Document 15: Sister Mario Barron, "Women in Solidarity Panel," National Assembly of Women Religious National Convention, August 1975, pp. 24-27, National Assembly of Women Religious Collection (CARW), 30/10, Archives of the University of Notre Dame, Hesburgh Library, Notre Dame, Indiana.
Sister Mario Barron was asked to speak as part of a National Assembly of Women Religious conference panel about women religious and minority concerns in 1975. Speaking from her perspective as a Latina sister, she emphasized two major points, both of which were meant to change white sisters' behavior toward minorities. In her talk Barron spoke, not of discrimination, which she said was proven, but of the need to make the concerns of oppressed minorities central to sisters' agenda. She feared that women religious were becoming side-tracked by the fight against sexism, thus ignoring the more acute suffering of those in the Latino community. She argued that when women religious did seek to help minorities, they tried to serve through leadership, consciously or unconsciously perpetuating the roles of oppressor and oppressed.
Sister Mario Barron Sisters, when I was asked to be a part of this panel, I was told that I was supposed to give an idea of what sisters' response should be to the minority agenda. And I think I can say that I come to bring you hope. Sr. Margaret Farley, in the paper that was sent out before the conference, talked about a Greek word, heteros, I believe, and she said it meant, that in time some clarity would come to us regarding our destiny.[A] I think that if the minority agenda is your hope, and that if the statements that the oppressor cannot be liberated without the oppressed are something that we either believe or we don't. So, I think that the basic premise that I am presenting today is that the minority agenda has to be not a side issue with you, but it has to be a central position.
When a society goes as far as it can, and when it doesn't know where else to go, and that's where our technological society is, then it's time perhaps for another group to come and play its role in the drama of human history. That's not to say that our technological society has not done good things. It has. Our technological society has done marvels; it has created marvels in the medical field; we are affluent; it has done magnificent things, but it is also choking us. I hear that from all elements of society. And I'm not saying that just as a minority person. I'm saying that as a part of American society, not as a minority. At first I thought, "I'm a confused person," and then I realized, "No, I'm a bi-cultural person." So, in our time, each nation and each culture in a sense has its own perspective. And it has its time to shine, it's time to share, time to serve, its time of service to the human family,--and the human family, we're a single body, even outside the Mystical Body, the religious context. So, I'm not going to say to you as somebody said, "Maybe what you're going to say to us is: get out of our way so that those of us who are minority can do something." No, I'm tired of assistance, and there is a role for us to play. Certainly our time has come.
We want to share with you the problems, but we're not here to convince you of oppression and discrimination of our institutionalized subordination. The Kerner Commission Report, the Civil Rights Commission Report, all of those things have done that. So I'm not here to convince you of that kind of thing; and if I need to, then either you're in the wrong place or I'm in the wrong place. But, I'm here to tell you how you can do it, to give the case. Obviously, in fifteen minutes, in an afternoon, we cannot solve the problems but the centrality of the minority case is something I have to insist upon.
I believe in your good will, but good will doesn't accomplish everything. There are certain things that you can do within a minority community; there are ways that you can serve. And I guess that I would divide serving into understanding
and serving--and you must understand before you can serve. You've got to stand under and learn. And then you can serve. If you're looking for a position of leadership, then you can't serve us. You have got to accept the situation of oppression. Everybody accepts the situation of oppression, but nobody wants to be called the oppressor. Now, we can't have oppression without an oppressor. I don't want you to be oppressed all the time but--now and again.
Concrete responses: what can you do? The schools-American Catholic education, according to a paper that is called supporting documentation for the Proposal on Alternative Response to Hispanic-American Needs is important. This paper was presented by Fr. U. Rodriquez, to the Sisters of Loreto last year. In it, he says, that American public education has long ravaged the Mexican American Community. Its mono-lingual, mono-cultural stance has resulted in drop-outs in some Texas schools as high as 79%. (That's from the U.S. Civil Rights Reports of 1973). Here in California, I know that you know it's comparable, particularly in East Los Angeles. The schools--I'm asking you to stay in barrio schools, to stay in minority schools. Most of our cities are closing minority schools. Minority schools, if you stay ther e is the only place that my minority is going to get a good education. Most of the leaders in the Chicano Movement, probably the Puerto Rican Movement too, are products of Catholic schools. In Catholic schools, we stress the values system, the humanistic values; we stress things that are not stressed in public schools. The main thing in public schools is patriotism, and that's the kind of thing that makes us loyal to the kind of thing that many of us see today as corrupt. So we need to keep those barrio schools. It's the only way that our children are going to get a good education. The problem of money always comes up. If there's a will; there's a way. None of us are dressed in rags here. None of us. So, there are a lot of things we can still do. There are secondhand stores. I mean, it's really money--there are a lot of things that we with our vow of poverty can do, if we're really interested in helping in that area. And we do need people there.
