Hallelujah, There Are Hispanics

If you come from a religious family, you know the dreaded feeling of being dragged out of bed on a Sunday because your family has to run to church. However, as the good, abiding daughters we are, we put smiles on our faces and brave through the hour-long preaching. I thought my years of going to church unwillingly were over, but my mother had other plans. Instead of sleeping in on Sundays (as most other Gators do), I wake up relatively early and get ready for church.

If you come from a religious family, you know the dreaded feeling of being dragged out of bed on a Sunday because your family has to run to church. However, as the good, abiding daughters we are, we put smiles on our faces and brave through the hour-long preaching. I thought my years of going to church unwillingly were over, but my mother had other plans. Instead of sleeping in on Sundays (as most other Gators do), I wake up relatively early and get ready for church.

If anyone would like to doubt my love for God or my mother, let me tell you that I take the RTS bus on Sundays. That should be enough evidence, especially because the bus runs as often as I exercise (not often). It took me a while to find a Catholic church here in Gainesville. Yet, one day as I scurried off to class through the Plaza of the Americas, I stopped at the Catholic Gators table. Immediately, I was met with warmth and found out that they offered a Spanish mass. After informing my mother, we planned to go that Sunday, and we’ve been going ever since.

Which church is it?

For those looking for a Hispanic inclusive church, St. Augustine takes the cake. Conveniently located in Midtown (next to The Social), St. Augustine is perfect for any student living in a dorm or close to campus. The mass I attend is the 1:30 p.m. Spanish mass. They offer a bunch of activities during the week as well as Sunday masses in English.

Hooray for Hispanics

There’s something about being surrounded by Hispanics that makes me feel at home. Each Sunday, a congregation of Hispanic families and students come to mass. The sound of Spanish speakers is like music to my ears. Although, I’m on high-alert because now everyone around me can understand what I say in English and in Spanish, which means no gossiping. However, it seems as though I missed the memo on what is appropriate to wear at church. Everyone who steps into God’s home looks elegant and classy, meanwhile I’m simply wearing jeans and t-shirt. As my mom puts it “Dios no juzga,” which means God doesn’t judge.

St. Augustine might be the most organized church of Hispanics I’ve ever seen. As you walk, you’re greeted with a book of hymns and a breakdown of the mass, which is perfect for me because I have no idea what to do during mass. The first time I went to mass, I dropped my metal water bottle on the floor, and it echoed mid-prayer. Fingers crossed people took it as a sign from God (my mom took it as a sign that I’m a mess).

Blessed be the bongos

Fun fact about me: I was a very talented bongo player when I was younger. As a result, I have a soft spot for bongos, and it felt great to be reunited with my first love. Usually, at mass you sing hymns and move on. At St. Augustine, there’s a band playing a plethora of instruments and a group of singers that could rival Destiny’s Child. The music playing throughout the mass gives an authentic taste of what Hispanic culture is. Hispanics enjoy life, we look toward things in a positive manner because we know God is willing. 

The hardest part of having the music being played is standing still during mass. Even though I don’t know how to dance, I still wobble my knees left and right. The music just adds to the amazingness of the community at St. Augustine.

Hispanic heritage food festival

Last Sunday, my mother and I had the warm surprise of a Hispanic food festival after mass. Firstly, I was starving and took solace in the large amounts of food each table (country) had to offer. We hit up the Nicaraguan table and found “Pioquinto” a dessert dish that includes milk, rum (key ingredient in any Hispanic household) and chocolate. Then, at the Puerto Rican table, there was fried bacalao, fried yuca and rice with green pigeon peas. We drank a delicious orange soda spritzer and Pozole (stew) from Mexico. The Venezuelan table had arroz con leche, natilla (pudding) and coquito (a coconut dessert).

It felt great to go around the world, surrounded by my local Hispanic community. There was so much offered, and each plate was not only filled with food but with love and understanding, too. It brought me joy to see my mom’s face light up when surrounded by our brothers and sisters. She also enjoyed the fact that she could eat Hispanic food without having to be the one to cook it.

The people

Wholeheartedly, it is the people who make St. Augustine incredible. From the Cuban priest with a sassy attitude, who was a godsend after weeks of listening to a white priest reading off a Spanish script. The first time I met the Cuban priest, I was overwhelmingly surprised that a priest could be so bluntly honest. It was refreshing and endearing to have a priest who could tell it to you straight. The first thing he preached was that people ought to be on time, especially if you’re coming to church. He was right, but some of us didn’t expect him to call us out. I look forward to attending his masses because he engages with us and detaches the pedantic nature of the Bible to make it more relatable to us.

Then there’s the heart and soul of the church: a Puerto Rican man who brings a smile to just about anyone he crosses paths with. He knows the hymns better than the back of his hand. He sings them so passionately it evokes a deeper appreciation within me for the church.

One of my favorite parts of church since I was younger is the exchange of peace. You shake the hands of the people around you and wish peace upon them. When I hold hands with my fellow Hispanics, I feel pure peace; I know that the blood that runs through their veins is the same blood that runs through mine. We may come from different countries, backgrounds, social classes, but we are united by the bond of being Hispanic in a country notoriously against Hispanics. Through adversity we stand tall and wish peace upon all who we come across. I am fortunate enough to have St. Augustine to stand proudly with and to provide me with a home away from home.