Latinx pastor shares a recent experience of racism

September 14, 2020

Pastor Alicia Vélez Stewart serves the Bridgewater and East Bridgewater United Methodist churches in Massachusetts. She shared the following with the Conference Commission on Religion and Race. Read a letter from CCORR about sharing this testimony.

I wanted to make you all aware of something that occurred Aug. 27, 2020. I am making this public for the purposes of reminding us all that we talk about anti-racist work here in New England it is not because racism is something that does not occur in our corner of the nation. Racism is alive and well and the work to be anti-racist is imperative. 
Not long after a local newspaper article was published about the new Latinx pastor in town, I came to the East Bridgewater church and found two cans of Goya black beans perfectly placed on the front steps of the church. Middle step, right in the middle of the step, labels perfectly pointing out. I pushed them to the side because of how offensive it was. Our church secretary came into the building after I did, saw the cans on the steps, and brought them in to me. They now sit on my bookcase in my office (see photo above). 

Alicia Vélez Stewart
Please be aware of the following details: There is no food pantry at our church. There is no donation bin at our church. There are signs everywhere stating that we are not taking donations for even the thrift shop. One would have to be completely off the grid to not be aware of the recent, very public, and politicized connection between Goya, our current elected government officials, and the Latinx community. 
I have prayerfully and carefully thought about this. There is no doubt in my mind that this was NOT a donation but instead something else. This was without a doubt a passive aggressive message of hate speech and xenophobia. 
I addressed the action this past Sunday during our offertory moment. I thanked our generous anonymous donor and assured them — whoever they are — that the cans will find a home. The cans were then placed on the altar as an offering and a means of "turning swords into plowshares." 
East Bridgewater is no stranger to racism. In the last year there have been several incidents of targeted hate speech in the school systems and posted propaganda in town and in the surrounding areas of Brockton, Bridgewater, and Middleboro. 
I wanted to let you know that this happened. I don’t know if there is anything you all can do other than keep me and our community in prayer. It is clear to me that we have a lot of hurting people in our world who are acting out from a place of fear over their changing world and reality. This is not about me; this is about our society's changing landscape and image. 
As some of you know (and some of you are learning about me), I am not the first person to jump to an anti-BIPOC conclusion and I have been doing anti-racist and inclusion work for a long time. Again, there is no question in my mind that these cans were meant to be something hateful. I look forward to turning this experience into something beautiful through prayer, presence, and education. 
Thank you for your attention to this. I can assure you that this does not change my ability to be pastoral. If nothing else, it has made me even more determined to continue to preach the Gospel. That will only be accomplished by continuing to be who I am, unapologetically. Please keep us in prayer as our churches continue to do the hard work of living out the Gospel in creative and effective ways.