Another area kind of connected to that is adult education. We need barrio centers. In the beginning, in 1969, the description of the Chicano community was called an awakening; but now the scene is changing. The demonstrations and marches are less evident; their place is taken by organized efforts which attempt to detail specific instances of job discrimination, inner-city redlining, monolithic education and the distribution of tax dollars for public works. We're no longer talking about the masses following a charismatic leader, who articulates the problems and makes deals with dominant powers, but of developing leaders with an integrated view of problems, who address the root causes. We need some of you to help in the community organizing, we need some of you and the expertise you have in those areas. And we need to have you there in a discussion way.
The opportunity to join liberating values and action is uniquely present to the Church in the Mexican-American, Hispanic speaking communities today. But it is present only if the Church understands that it must itself re-discover the liberating values in the Spanish tradition and that it cannot exercise its function as teacher unless it also engages in the active struggle to change unjust structures. So we have to deal with really basic problems. We need sisters who will go in and try innovating things with adult education. As I said before, you can't go in as leaders, but you've got to go in and offer support and follow the indigenous leadership that will emerge if you give it the chance to emerge.
The hospital situation is something that I have to mention, that is very painful for me. I know that in Texas the opposition of Catholic hospitals to unionization has resulted in unions of minorities not seeking money into organizing. Because if the Catholic Church opposes that, and the people they're trying to organize have that devotion to the Church, it's ridiculous for unions to try to organize there. So the result of that has been oppression, and depression of the Mexican-American community in Texas. Now the Catholic Hospital association is very correct in its stance but individual hospitals are not. This is a very people-oriented issue, I realize that. I know there's a great deal of disagreement on it. But my people are suffering from it. And the Catholic Church has a social doctrine and has got to adhere to that in our institutions and not continue to be self-serving.
Then, how do we bring those people who are perhaps best suited to serve the Mexican American community, the Puerto Ricans? What about vocations? What about Mexican-American sister, the minority sister absorbed into communities? What can you do about that? How do we make her act? And this is the whole role of the organization that I work with. You've got to support minority sisters when they align themselves with their racial group against perhaps their own religious community. That's a very difficult thing to do. You can't recall your support when she say things you don't like. When she says, "This is oppression," you've got to agree and really mean it. You've got to ask the unaskable questions that nobody would ask before. Like, "Why are you so pensive?" "Why don't you stick up for your rights?" Start asking us those things. But, sisters, don't go out to the brown face, or the red face, or the yellow face who, when you ask the questions will come back with the "right" answers. Ask somebody that you know will say there's oppression. But not everybody will give you the answer. In other words, the "coconut" is not always derogatory. There are some of us who are brown on the outside and white on the inside through no fault of their own. But they are not the ones who are going to tell you the things you need to hear. So don't just find a minority face and think every minority is an expert on minority problems. That simply isn't the case. There are some sisters to whom it is very painful, who cannot share that. There are cultural differences. The genesis of cultural consciousness is something that has to be studied. You have to ask for workshops, and you have to expect that you won't pick it up in one afternoon. We have a life perspective. You have a life view, a perspective. The problem comes (we're not passive, but sometimes it looks to you like passivity) when it looks to you like disdain. You don't know what it is. Our view toward work is not laziness on our part; your efficiency has brought us this tremendous development technologically. Our meditativeness perhaps didn't get as much done, but we can perhaps share those cultural values which will allow us to survive in this kind of technological world. We need to share those kinds of things with you. And we need to do it with everybody. The sister, the minority sister within a religious community is asked sometimes to give up her primary support group. We don't separate ourselves. We are separated from you. It isn't that we want to be separated, but we are pushed aside because we don't become exact copies of you. I'm not saying it's done maliciously, but that has been the net result. We are many times wasted within our own religious communities. We cannot give what we have because there's no channel for it. And the minute we start to be different, we're divisive. That has to be looked at, and I know I've not clarified it totally in one afternoon, but that is the situation that exists and needs to be worked on.
Sexism is a problem but you cannot make it your primary agenda. That is not the major problem. McAfee Brown has said (you know we all can say we're oppressed) but he has used the example of the difference between a guy that got hit
with a fly swatter and one that got hit with a bulldozer.[B] Bishop Flores has been asked, "Where does the Mexican-American hurt?" And he said, "Well, it's like a man who gets crushed by a big stone, and that's us. I can't tell you where."[C] We hurt all over. We can't get side-tracked on sexism, the Woman's Movement. I'm all for it, but there are some things that come first. I don't have any problem with the woman's issue. My mother said, "I always obey your father when he's right." I don't have any argument with that. But we don't want other things to get lost.
A. Margaret Farley, RSM, a feminist Sister of Mercy, was the keynote speaker at this National Assembly of Women Religious conference.
B. Robert McAfee Brown (1920-2001) was a civil rights activist and a religious studies professor.
C. Patrick Flores was Archbishop of San Antonio, the first Mexican-American to be named an archbishop.
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