BYU Chicano Scholar Opens Up About His Spiritual Journey

The first 25 years of Ignacio Garcia’s existence comes to life on paper with the publication of “Chicano While Mormon: Activism, War, and Keeping the Faith.” In his deeply personal memoir, Brigham Young University professor Ignacio Garcia writes about his activist past, combat experience, and navigating the Mormon faith with his Latin roots. For those incredibly vexing years, Garcia was involved in civil rights, went to war for his country, and came to grips with the difficulties of being a Mormon of color.

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Garcia says his book was intended to talk about his civil rights activist history and also talk about how he dealt with his faith. He believes his book, among other purposes, will contribute to the current conversation about race and invite more dialogue. “There is a much more diverse Mormon world out there. This was a way for me to say it. I really enjoyed it writing the book,” he says.

Memoirs from members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints written by people of color are rare. Garcia says he attempted to not only write a story about his experience within Mormon culture but beyond the four walls of Mormonism. “My memoir is about living Mormonism outside of a bubble, both in the army, the civil rights [movement], and college. It was about how complicated that can be,” Garcia explains. He talks about his struggle to get Chicano scholars and Chicano activists to see him as one of them, as opposed to being a Mormon, and to get Mormons see him as one of them because he is a Chicano scholar. “That navigation has never given me an uncomplicated space because mine has not had the privilege of being in that safe space.”

On Matters of Faith

Part of the reason why the book title includes “keeping the faith” is because Chicano says he has had to keep the faith in all phases of his life, not just as an army member and activist. “I had to keep the faith not only in my religion but in my humanity and my faith as a person of color in American society and the struggles that that in itself brings up that we are always outside the mainstream. All of this, plus me being a Mormon of color, added a huge complication,” Garcia says.

Irrespective of personal backgrounds, Garcia’s book offers something for even a casual reader. He says that individuals, whether or not they are Latino will see something they have dealt with. Readers will be surprised to realize that there are many Latter-day Saints like him “who grew up in different circumstances and had to call upon the purity of the idea and the message rather than the nicely-packaged Mormonism (which is comfortable and is embracing). We would rather have it that way, but not all of us were born in this reality,” Garcia says.

Latino, Male, or Mormon?

Garcia has many labels: Hispanic, Mormon, scholar, educator, and husband, to name a few. His response is that you can’t necessarily separate those things. “There are things that I don’t embrace of my Latino heritage but there are some things of Mormonism as a cultural manifestation (apart from the social aside from the gospel) that I have not embraced.”

In some ways you can’t separate who you are, Garcia says, but you can reject things within what you are that you don’t find in line with, for example, the gospel and that sometimes means stepping outside of our cultural bubble. “The gospel of Jesus Christ that we live in is bigger than Mormonism, liberalism, conservatism, or bigger than politics or gender,” Garcia says. “We see life and the gospel through the filter we are: color or gender, because the gospel helps us navigate the world we find ourselves in, not the one we create, but in the image and reality of who we are.”

You can read more about Garcia’s memoir here.

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