Latina/o theology is well into its fourth decade, and within its rich theological reflection the concept of mestizaje constitutes a foundational part to its entire theological project. Introduced to the theological world by Virgilio Elizondo in the 1970s, mestizaje developed into a hermeneutical tool brought to bear on Latina/o experience, the cultural experience of Jesus of Nazareth, as well as the means whereby the salvific actions of God unfold throughout human history.
But what does mestizaje actually mean? What are its origins? How is it utilized by different Latina/o theologians, and what are the implications of this use? Néstor Medina outlines the use and meanings of this substantive concept, revealing the foundation Latina/o theology was built upon and noting even the cracks and fissures of this foundation. His work is an excellent example of one member of a theological community taking stock of this community’s place, growth and stature, and carefully considering steps to take for continued growth.
This brief text is organized in five chapters, with an introduction and conclusion that succinctly sketch the author’s main point: mestizaje cannot be understood as a “single, fixed” experience occurring in two parts (the first part during the encounter between Europeans and Nahua in 16th century Mesoamerica, the second part occurring in the aftermath of the Mexico-U.S. war in the 19th century). Rather, there are a variety of mestizajes rooted in particular histories and locations. Virgilio Elizondo’s development of this concept is surveyed with the greatest detail amongst other representative Latina/o theologians: Roberto Goizueta, María Pilar Aquino and Ada María Isasi-Diaz. Medina’s work is to be credited with the rigor and detail he surveys these first generation Latina/o theologians, as well as some of the contributions of second generation Latina/o theologians. Out of the text’s 203 pages, 49 pages are footnotes that are not only relevant to the development of his argument, but add important bibliographical material. Medina makes a methodological point when he underscores the fact that Latina/o Catholic theologians are the focus of this study, although Protestant theologians have also centered the concept of mestizaje within their theological explorations. Yet, interestingly, Medina includes a vibrant treatment of Gloria Anzaldúa’s use of mestizaje, because, as he states, of the profound impact that she has had on Chicana/o scholarship. There is little argument that her contributions have been illuminating to Latina/o reflection and action, but her placement in this theological study begs for further treatment and explanation.
This is an excellent text to use for classes on theological method, introduction to Latina/o theology classes, and contextual theology studies. This text will be most beneficial for students who are familiar with the Latina/o scholars treated in this text, and are familiar with some of the foundational concepts that Latina/o theology has been built upon. I personally thrilled at Medina’s survey of the first-generation Latina/o theologians, as well its many second-generation theologians. As I came into this theological community in the late 1990s (when the work of the first generation was in full flower), and began my interaction with subsequent generations of Latina/o theologians, I can attest to an energetic and healthy theological community. Néstor Medina’s work is the latest example of its vigor.