Capitalist Greed Caused Cultural Erasure of St. Paul Church

Karelly Alvarado, contributor

Photo of Debbie Luna speaking with  fellow protesters outside St. Paul’s Our Lady of Guadalupe church. Taken by Alex Kormann, Star Tribune on Nov. 21, 2021.

Our Lady of Guadalupe is a church located in St. Paul, a city that is rich in Hispanic culture and Indigenous roots. As a Mexican church, it has always been a safe space for undocumented immigrants and people of color. However, food drives and fundraisers to help the community and traditions like Sunday school, Aztec dancers, funeral services and Day of the Dead have been declining since 2018. It all started when a new priest came to town: Andrew Brinkman, a middle-aged white man. The previous priest, Kevin Kenney, was also white, but at least he acknowledged our culture and participated in many traditional events. Brinkman, on the other hand, has come to abolish many Mexican traditions that brought our community together.

I’ve been to this church ever since I was a baby. One day, I noticed how the changes have snuck in – Brinkman would talk on and on about donations and even tried to belittle people by saying, “You can buy a coffee and buy groceries but can’t give us money?” It was despicable. It weighs on me to see our people blindly follow his words. There used to be a beautiful mariachi-style group who would sing during mass, but they’ve now been replaced by one piano player and one singer, both of whom are white. The values the church will lose will be lost because of capitalism.

This is a clear example of modern colonization. Capitalists use these vulnerable spaces to make money. They are thinking, “How can we exploit these people and gain something from them?” This space should not have been changed whatsoever because of its booming, diverse community and the generations of families that continue to go to this church. Ever since the new priest came to town, our community felt the effects of that erasure – no more celebrations, no more donation drives, and little to no diversity in the staff. The people of the church organized a protest outside demanding the reversal of these changes, and even created a petition to eliminate Brinkman. Standing up to this injustice is just one step closer to change, and shows that our culture shouldn’t be swept under the rug.

This church is important to me because it taught me the values of friendship, leadership, and female empowerment. The Virgin María de Guadalupe is not only a Catholic figure and the name of the church, but also a symbol of Brown female power, anti-capitalism, and Native resistance. It is crucial for younger generations to be exposed to environments like these because they can open the door to new experiences as well as getting to know the traditions that we have practiced for many decades. These churches are not only a space for prayer, but also a space to make friends, socialize with one another and organize special events. We sing, we dance, we eat, we cry and we laugh in this space. There is no lower class, middle class, or upper class – only unity and organization. When you try to destroy these traditions, you create unnecessary problems for both yourself and entire generations.

I know many Augsburg students that live in St. Paul and have at least heard of what has happened. We are a school centered on Christian values and have always tried to include diversity. Cultural history and religious tradition go hand in hand, it does not feel right to pray when you are being controlled by capitalists. We should all value Latine, LGBTQ+ and BIPOC culture in our own churches – even at Augsburg. If these cultures are being erased from our churches, we have to stand up and demand change. It is important to value culture and keep our traditions alive. We cannot see our people fall victim to greedy capitalists.