Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

The Long March Continues…

Written by: on January 18, 2014

I was intrigued by the first sentence on the back cover of Modern Social Imaginaries, “Charles Taylor is internationally renowned for his contributions to political and moral theory, particularly to debates about identity formation, multiculturalism, secularism, and modernity.”  As I engaged in reading “Modern Social Imaginaries” I found myself being challenged and invited to understand and recognize a broader range of human possibilities within the moral order of what Charles Taylor calls the modern social imaginary.

Taylor defines social imaginary as ways people imagine their social existence, how they fit together with others, how things go on between them and their fellows, the expectations that are normally met, and the deeper normative notions and images that underlie these expectations.[1]

As I thought about this definition I couldn’t help but think about the Latino community.  How do Latinos imagine their social existence? How does society imagine Latino’s social existence? Just recently in the Texas Tribune, the candidate for land commissioner said, “We’ve got to denounce some of the ignorant statements that are made bout Hispanics…whether it’s to the military, our nation’s economy or to the history of Texas.” [2] This was in response to a comment made about the gubernatorial candidate when she and her running mate were addressed as “Abortion Barbie with Hispanic Senator…” Others were appalled by the statement and called it “disrespectful language towards women and Hispanics.”[3]  It is sad to see that in this day and age, for some, the way Latinos fit or are imagined, is still based on the stereotyped images which present distorted, offensive and in some cases, superficial portrayals of Hispanic people.

The Texas Tribune also states that in the keynote address, the candidate for land commissioner highlighted the importance of Hispanic inclusivity by saying: “it’s not about Hispanic outreach. It’s about Hispanic inclusivity.”[4] According to the 2010 census, Hispanics are the nation’s fastest growing and largest “minority” group. Yet, Hispanics/Latinos are not seen as a people or community, but rather a population or number, “a quantified slice of the social whole”, if you will. This image of the Hispanic community by official measurement is thus inherently instrumental, since the immediate goal is really to identify, not so much social groups, or lines of cultural unity and diversity, but voting blocs and consumer markets.[5] It is unfortunate that these may be the only images that people in the United States and in the world may have of Hispanics. Thus, Hispanics become a package to sell and a target to market.

The Latino community is an “imagined community” – to use the words of Benedict Anderson – a compelling present-day example of social group being etched and composed out of a larger, impinging geopolitical landscape.”[6] In various parts of the country (New York, Miami, Portland, Oregon, Los Angeles, etc…) it is not uncommon to look at someone and be able to determine if they are Latino/Hispanic. An image begins to form in the eyes and minds of those who make this determination. For Latinos the outside representation is the dominant one. Yet, we must be mindful and careful of how Latinos are being imagined – from “within” or “without” – and to what ends and outcomes.

Charles Taylor suggests that in order for a social imaginary to be transformed, people must take up, improvise and be introduced to new practices. This new outlook provides a new context to people’s practices. Therefore, the new understanding comes to be accessible to the people in a way it wasn’t before.[7]

Perhaps, Latinos themselves need to serve as a healthy corrective to the countless stereotypes that go to define what or who is Latino in the public mind. To transform society according to a new principle of legitimacy, we have to have a repertory that includes ways of meeting this principle. These practices must make sense to the people, and the people must have an understanding of what these practices are.[8]

Recently I was attending a pastoral leadership conference. At this conference my good friend of over 30 years, Elizabeth Conde Fraizer, and I scheduled some uninterrupted time to talk.  We were up past midnight sharing personal stories, leadership stories, and ministry stories. Through the sharing of our stories I was able to see a new image emerging in me. I was reminded that, as Taylor puts it, it has been a long march toward inclusivity. It has been a long march toward breaking these old forms, in which equality replaces hierarchy. Yet for the Latino community, the long march of economy, public sphere, and “inventing the people” still has a great distance to travel.

While Taylor may do a fine job in articulating the moral order of the modern social imaginaries for the Western world, in my humble opinion, he shares very little about non-Western societies.  What does this mean for those whose resources are required, but are excluded from having a voice in the social, political, and economic world?  Again, the long march still has a great distance to travel.

[1] Charles Taylor, Modern Social Imaginaries, (Public Planet Books, Durham: Duke University Press, 2004), 23.

[2] Alexa Ura, Bush Targets Ignorant Statements About Hispanics, (The Texas Tribune, January 15, 2014)

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Juan Flores, From Bomba to Hip Hop: Puerto Rican Culture and Latino Identity, (Columbia Univeristy Press, New York: NY, 2000), 194.

[6] Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, (London: Verso, 1991), 5-6.

[7] Charles Taylor, Modern Social Imaginaries, (Public Planet Books, Durham: Duke University Press, 2004), 29.

[8] Ibid., 115.

About the Author

Miriam Mendez

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