#WeAreMenno: Latino/a Mennonites transforming the church

Hinojosa recognized for scholarly work on Latino Mennonites: Civil Rights, Faith & Evangelical Culture

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By Janie Beck Kreider

Felipe Hinojosa, associate professor in the History Department at Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, and author of Latino Mennonites: Civil Rights, Faith & Evangelical Culture, which won the 2015 Américo Paredes Book Award. (Photo provided)
Felipe Hinojosa, associate professor in the History Department at Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, and author of Latino Mennonites: Civil Rights, Faith & Evangelical Culture, which won the 2015 Américo Paredes Book Award. (Photo provided)

Felipe Hinojosa is associate professor in the History Department at Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, specializing in Latina/o-Chicana/o History. He is the son of a Mennonite pastor who first encountered Mennonites as a migrant farm worker in Archbold, Ohio. Hinojosa grew up in the border town of Brownsville, Texas, attending Iglesia Menonita del Cordero, the Mennonite church his parents planted there in the early ’70s.

(Mennonite Church USA) — In the late ’90s, Felipe Hinojosa heard Neftali Torres, a Puerto Rican Mennonite pastor, preach a sermon in the Mexican border town of Matamoros, Tamaulipas, on Mennonites in Latin America.

At this gathering of Mexican Mennonite pastors, Torres spoke about a small multi-ethnic group of Latino and African-American Mennonites who joined together to form the Minority Ministries Council, which operated in the Mennonite Church from 1968 to 1973.

After his sermon, Torres invited Hinojosa to go get some tacos — an encounter that would change the course of his academic career.

“We talked about black and brown Mennonites who worked to open the doors of the church to minorities,” recalls Hinojosa. “I fell in love with the story.

This is the narrative Hinojosa would continue to piece together through oral history interviews in Chicago, Puerto Rico, Indiana and South Texas for the next 15 years. It would become the focus of his recently published book, Latino Mennonites: Civil Rights, Faith & Evangelical Culture, which won the 2015 Américo Paredes Book Award.

Latino Mennonites explores the dynamics of power, religion and gender in the inter-ethnic coalition that formed the Minority Ministries Council. It tells the story of preachers-turned-social justice advocates who transformed the Mennonite Church from the grassroots.

More than anything, Hinojosa hopes that this will be a book for people in the pews.

“We talk about Latinos as if we are the new kids on the block — the immigrants, the people without a history in this church,” he says. “My driving passion was to document the forgotten history, to reorient how we talk about Latino Mennonites and the fight they’ve been engaged in for many years to be a part of this denomination, to be considered brothers and sisters in this church.”

Cover of Latino Mennonites: Civil Rights, Faith & Evangelical Culture by Felipe Hinojosa (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014)
Cover of Latino Mennonites: Civil Rights, Faith & Evangelical Culture by Felipe Hinojosa (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014)

In Latino Mennonites, Hinojosa weaves together church and social history, not only giving voice to an untold, forgotten piece of one religious community’s story, but also speaking to the politics of belonging beyond the Mennonite Church. Receiving the Américo Paredes Book Award was a “tremendous honor” for Hinojosa, he says, and validation that even people “who don’t know a thing about the Mennonites” resonate with the powerful impact of this story.

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Images available:

Felipe Hinojosa, associate professor in the History Department at Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, and author of Latino Mennonites: Civil Rights, Faith & Evangelical Culture, which won the 2015 Américo Paredes Book Award. (Photo provided)

Cover of Latino Mennonites: Civil Rights, Faith & Evangelical Culture by Felipe Hinojosa (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014), available here.