Identity puzzle conceptEditor’s note: This post is part 2 of a series written by Dr. M. Daniel Carroll Rodas on a trip to Tijuana ( Read Part 1 here.). Both posts originally appeared on Dr. M. Daniel Carroll Rodas’s blog on the Denver Seminary website. Permission was given by the author to repost.

Among the U.S. university students of InterVarsity that participated in the Tijuana trip were several Hispanics. It was interesting talking with them because it is clear that they wrestle with who they are. Defining and living out their own cultural identity, in other words, is a major burden; the same was true for the Asian-American students on the trip.

Some had Mexican backgrounds; others had some roots in El Salvador or Guatemala. One or both parents were from south of the border, and each household in its own way has struggled with how to handle its Latin American background–the food, the Spanish language, customs, and values–within the broader Anglo-majority culture.  For example, some spoke good Spanish; others understood the language but were more unsure of speaking it; and for some, English was their first language. All of this reflected their parents’ choices about speaking Spanish at home or avoiding it in order to help, in their view, their children’s integration into this country. Some had grandparents and other relatives who spoke little or no English, which complicated their processing of their identity. The choice of schools, the ethnicity of their friends, the ethnic makeup of their Christian college groups and churches–their processing of identity takes place at so many levels, and in a variety of social settings.

It is interesting to see that these issues of foreigners integrating into a new land are also visible in the biblical text. Joseph, for instance, takes on an Egyptian name, marries an Egyptian woman, and works for the Egyptian government–even as he gives his two sons Israelite names, does not forget his mother tongue, and desires to be buried in his homeland. Daniel asks to maintain his diet and is faithful to his religious beliefs, while he has his name changed and is trained to serve the Babylonian empire. Ezra, more than anything else, wants to leave that foreign land and return to create an obedient Torah community. Nehemiah, on the other hand, serves the Persian king, even as he listens for word from home and travels there for a while to oversee the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls. Esther, whose name is Persian, also has a Jewish name–Hadassah–and her story chronicles her growing awareness of her responsibility to her people. Mordechai did well in exile–a fact revealed by his sitting at the city gate with other prominent men; in contrast, Psalm 137 expresses the humiliation and anger of living far away from home and of being mocked by the Babylonians.

There is such a wide range of experiences of assimilation and emotional responses to those challenges in these biblical characters–and among the students in the Tijuana project, who grew up in the US. The Bible can teach us a lot about God’s love for the migrant, but it also is a window into their conflicted lives. It is important to appreciate that immigration discussions should involve not only issues related to the border, but also the realities of immigrant life here in a foreign land–particularly those of the second generation, those children of parents who made the trek to the US years ago.


M. Daniel Carroll R. (Rodas) is distinguished professor of Old Testament at Denver Seminary and the national spokesperson on immigration for the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. He is the author of Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church, and the Bible (Baker Academic, 2008). A second edition will appear this December. He obtained his ThM from Dallas Theological Seminary and his PhD from the University of Sheffield.

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