Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. FFRF.org

5th place — Alondra Vega Rivera: Spanish-speaking heathen

Vol. 35 No. 7 September 2018
Alondra Vega Rivera                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

FFRF awarded Alondra $600.

By Alondra Vega Rivera

I

n Hispanic and Latin American cultures, day-to-day life is permeated with religion. For most Hispanics in particular, the Catholic Church is ever-present in their lives. Growing up Puerto Rican, I was baptized before I could walk or talk, and from then on my life was constantly submersed in the Catholic Church. I spent a great majority of the first eight years of my life with my maternal grandparents. My grandfather got ordained as a deacon when I was 4, and my grandmother led a prayer group that met up every first Friday of the month. Coincidentally, I always had those days off from school, so I would spend it with them, the only child among a sea of old ladies and some of their husbands, sitting around one of their houses praying over a rosary for hours.

I began catechism at the age of 5, and weekends since then were spent at church. At the time, I didn’t understand what I was doing, but it seemed to make my family proud, so I did it without question. I sang the hymns, read the psalms, participated actively in my church for the next few years, doing my first communion at age 7. That’s also when I started questioning whether the church actually meant anything. Did prayer have any effect? Did God truly exist? I remember asking my grandmother, and her getting increasingly agitated until she told me I was too young to be thinking that, and to stop asking questions. So I kept quiet — for years.

As time went on, I found myself straying further and further from religion. I kept attending church, but while I had been raised in it, the rites all seemed alien to me. I felt distanced and cast aside, alienated by my lack of faith. During high school, I found friends that felt similarly, with similar experiences, having been raised religious and yet being nonbelievers themselves. It was there where I was able to have the most in-depth discussions about religion with my nonreligious and religious peers alike, from a position of respect. There, I was able to formulate my own views. I came to understand religion as a coping mechanism for many, a way to give meaning and purpose to their lives and establish control over the unknown, despite having developed into a system of hierarchy and oppression.

Of course, I could tell none of this to my family. There was a night when I had a project coming up and still had more than half the work to do when my father decided he would take me to church. I told him I couldn’t go because I had to work, and he got angry and left. My mother came by my room a few minutes later to ask if I believed in God, to which I replied “no.” She got extremely angry and began shouting at me, telling me I was bound for nothing but hell, and that I was going to lose everything I had. It hurt, and I was still forced to go to church, crying during the car ride with my father and lying all the way, telling him I did believe — just differently. I don’t think he believed me. My grandmother caught on and constantly told me I should believe in God, and blamed my generation for not doing so.

Being a non-religious Hispanic person has meant being alienated not only from my family, but from my culture. I have been sent to camps and counselors to try and “correct” me, to get me to see God, and yet it doesn’t work. I understand why people need religion, but I don’t want it. It’s just not right for me.

Alondra, 18, from Carolina, Puerto Rico, attends Ecuslea de Artes Plasticas y Diseno de Puerto Rico. She would like to get a degree in graphic design and become an illustrator for movies, games books and other media.