I always knew that my father didn’t like his name—Hector—but I always assumed it was because he just didn’t like the way it sounded, or that it stood out in an unflattering way among his childhood peers, like ‘Mortimer’ or ‘Matilda.’ It turns out that it was because the name wasn’t white enough.
In recent years, Dad told me how in his youth he coveted his siblings’ names: Jim, Mack, Gloria (shortened to Glo), and Sam. Their names sounded more common, Dad told me, while his sounded more Mexican, which was exactly what he and his siblings and his parents were. To this day my father struggles with matters of his identity. That internalized tension, created by the colonial lens through which Dad saw himself and the world in which he grew up, was passed on to my white-passing brothers and me.
In her sermon from May 8 on Acts 9:36-43, the story of Jesus’ disciple Dorcas being raised from the dead by Peter, Brooke Dooley noted that Dorcas was a Jewish woman living in a Hellenistic world. As such, she had both an Aramaic and a Greek name, her Aramaic name—her given name—being Tabitha.
In the story, when Tabitha has died and her body is washed and lying in an upstairs room, Peter tells her to “get up,” but calls her by her pre-colonial Aramaic name, rather than the Greek one she was given in her Greek-speaking community. In her sermon, Brooke points out, “Calling Tabitha by her pre-colonial name acknowledges the validity of her existence outside of the colonial lens, and it has been suggested that this was an important part of bringing her back to life.”
The colonial lens is the one through which my father saw his name as a Mexican kid growing up in a culture that strived for affluence associated with whiteness. It is a lens of oppression and subjugation meant to keep people in their place in terms of race, gender, language usage, and even a “common” name at the expense of one’s given or chosen name.
I’m thinking of that colonial lens these days because of the internalized tension it has handed down to us from generation to generation in how we see women. With the news of Roe v. Wade possibly being overturned in the coming days, a narrative that speaks of women as being wombs rather than human beings is emboldening men to say publicly, “Your body is mine,” and, “You’re having my baby.” This way of seeing women, and of men seeing themselves in relation to women, denies the validity of our shared existence outside of the colonial lens, a lens of domination and subjugation. That internalized tension of patriarchal control over communal liberation is the state of numbness from which the Gospel of Jesus Christ call us to wake up and rise to new life where we see ourselves and one another through a pre-colonial lens that says, “You are Beloved. And because you are Beloved, you are meant to be free and to have autonomy over your name, your body, your personhood, yourself.”
Now that I know why my Dad did not embrace his given name in his youth, I am returning to it. I realize now that because he ran from it, I, too, was dismissive toward it. I paid the name ‘Hector’ no mind. But it turns out that Hector comes from the Greek word ‘Hektor’ which means “steadfast” or “to hold steadfast.” With that fresh understanding and new way of seeing my dad, not only do I appreciate him as a steadfast person in how he loves his family, his community, and himself, I see his name as a reflection of the steadfast love of God that liberates us from the sinful falsehoods we internalize about the world and ourselves in relation to it. As we are all called to claim and reclaim our given name as Beloved—the person we truly are as seen through God’s eyes, through the lens of empowering, unconditional love—we are also called to see one another through the liberating lens of Christ, God’s beloved son, that sees us for who we truly are and celebrates our undeniable identity. So, get up, Beloved, and be about that urgently needed work of setting people free from all forms of oppression and subjugation. Get up and follow Jesus in the good work of breaking chains and walking freely in the light of God.