The Flavor of our Faith

Reflections on Hispanic Life and Christian Faith by Karen Valentin with Rev

by C.H. Doyle

6 October 2005

 

Soul Food

As the United States’ population becomes more culturally diverse, learning about one another and finding our common experiences becomes essential. One of over 40 million Hispanics now living in the United States, author Karen Valentin brings a Christian and Hispanic voice to the cultural discussion now taking place in The Flavor of Our Faith: Reflections on Hispanic Life and Christian Faith. Valentin uses food as metaphor in this book of personal reflections on growing up Hispanic and Christian in the United States. Arranged in typical devotion format, each of the 56 brief meditations begins with a scriptural quotation and concludes with a prayer. Using her own experiences as well as family stories, Valentin explores her feelings of cultural and spiritual disconnect with stories about prejudice, culture, and language. By sharing these stories of outward differences, the author demonstrates how similar we are on the inside.

Like many immigrant parents, Valentin’s mother and father spoke to each other in their native tongue, but spoke English to their children. Valentin’s resulting lack of Spanish language skills heightened her feelings of disconnection when she was among her Latino relatives, but neither did she identify with the Anglo community. Although raised in a Christian family, Valentin describes similar feelings of distance from God until she experienced a life-changing weekend chronicled in the section, “Youth Retreat”.

cover art

The Flavor of Our Faith

Karen Valentin with Rev. Edwin Aymat

Reflections on Hispanic Life and Christian Faith

(Doubleday)

Valentin goes on to give clues to her difficulty reconciling two cultures in “What’s in a Name?” She explains that her mother discarded her given Latino name, Concepcíon, to use the Anglicized Connie. Both Connie and her sister gave their own children solid “American” names. Several meditations focus on cultural prejudice. In “Oh, What Big Hips You Have!”, a fashion design instructor criticizes the models Valentin drew in class. The author explains that she based her models on the women she knew instead of “tall, white, and super slim.” She discredits expectations of how a Latino, specifically a Puerto Rican, should look in “Not Just Butter Pecan”.

Valentin explains Hispanic reliance on herbal and home remedies. She points out that obedience and respect were expected in Hispanic homes and punishment was swiftly administered with chancelatas (slippers). She also recalls how her mother reacted to her grandfather’s traditional views. In addition to her own difficulties with Spanish, Valentin speaks about her family and friend’s experiences with English. Valentin listens as a little sister corrects a friend’s pronunciation. “No English” shares the story of a woman who remained immersed in the Hispanic community until a divorce forced her to confront her lack of English skills.

The Hispanic/Anglo issues addressed by Valentin contain universal cultural themes. Many fondly recall happy mealtimes in a grandmother’s kitchen, no matter whether the meal was rice and beans, chicken soup, or stir-fry. In any culture, the feelings of an awkward 13-year-old facing junior high resonate. Whether Valentin describes a visit to distant relatives or working in the church, she provides a snack in each meditation, no matter what one’s ethnic cuisine may be.

Not intended for consumption as a single feast, The Flavor of Our Faith provides daily treats to provoke thought and discussion. In Latino literary fashion, the prose is flavored in a few spots with poetry. English only readers will find the few Spanish words and phrases explained in the text or defined in the glossary.

Valentin leads off the book with a tender reminiscence of her grandmother, but with its passive voice, it is a curious choice to draw in the reader. A few of the stories need more detail to satisfy fully—Valentin should add a few more beans to the rice. The back jacket of the book uses the word unique to describe the collection and claims it is the first to tailor meditations for Hispanic Christians. With its tired meditation format of Bible verse, feel good story, and concluding prayer, the collection is hardly groundbreaking. It is a useful addition to understanding one another in the growing cultural diversity of the United States.

The book, however, is best employed as a personal daily devotional guide or as discussion starters for a group. Simultaneously published in Spanish (as El Sabor de Nuestra Fe), the Spanish and English versions used together are a good resource for faith based language classes.

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