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National Hispanic Heritage Month is Sept. 15-Oct. 15. During this month, we’ll be posting snapshots of Latino/a leaders from across the Mennonite church.
Pictured here you can see Seferina de León (center left) and Gracie Torres (center right) leading a prayer and song of unity at the Cross Cultural Youth Convention in 1972.
Seferina de León, originally of Mathis, Texas, is a leader in Latino/a Mennonite circles. She first encountered Mennonites as a teenager and started to attend the Mennonite Church in Mathis at age 15. Later she attended Hesston (Kansas) College.
Gracie Torres was a Puerto Rican whose family migrated to the Bronx, New York in the 1930’s. She met Mennonites in the 1960’s while ministering at a hospital and in 1970 she moved with her husband, Neftali, to Chicago where he would pastor the Lawndale Mennonite Church. At Lawndale, she was part of the choir.
Both de León and Torres were instrumental in helping to plan and launch conferences for Latina Mennonites that began in 1973 and still continue today. Along with their husbands, Lupe and Neftali, both women were leaders connected to the Mennonite Minority Ministries Council (MMC), a coalition of African-American, Latino and Native American leaders across the church in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Although many women were influential in the work of the MMC, they were not all recognized as formal members.
Both women were musicians and helped to create a worship style that blended influences from both of their contexts and experiences, including S. Texas, evangelical Christian music, songs from the Civil Rights movement and more. Together they led music at early Latina conferences that quickly spread across Latino/a Mennonite churches across the country. Through the MMC, the two women released an album of “Spanish-language gospel music.”
In an interview with Felipe Hinojosa, de León said the conferences were, “…a time for women to come, and where the husbands could stay with the children, so we can be refreshed…and we would sing, pray, and share.” (pg. 150, Latino Mennonites: Civil Rights, Faith and Evangelical Culture)
To learn more about the work of de León, Torres and other Latina Mennonites, read Felipe Hinojosa’s book, Latino Mennonites: Civil Rights, Faith & Evangelical Culture.
Photo credit: Mennonite Publishing House (Scottdale, Pa.) Audiovisuals: Photographs, 1910-2002. VI-10-001. Drawer 1, Folder 45. Mennonite Church USA Archives – Elkhart. Elkhart, Indiana.
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