Birds are our greatest storytellers. Consider the ruby-throated hummingbird migrating from Central America to Eastern North America. These pajaritos carry generations of story within themselves. They are vessels of witness migrating from one place to another, much like humanity, and how stories themselves migrate across generations.
Birds do not worry about belonging. Their work is believing, faithfully, that they can journey across countries for what they were created to do.
Belonging is something I often crave. When I walk into a predominantly white space, I take immediate notice. It takes great will and effort to not put up a defense, a natural act of preservation lest I be too exposed. I pray more often. I have more labored conversations with God. Am I in a safe space? If I act too brown will they see me as uneducated, or will they use that to point out how “cool” I am – an indirect way of tokenizing me?
The space I exist in as a Tejana believer in a predominantly white evangelical culture is not lost on me. There is deep labor in inhabiting an in-between space. Gloria Anzaldúa refers to this in-between space as “nepantla,” which is the Nahuatl concept of navigating this space. I navigate various in-between spaces including language, culture, belief, and existence. While I navigate nepantla, I must be gentle with my own testimony so that others don’t see me as representative of all Latina believers.
We each represent such vast and intricate parts of the Imago Dei.
I find that simply being is the greatest act of resistance. It is also the place where I find I am most close to the Creator. Where I find that I struggle, God reminds me of the ground where my ancestors struggled before me. Where I find that I wrestle with belonging, the Most High reminds me for what I was created. As I continually migrate cross-country, across generations, and across mindsets, I believe God’s greatest work of justice is an equalizing rostrum for all of God’s creation.
Like the ruby-throated hummingbird, I don’t have a choice. Belonging isn’t freedom. Believing is.
The pajarito’s great purpose, no matter the weather, is to continually show up for what it was created to do. Justice work is slow work. It’s standing in a room in front of a crowd of people unlike me and opening up wide, even when I know I run the risk of being set aside for a more thunderous sermon or a more controversial epithet. I run the risk of still being misunderstood.
Like Moses parted the Red Sea, so I open up and risk people’s hesitation to be more inclusive. Like Moses, I want the sea to collapse where it will.
It’s hard to believe that we’re all going to make it through, but I have to believe that it’s possible.
To not be swallowed into white culture, I come back home where I find warmth during the cold seasons of my life. Like any justice work, coming home before migration is imperative to survival. It is dire to the preservation of our history and people. The ruby-throated hummingbird’s greatest miracle is that it carries on the life of its species by migrating and always returning home.
In order for our stories to live on, we must do the great work of preservation by migrating to and fro.
When I migrate mentally, emotionally, and physically across the country to a place that is far from home, I wonder about ruby-throated hummingbirds. They spend their lives in one area to work and in another to rest. I have to believe that where I am called will always produce work that holds greater purpose than belonging. Speaking on issues of justice, peacemaking, faith, and Latinidad will inevitably create dialogue.
These issues will also create silence. Yet, it is work that must be done.
It is in sharing our stories that we emulate birds and their incessant will to survive, remembering that belonging was never the point. Instead, blessing comes from remaining faithful to the call on our lives.