As a student at Yale Divinity School (YDS) in New Haven, Conn., on course to graduate in 2017, Sergio Buezo recognized the school’s vast resources. Yet, he said, the Latino community which is everywhere, “has largely been ignored by Yale over the years.”
So Buezo, who has long been dedicated and passionate about working within the Latino community and uses education as his tool to make a difference, decided to utilize those resources.
The result: the first Hispanic Theology Conference this past month at the Yale Divinity School. The conference, titled “The Grass Is Brown on this Side of the Fence, Reading the Bible from Our Own Perspective,” aimed to unite and empower the Latino community. He worked with Cristina Vargas, and the coordination of La Comunicdad, a Hispanic students’ group at the school.
Buezo says the conference was a way to bridge the gap between the school and the Latino community. I don’t blame the University, but rather I have used the University to open a path in which we can go into the Latino community to encourage other Latinos to consider Yale as a viable option for higher education, or to use our resources here to make a difference in our community. Dr. González, [a keynote speaker at the conference], also feels the same; as a former Alumni of Yale, he understands that we need to do more in our community for Latinos.”
With the purpose in mind to showcase “all that I believe is good about Hispanic theology,” Buezo contacted three respected Hispanic theologians to lecture on a different aspect of Hispanic theology: Dr. Nora Lozano, Professor of Theological studies at Baptist University of the Américas and executive director and co-founder of the Latina Leadership Institute in San Antonio, Texas, was contacted to lecture on “Latina Leadership”; Dr. Daisy Machado, Professor of Church History at Union Theological Seminary in N.Y. City and first U.S. Latina ordained in the Christian Church, was asked to lecture on “Hispanic education within the United States”; and Rev. Dr. Justo L. González, a retired member of the Río Grande Conference of the United Methodist Church and ordained Methodist clergy, was invited to lecture on “Reading the Bible from a Hispanic Perspective.”
When Dr. Gonzalez was approached he added a small challenging caveat to his attendance: he said his participation would rest on Buezo contacting local Hispanic churches in the area.
Buezo readily complied. “For the past several months I visited many different Hispanic churches Pentecostals, Baptist, Methodist and more, to encourage them to attend the conference. This has allowed me to create new relationships within the community.”
Dr. González kept up his end of the bargain and on April 22nd delivered an engaging speech to the 50-plus eager listeners that gathered for the monumental event.
Dr. Lozano noted that she thought the incorporation of the churches and the surrounding Hispanic community was a very beneficial aspect of the conference. “I think the conference and the way it was presented had several goals; one of them was for Yale Divintiy School to try to connect with the Hispanic community, of course they recognize there are many around them, and to find ways that they can work together.”
She also expressed that the conference was important in terms of awareness and connection between the academic community and the surrounding Hispanic community, and added that “this was a way for the academic community to try to see how they can assist and help the growing Latino community in the area. …There’s just a lot of need to know the Hispanic community, and networking is very important to be able to connect with other groups that want to help.”
Dr. Lozano concluded by saying that she hoped that good things will come from the conference for both the school and the Latino community because “the Divinity School needs to be connected, grounded in a sense, to what is going on around them, and the Hispanic community needs to have access to the knowledge there at YDS.”
Buenoz said the conference was meant to accomplish just that. The idea was to draw the attention of the Latino community to Yale and Yale Divinity School, to make a connection and show that those at YDS are “not in another world,” and, in doing so, help bridge the gap between the Latino communities. “We want Latinos to know that Yale Divinity School and the Hispanics at Yale want to be more involved in what is going on in our community,” said Buenoz. “Additionally, we want to encourage the younger generations of Latinos to consider higher education…not just here at Yale, but anywhere.”
Dr. Machado spoke about the dismal numbers the Latino community has in higher education, and explained that Latinos are now becoming the largest minority group in the U.S. but are the lowest number of students in higher education. He also highlighted that Latinos still have the highest dropout rates in high schools, and argued that “that needs to change.” Dr. Machado gave a comprehensive overview on those figures and what the community has to do to make changes to help future students get ahead by educating themselves.
Dr. Lozano said of her participation in the conference that she considered it a privilege and that it was her responsibility to give back to the community. “I consider my education a gift and a blessing,” she said, “but a blessing that needs to be shared with other people. There was one day when I was struggling with this sense of identity, and thank God there were people that helped me along the way, and now I feel like I am just part of the chain, and I have to help the next generation of people, or whoever I can, to make peace with these issues and empower them.”
That is exactly what Buezo had hoped for the conference, and that those in attendance would feel empowered and encouraged. “The lectures were all meant to edify the people and encourage them to embrace their Hispanic heritage, while at the same time showing others the beauty we have as a culture.”