The significance and contribution of Latina theology becomes clear when read in light of the contentious histories of Latina/os in the Americas. No single historical narrative line exists for Latina/os, as the term serves as an umbrella representing many distinct groups of people, each with their own history (Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, Cuban Americans, etc.).1 Frequently, dominant political and economic powers have used religious ideas to bolster their own legitimacy and to provide a veneer of moral righteousness for their ideas. Throughout Latina/o history, this fusion of political power and religious ideas became more poignant during periods of significant transition (e.g., the conquest of “New Spain,” the Treaty of GuadalupeHidalgo in 1848, the civil rights movement). While these had a direct impact in the lives of all Latina/os, Latinas experienced the brunt of these political transitions acutely.
In the years after Christopher Columbus’s “discovery of America” in 1492, he and many others interpreted his arrival in the “new world” to be part of God’s plan, a plan to create a new, pure Catholic Christian church in the Americas, one that would stand in marked contrast to the corrupt Catholic church of Europe and as a Catholic bulwark in the face of the reformations sweeping many European countries. Spain’s Catholic rulers, Ferdinand and Isabella, promoted these ideas. Early in the 16th century, Spanish Protestant communities began to take root in Seville and Valladolid, but the inquisition completely suppressed them by 1562. In 1524, shortly after the conquest of the Aztecs and much of Mesoamerica, the Catholic church in Spain sent twelve Franciscan priests, widely known as “Los Doce,” to the “new world” to represent the biblical twelve apostles and begin the work of evangelizing the indigenous population. This became a pointedly ambiguous endeavor in that it prevented the complete annihilation of the indigenous in many regions, but not all, yet it also legitimized the conquest and the resulting enforced labor