Recently, Tommy Moreno took his mother and grandchildren to Poteet, the Strawberry Capital of Texas. There, in the sun-drenched fields of a friend named Donovan Garcia, they picked fresh berries together.
More importantly, Teresa Villalobos Moreno sat with her great-grandchildren and recreated the days of her youth, growing up as a Mexican-American near the border. She arose at 4:00 a.m. to harvest crops alongside her family and friends. She would then proceed to school, attend to her studies, and return in the afternoon to labor once again in the furrows. At night, she slept on dirt floors under a tent her father made by throwing a piece of canvas over the side of his truck and a tree.
“Were you poor, Nana?” asked one of her great-granddaughters. “Yes, but we didn’t know it because we were happy and our family was full of love.”
As Tommy watched his grandchildren soak up their great-grandmother’s wisdom, as he saw them stoop to gather fruit with her, he prayed that the purpose of the trip would endure. “I hope these memories live with them forever,” he says. “They learned so much today about our history and how blessed our family truly is. These are stories that need to be told!”
A fourth generation Presbyterian Ruling Elder, Tommy believes there are stories that also need to be told to our denomination. Both his great-grandfather and grandfather were deeply involved in the Texas-Mexican Presbytery of the old PCUS. Founded in 1908, it established Mexican-Presbyterian churches, placed ministers, disbursed support funds, and launched two schools: The Texas Mexican Industrial Institute for Boys in 1912, and the Presbyterian School for Mexican Girls in 1924. It also initiated a Spanish-speaking department at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Tommy himself is a graduate of Pan American Presbyterian School (Class of 1979), one of the PC(USA) racial-ethnic schools.
We can debate the wisdom of separate governing bodies. We can scrutinize whether they are separate and equal, or just divisive. But there is no doubt that Presbyterian energy for Hispanic ministry in Texas was strong during those years. Tommy wonders what happened to that initiative and vision? Despite our denomination’s talk about inclusion—even mandating Committees on Representation—change has been glacial, almost non-existent. While the culture continues to become more richly diverse, the PC(USA) remains over 90% white.
Perhaps, in reality, we have gone in reverse. Tommy points to the fact that in San Antonio alone, there used to be seven Hispanic Presbyterian Churches. Today, there are only two.
Tommy recently joined Northwood Presbyterian Church, San Antonio, one of a handful of Hispanic members. He sings in the choir and acts as the congregation’s liaison to Habitat for Humanity. At a recent Men’s Breakfast, the guys were discussing a Presbyterians Today article about the interplay of faith and sports. Their dialogue veered to Colin Kaepernicks’s NFL protest actions, a conversation that led naturally to race relations in America. Tommy asked the all-white gathering some pointed questions about realities that he has personally experienced.
“Have you ever been profiled and pulled over for driving a nice car? Have you ever been refused service at a restaurant because of your skin color? Have you ever been followed in a store because they thought you might shoplift? Have people ever crossed the street because they saw you coming towards them?”
“I continue to be a hopeful presence,” Tommy says, “even though sometimes I feel like a stone in the river that others flow around. But, like that rock disrupting the course of the stream, I hope I will create a current that carves out a new landscape. One of God’s greatest creations, the Grand Canyon, formed from the rolling waters of the Colorado River. Change is inevitable and constant. Rather than fight it, let’s embrace a new future, one where humankind can see the Majesty in others that are not like them. A time when we truly realize that beauty comes in many colors and forms.”