10th place: Students of color essay contest — Manuela Cano

Manuela Cano

Parting from religion as Latinx woman

FFRF awarded Manuela $300.

By Manuela Cano

As a Hispanic woman of color, my personal relationship with religion has been synonymous with sexism and shame. Like many others within the Latinx community, I was raised Catholic and was expected to adhere to the Catholic doctrine. It is no secret that this doctrine treats women differently than it treats men. Positions of authority within the church, notably members of the clergy, are exclusively male, women being barred from such roles. However, the disempowerment of women is not the extent of the church’s gender bias. A substantial amount of sexual shaming occurs on behalf of the Catholic Church, and it falls disproportionately on women. 

At 11 years old, I recall an adult male family member warning me that sex before marriage would be a sin that I would regret for the rest of my life. Unprompted. I was 11. At that point in my life, I had hardly a concept of sexuality or intimacy of any kind. Yet, due to religion, I was forced to contemplate what it meant to be a sexual being from a young age.

These sorts of comments were never directed toward my older brother or male peers. Young girls within the Catholic Church are expected to live with the implication that the sin of lust falls on their shoulders alone. 

As I hit puberty, I began to feel the natural emotions that the church deemed to be immoral. I felt a staggering level of guilt that I could never truly be free from, as I could never escape the perceived scrutiny of the vague, omnipotent god I was taught existed.

Additionally, although I am not personally a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I had many close friends confide in and come out to me. I cherished these friends of mine. Even from a relatively young age, I never felt as though there was anything “wrong” with them. Bigotry is taught, and my church certainly tried to teach it. Even catechism directed toward children dedicated a significant amount of time toward the “evils” of being gay. I could not stand to accept the teachings of a religion that antagonized communities simply because of their sexuality or gender identity.

As a practicing Catholic, I felt that my silent acquiescence to the church’s treatment of queer individuals made me complicit in its discrimination. For these reasons, I lost all respect for the Catholic Church. I turned away from it entirely, and I reject religion to this day.

Despite my negative relationship with the Catholic Church, there is one element that is rarely present within secular spaces that I connected to within the walls of my family’s place of worship. Mass was one of the relatively few times in my life where I could sit among a crowd that looked like me and spoke Spanish like me. For Hispanic-Americans, and I would assume for many other communities of color, religious gatherings can act as one of few tangible connections to our culture that exist within the United States. For me, the loss of that cultural connection has been hard to reconcile.

I feel as though the secular community can better engage people of color by helping to foster cultural connections outside of the sphere of religion. It can be that much more challenging to leave a faith if it is closely tied to one’s community, as some may see their church as less of a religious entity and more a net of support. As secular individuals, we must be prepared to offer that support.

Manuela, 19, attends the University of South Carolina, majoring in integrated information technology. “I was born in Greenville, S.C., but am the proud daughter of two Colombian immigrants,” Manuela writes. “My mother and father raised my brother and me in a bilingual household, sparking a lifelong interest in international languages and literature.”