Challenges Facing a Bi-cultural Parish
A Service of the Parish Evaluation Project
September, 2015A New Co-Worker With A New Perspective My name is Maria Gabriela Garcia and I am the newest member of the PEP team. I am not new to this work because I have been part of three Paris h Assessment and Renewal (PAR) projects over the last few years. I have moved to Milwaukee from the Denver area where I lived for the last 20 years. I was a member of the St. Michael the Archangel staff when it went through the PAR process in 2011. What follows are my thoughts regarding three challenges facing Hispanic parishioners in a Catholic parish. Language Differences One challenge that I experienced was the many different Spanish dialects present in a multi-cultural parish. It is difficult to translate something from English into Spanish that will be understood by those of different backgrounds and cultures. This is something I noticed as a staff person at St. Michael’s. What seemed to work best was translating the messages not word for word but getting the meaning across in a simplified manner. What also helped further communication and clarify understanding was the constant use of visual aids. These included using many pictures and diagrams in brochures, posters and banners so there was one easily understood message and visual that was the same for both English and Spanish. The most important approach is to have at least one person who knows exactly what needs to be communicated and spends the time to explain the message to the Spanish-speakers, and answers any questions people have in order to make sure the message has been understood completely. That person can also take back to those who created the English message any concerns or issues mentioned by the Hispanic parishioners. Two Communities Rather Than One A second issue regarding parishes with a significant number of Hispanics is the feeling of being in two separate camps. It can be a mutual experience for both English-speaking and Spanish-speaking parishioners. There are different wants and needs in each language group. Hispanic parishioners celebrate special moments in a person’s life, such as the reception of a Sacrament or when an individual reaches a certain age, either 3 years or 15 years old. For the Hispanics, these celebrations are done as a family unit, while for the English-speakers, celebrations are done as a total parish. With Masses and religious education done in separate languages, there are different ways for celebrating events. The result is two separate parishes running parallel with little interaction and connection. To overcome this separation, there needs to be parish events that are common to all cultures. For example, my home parish sponsors an “International Rosary.” People are invited ahead of time to take turns leading the Hail Mary in their own language, and others of the same culture join in. They also bring their own Marian statues common to their tradition. Fear of Parish-Wide Leadership The third challenge is finding Hispanics who are willing to join parish leadership groups. This is difficult because it means, in effect, spending twice the effort than is required of others. The Hispanic leaders must first completely understand what is going on and then must communicate this back to the Hispanic community in ways they can understand. Another issue is that Hispanic parishioners do not always take seriously what is relayed to them by those in parish leadership positions. This is because there is a reluctance to make any changes in how they wish to participate in the life of the parish. One way of over-coming this is by personally inviting bi-lingual Hispanics who are trusted among their peers and letting them know how they are appreciated for accepting the role of being bridge-builders and communicators between the various cultures.
Maria Gabriela Garcia, Debora Elkins, Tom Sweetser, SJ