Remembering Esperanza: A Cultural-Political Theology for North American Praxis

By Mark Lewis Taylor | Go to book overview

Prologue
AUTOBIOGRAPHY, RE-MEMBERING,
THEOLOGY

Esperanza used to pick me up, hold me tight, and tickle me. She was a fourteen-year-old girl of the Zapotec village of Teotitlan del Valle, in southern Mexico's province of Oaxaca. She lived just down the street on which my anthropologist father and family lived for a year when I was five.

I both dreaded and loved the attentions of Esperanza. Even today, preserved as she is on anthropologist's film, this Zapotec girl's image can prompt in me two unfortunate postures toward “the other” that we EuroAmericans have often assumed: dread, and for me the more usual temptation, romanticizing. One may recall the North Atlantic images of “the noble savage.”1 Usually my tendencies toward these postures are checked when I remember that in all her difference, Esperanza and I shared a world —not one primarily of values, language, or culture, but one formed by the dusty street we shared, by our houses connected by walls of cactus, or by the playful touch that somehow happened between us without a negotiating of common ground.

In the encounter with Esperanza and in my memories of her, more is going on than I am able (or probably willing!) to probe here. Playing in that encounter are dynamics involving my gender, sexuality, race, class, and culture. Boy and girl, the joy of touch and desire in children's play, being, along with my sister (just one year younger than me), the only light-skinned children among the browner-skinned Zapotecs, never really shedding the middle-class privileges of North American life during our year-long dwelling in Teotitlan's adobe structures–all these realities existed between Esperanza and me.

There may be much for me to celebrate here as a valuable encounter with cultural difference at an early age. There may also be much to engender suspicion. Indeed, anthropologists and their families doing fieldwork have often been situated in the context of Euro-American conquest and oppression of colonized and third-world regions.2 As between Esperanza and me, so in this book's attention to “others,” there lies the risk that talking about some persons as other reflects their subordinate position.

-1-

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