Throughout my life, I have been interested in learning how and why cultures form the way they do. My name is Kristin Tolentino, and I’m currently studying anthropology and philosophy at Sarah Lawrence College. I’ll be interning with Americans United this summer, and you’ll see my thoughts on “The Wall of Separation” blog.
Born and raised on the island of Guam, I had come to learn that its colonial history with Spain had cemented Catholicism into the local identity and traditions. Yet even when I associate the imposition of Catholicism with a violent colonial past, what I could immediately see before me was the reality that those I loved – my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and close friends – had found within it a sense of community and purpose. Guam’s culture of Chamoru includes the value of chenchule’, or social reciprocity, which is seen most vividly at religious gatherings – be it providing food for village fiestas or acting as hosts for a family’s novenas offered entirely in our native tongue. To my surprise, religious rituals and traditions remain a cornerstone that keeps our culture intact.
Although I remained skeptical, I had come to realize that the feelings religion evokes and its derived value is something both entirely personal and cultural. To live in accordance with what gives us purpose, be it secular or religious, is something to be determined by and for ourselves alone.
True religious freedom not only recognizes but celebrates and protects the differences of what has made us who we are and how we fit into our world. Throughout history, we have seen how religion has been weaponized to give reason to violence inflicted on the disempowered. Rather than appearing as the spiteful, willful ignorance it truly is, bigotry now rebrands itself as someone’s infallible, spiritual prerogative.
On a seemingly daily basis, we are relegated to believing that present circumstances are an inevitability, contingent on the interests of only the most powerful – that these are unfortunate yet necessary developments we must now force ourselves to accept.
Enacting social and political change is unachievable through our isolated, individual efforts. Alone, we are inconsequential; so it is necessary to remember that we are indeed not alone in this fight.
Fortunately, AU reminds me that power is not only wielded by government officials or corporate tycoons, but that we, as a unified collective, are empowered insofar as we believe our cause is worthwhile.