My Chinese-Mexican-Midwestern Christmas: Biblical Reflections On Cultural Diversity
Greetings from Indiana. My wife, two children, and I, have made our annual pilgrimage to the land of the Hoosiers. Each winter we travel the reverse course of the birds to visit my wife's family in small-town Indiana. Ironically, my wife's hometown is also a Latino immigrant hub, so it kind of works out. Unlike many, I enjoy spending time with my in-laws. They treat me well, and we've always had a great relationship. My kids love spending time with their Hoosier cousins, too. I asked my two-year old daughter what she liked most about our time so far, and she said, "my friend [her cousin] Natalie." There's also a part of me that identifies with small town life--the slower pace, friendly folks, and much more considerate drivers. Every once in a while I'll get a look in public from someone that I'm not sure how to interpret. I think to myself: "Was that general rudeness, is someone just having a bad day, or is it because of my brown skin?" It's usually impossible to know, so I just give people the benefit of the doubt and move on. It's not too often, so it's not too big of a deal. Overall, my experience is pretty pleasant.
Without a doubt, though, my yearly trips to the Midwest remind me of my "Chinese-Mexican-ness." I was born in East Los Angeles (Boyle Heights to be exact), but raised in the suburbs of Hacienda Heights, CA. My father's family are immigrants from Chihuahua, Chihuahua, in Northern Mexico. Ironically, despite the association of the name with a certain breed of small dog, people from Chihuahua are known for being tall. My Mexican grandfather was 6 foot 4, and I stand 6 foot 2. The Romeros lost their fortune during the Mexican Revolution because they sided with the famous revolutionary Pancho Villa. It is said that my great-grandfather died of a broken heart while staring at an empty chest of worthless Revolutionary paper money. The Romeros eventually made their way to East Los Angeles in the 1950's via El Paso, Texas (a common Mexican migratory path of the time). My dad, and several uncles and aunts, are graduates of Roosevelt High.
My mother's family comes from Hubei in central China. They came as religious/political refugees to Los Angeles in the 1950's. My Chinese grandfather was a pastor and evangelist, and he started Intervarsity Christian Fellowship in China. He was known as the "Billy Graham" of China, and Christianity Today magazine even did a story about him many decades ago. My "Gung-Gung," together with my "Po-Po" and 8 kids, fled to the U.S. because he was on the communist "hit list." As an interesting side note, my Chinese family descends directly from the founding emperor of the Song Dynasty--one General Chao. We've actually got the documentation to prove it.
When I come to Indiana I become keenly aware of my distinct cultural heritage not only because I stand out like a sore thumb (a 6 foot 2, 220 lb. brown man with pierced ears and a shaved head), but also because, in a positive way, I get the chance to experience a culture that is very different from my own. I joke with my wife that I'm familiar with about 80% of her culture by virtue of being American. About 20% of her culture, however, is totally foreign to me. Not in a bad way, but in a way like,"wow, what did they say? What was that? What was that word? They didn't teach that word to my family in ESL class." Sometimes I lean over to my wife and just say, "that's part of the 20%."
My Chinese-Mexican-Midwestern Christmases always make me think about God's plan for diversity, and a particular passage of Scripture found in Revelation 21:22-27:
"I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp...The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life."
In this passage, the Apostle John describes what it will be like when God restores all things back to the way He originally intended. This final restoration culminates in the City of God,or, the New Jerusalem. According to John, the "glory and honor of the nations" will be brought into the New Jerusalem. The Greek word translated as "glory" in this text can also be translated into English as "treasure" or "wealth." The Greek word translated as "nations" means the "ethnic groups" of the world. So, this passage could be read as, the "treasure and wealth" of the different ethnic groups of the world will be brought into the City of God.
But what is the "treasure" and "wealth" of which John speaks? Surely it is not literal currency, or commodities traded on the stock market, or paper money. I believe that John is speaking of the cultural treasure and wealth of the various ethnic groups of the world. By God's design, every ethnic group of the world possesses distinct cultural treasure: food, music, art, architecture, song, dance, sports, poetry, jokes, humor, etc., and even unique cultural personalities (more on this in a later blog). Every nation on earth is on an equal playing field in this regard. Every ethnic group has its own unique and distinct cultural treasure, and no one's cultural treasure is more valuable than any other's. It's all good.
This is why racism is wrong. Racism says "my cultural treasure is better than yours." This passage from the book of Revelation corrects such racist thinking. It teaches that the cultural treasure and wealth of every nation is so important to God that it will all find its way into the New Jerusalem for us to enjoy--forever.
It's important to note that just as every nation has its own distinct cultural treasure, each nation also has its own distinct cultural "impurities" as well. This is directly implied by John when he says that "[N]othing impure will ever enter [the City of God]." Every ethnic group of the world has its unique sinful cultural practices which will not enter the New Jerusalem and which will be banished from eternity. We're all on equal footing in this regard as well. No nation can afford to be self-righteous. This is why "American exceptionalism" is so sickening. American exceptionalism seeks to propagate the unbiblical notion that the United States has cultural "treasure and wealth," but no cultural "impurities." Gag. This is simply untrue and unbiblical. The U.S. has distinct cultural treasure to be sure, but like every other nation it is not immune to sin.
With this theological foundation laid, now back to my travel diary. Every time I visit the Midwest for Christmas, I literally get a taste of the "glory and honor" of Indiana. Through food, music, art, architecture, swim meets, choir performances--and every person I meet--I experience this cultural treasure. It's a wonderful thing. Some of it is so enjoyable that it even adds a few inches to the waistline!
Although every ethnic group has its own distinct cultural treasure and wealth, and is therefore equal in God's sight, I wonder if it's still o.k. for us to have our favorites? I'm sure it probably is. I'm sure God doesn't mind. Me personally, I'm looking forward to heading back to Cali in a few days and enjoying the "glory and honor" of my Chinese and Mexican cultures once again :)
Thankful for God's diversity, Robert Chao Romero @ProfeChaoRomero FB: "Jesus for Revolutionaries" www.facebook.com/jesusforrevolutionaries