There are few Christian resources written by Latina women for the Latino context. So, when a friend of mine gave me a copy of the book Hermanas: Deepening Our Identity and Growing Our Influence, written by Natalia Kohn, Noemi Vega Quiñones, and Kristy Garza Robinson, I was excited to start reading. This is the first book I’ve read written by Latinas for Latinas in, or pursuing, leadership roles in the church.
Growing in Identity and Intimacy with Jesus
Hermanas details the leadership styles of 12 female figures in the bible and how their leadership translates to the Latina context. Part 1 of the book focuses on growing in your identity and intimacy with Jesus. Kristy Garza Robinson opens chapter 1 with her struggle with her ethnic identity. She intertwines her story with that of Esther, making parallels between Esther hiding her Jewish identity to her own hiding of her Mexican ancestry. Chapters 2-5 focus on the Shulamite woman in Song of Solomon, the Bleeding woman, Hannah, and Mary of Bethany and their intimacy with God. Noemi Quiñones explains that the Bleeding woman’s strength in leadership is identified as her mija identity. Mija was first and foremost a daughter of God and her courage was an outflow of that reality. The Shulamite woman, Hannah, and Mary of Bethany all model leadership in the ways they seek intimacy with God. These three women model for us greater reliance and love for God, vulnerability, and resting at the feet of Jesus, respectively. The first part of the book ends with the story of Rahab, a bold leader, una atrevida, who chooses loyalty to God and faithfulness to advocate for personal and systemic liberation for herself and her family. Quiñones encourages Latinas to look to Rahab as our example. When in predominantly white institutions (PWIs) we should lean on God’s faithfulness, hesed, for validation and speak boldly for ourselves, our families, and our communities to bring hope and justice to broken systems.
Growing in Influence and Impact with Others
Part 2 of the book focuses on the influence and impact six biblical women had on their families and communities. According to Natalia Kohn, the Canaanite woman, who asks Jesus to heal her daughter, models for us dependence on Jesus by allowing him to work through her pain for her personal healing and the healing of her community. Kohn also explains how Lydia and Paul model for us a successful gospel partnership in a culture with rigid gender roles and how that translates to the Latino culture and our struggle with machismo. Kristy Robinson introduces the Latino term aguantar when describing Ruth’s endurance during suffering and her fierce loyalty to Naomi and the God of Israel. Robinson also writes the chapter on Deborah, explaining that the strength of her leadership is in her breaking barriers and being named the first prophetess of Israel. She calls her people to remember the God who hears their cries and rescues them. Quiñones uses the term misión integral, “holistic mission that was deeply Jesus and deeply justice,” to describe Tabitha’s leadership style. Tabitha’s ministry was together, en conjunto, with her community. The book ends with the story of Mary, the mother of Jesus, as modeling leadership that is strategic in it’s thinking, servant-hearted, and prophetic.
The power of this book is found in it’s contextualization of these biblical stories to the Latina experience. Each chapter uniquely highlights an aspect of Latino culture, as it relates to the biblical heroine, and encourages the reader to rely on God and remember his faithfulness. As a Latina in a predominantly white church, I was encouraged to see myself and my struggles reflected in each chapter. To be taught, from afar, by women who understand my language and culture was a huge breath of fresh air. Using Spanish words like aguantar, mande, mija, and comadre to explain biblical truths gave me greater understanding of what the authors were trying to convey. Quiñones’ chapters in particular ended with thought-provoking processing questions that were challenging in the best way. Her writing left me inspired and dreaming of future possibilities for my role in the church.
The prologue of the book explains the intentionality of having multiple authors. They want this to demonstrate that leadership is multifaceted and that each woman will lead with her unique voice. While I appreciate their motives, in my opinion the different voices make each chapter feel disconnected from one another. As I read the book, I found I preferred one author’s writing style over the others, which made me wonder what an entire book written by my preferred author would have included or omitted.
As much as I enjoyed reading about the experiences of these Latina authors, I realized I needed to be cautious of them reading an ideological narrative into these twelve biblical stories. One example of this is in chapter 11, when Kristy Robinson refers to Deborah as “a foreshadowing of another woman to come, spoken about in Genesis 1. A woman who would one day crush the head of a serpent.”(P. 172-173) The woman referenced in this passage of Genesis is Mary, the mother of Jesus, but it is not Mary who would crush the head of the serpent. It is her offspring, Jesus. The text explicitly says,
“And I will put enmity between you (the serpent) and the woman (Mary) and between your offspring (seed) and hers; he (Jesus) will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:15, NIV)Emphasis mine
I am for female empowerment, especially Latina empowerment, but we cannot read into a passage a narrative that God did not intend.
This book is written by Latinas for Latinas. Hermanas is an encouragement to Latina women in particular, as it is written from our vantage point, and accurately identifies with our experiences. It is a great resource for anyone wanting to understand the unique barriers faced by Latinas in the church. In particular, white sisters who lack relational proximity to Latina’s would benefit from this book as it allows them to empathize with Latina experiences and submit themselves to leadership of color from afar.