying and practicing this theology since
its early stages. She currently teaches at the University of San Diego. Aquino
was born in Nayarit, Mexico in 1956 and later moved to the United States with
her family. They worked in agriculture and during the time period of the U.S. “Bracero program” her family was offered employment in the United States.
Growing up she witnessed the Latino/Chicano movements first hand since her
parents were involved in the Mexican-American farm workers movements. Aquino
eventually pursued a higher education in theology and religious studies with a
focus on liberation theologies, social ethics, feminist theologies,
peacebuilding, and justice and reconciliation. She is one of the most prominent
Latina theologians and “she is internationally known for her pioneering work in
Latin American and U.S. Latina feminist theologies of liberation” (http://www.sandiego.edu/).
For Aquino, Latina feminist theology seeks “to accompany the
spiritual experience of the grassroots Latina feminist women and men who
struggle for authentic liberation in view of new civilization based on justice,
equality, and integrity for all” (Aquino 139). This form of theology goes
beyond the scholarly practice and into the depth of the reality of everyday
Latina women. In her essay “Latina Feminist Theology: Central Features” Aquino
quotes Ana Castillo and states “that because we [Latinas] have been
historically prohibited from a writing profession [it is assumed] that we have
nothing of interest, much less of value to contribute” (Aquino 146). The
patriarchal society of Latin America and the dominance of patriarchy in the
United States have wrongly created this mentality. In the church there has
always existed a separation between men and women due to the patriarchy within
the church. Although this division exists, Aquino states that “in spite of this
exclusion, Latin American women love the church” and includes “we want to try
out a new language, a new understanding of faith, which will empower our common
capacity to be fully women and men with enriching difference” (71). This goal
of empowerment and equality of women continues to be at the core of Latina
Feminist theology today.
Years have passed since Aquino’s first provocative writings
on Latina Feminist theology and although times have changed and her theology
has evolved, this theology continues to flourish. As a current theology student
focused in Latina Feminist theology, Aquino’s work has allowed me to better
understand the origin of this theology and the various directions it can take.
Her work, which is greatly focused on Latina women in Latin America, also helps
to understand the beliefs and practices of Latina/Chicana women in the United
States. As first generation to be born in the United States I have tried to
conserve my family’s culture, while appreciating the American culture that surrounds
me. I am strongly pulled towards Latina Feminist Theology because growing up it
was always my grandmother and my mother who taught me of God, and church, and engaged
me in religious practices. Not to say that the male figures in my family were
not religious, but it was always the females who carried on the tradition and
the faith. When I was young I never bothered to question the male figure who
would head the mass celebration or who would dictate the happenings of the
church. This is because I was taught that the male priest was the representative
of Jesus and therefore should not be questioned. As I grew older I began to
wonder why a woman was not heading the church; there were always more women at
mass, more women involved in parish activities and more women promoting the
church. I realized that women were the backbone of the church; better yet,
women were the rock on which the church was built; they were the foundation
that kept it standing. Recognizing this reality opened my eyes to the injustice
and inequality that exists in the church. Jesus in the New Testament preaches a
gospel for the poor and marginalized; women in the church are the marginalized.
Latina Feminist Theology captivated me because it seeks the equality of women
in the church and in the faith. Not only that, but Religion and theology are part
of Latino culture and have great influence in most Latin American countries. It
is because of these two issues that I was drawn to theology, but specifically
to Latina Feminist theology.
In conclusion, theology by Latinas transcends “the limits of
traditional theology, but it also re-creates the method, presuppositions, and
content of liberation theology in general…[it] is a believing process, which
formally incorporates into its work the re-creative dynamism of the Spirit in
the past and present lives of women” (Aquino 77). Latina Feminist
theology liberates women and acknowledges them as equals. My goal as a Latina,
a feminist, and a current theology student is to continue in this area of study
and to eventually remove the “saint” or “nun” stereotype that burdens Latinas
who study theology and to ensure we have a respected and equal voice in the
church. Women have been theologizing for centuries now, from the Virgin Mary to
Sor Juana Ines de La Cruz to Maria Pilar Aquino and to the generation to come.
Latina Feminist theology has just begun to flourish and there is still more to
Aquino, María Pilar., Daisy L.
Machado, and Jeanette Rodriguez. A
Reader in Latina Feminist Theology: Religion and Justice. Austin, TX: University of Texas, 2002. Print.
María Pilar. Our Cry for Life: Feminist Theology from Latin America.
Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1993. Print.
Linda. From Women's Experience to Feminist Theology. Sheffield, England:
Sheffield Academic, 1995. Print.
Lisa, and Dorothea McEwan. An A-Z of Feminist Theology. Sheffield:
Sheffield Academic., 1996. Print.
Lois Ann. "The Product of Life: A Feminist Theology of Work." Diss.
University of Southern California, 1989. Print.