Look @ Me, Look @ You
Noemi Vega is a dear friend and ministry partner. Truly, my life is richer because of Noemi’s influence. Recently, I noticed Noemi deploying the “@” symbol in (to me) a novel way, using the term “Latin@” when referring to a mixed gender group of Latinos and Latinas. I haven’t done much with male privilege and ethnicity on the blog, so I’m glad to have Noemi’s thinking in this space today. Noemi’s a blogger too, and you can find her here.
One of my favorite stories about Jesus is his encounter with a woman who suffered from continuous bleeding (Mk 5:21-34). Mark’s careful attention to the fact that Jesus allowed this woman to tell her whole truth highlights for me two qualities of Jesus that I admire.
First, he stops and sees. Jesus stopped to see this woman. She could have gone unnoticed after receiving her physical healing, but Jesus wanted one more healing for her – relational healing, so he stopped in order to engage this woman.
Second, Jesus models for us what it truly looks like to see somebody. When we sincerely look into the eyes of the person we are speaking with, we are sincerely confirming her/his worth, beauty, and identity as a sacred image bearer of our sacred God. Jesus models the significance of listening to and looking @ one another.
Jesus sees the worth of a person and he challenges us to do likewise. You may imagine my great delight when I felt “seen” for the first time in the male-dominated language of my heart – Spanish. I remember the exact place and time I saw the @ symbol after the word Latin.
In 2011 I was on a service trip to one of Mexico’s garbage villages and our Mexican student leader was writing on an easel board some Latin@ demographics. For five minutes after first encountering the @ symbol my mind wandered to new questions and possibilities: Why am I barely seeing this for the first time?!? How wonderful to have a written symbol to include all of the people in the room! Can I bring this back to my community? Would they understand?
As I pursue my Masters in Theology I have witnessed how far we in the Christian community still have to go to see one another. My heart is breaking for gender reconciliation. Querido (dear) Spanish is my first language, my heart language. Yet, it is a male privileged language . We do not have a neutral word for speaking to a gathering of men and women, so we default to the male form of the word. The word Latino can be used to speak of a man as well as a group of people. Latina can only be used to speak of women.
So when I saw that @ symbol after Latin, I felt seen.
Since then, I have cautiously introduced the @ symbol in my own use of the word Latin@. It often sparks confusion and conversation, but it’s a conversation worth having – how can we better include and seeone another in language?
When I use the @ symbol, it is a declaration that I am trying to truly see the entire room – men and women who bear the image of our Creator.