Honorable mention — Persons of color essay contest: Isabelle Rosales

Fighting the pen, the cross and the sword

By Isabelle Rosales

One of the first times my humanity was questioned was when I was 12 years old in my Catholic school classroom. I remember the knots in my stomach as a discussion on the “sin” of homosexuality buzzed around me as my peers echoed biblical soundbites that all came to the conclusion that people like myself would spend eternity burning in hell.

Being raised Catholic felt synonymous with being a part of the Latinx community. After all, my ancestors are the colonized product of the Pen, the Cross and the Sword — a violent, trickle-down process I share blood with. As a first-generation Latinx student, I grew up attending Sunday Mass and participating in Catholic sacraments, knowing that my parents invested so much generational faith in the church and believing I needed to bear the same cross. As I grew older and my understanding of the world and myself began to change, so did my feelings about religion. I began to question everything, becoming as controversial as the apocryphal bible’s first defiant woman, Lilith.

When I started to become involved in activism in high school, I finally decided to leave religion. My love for history, particularly the seldom-told history of people of color, had had a profound effect on the way I viewed the purpose of religion. To this day, I personally believe that the institution of religion is the antithesis to everything I fight for. Religion has been used to promote imperialism, colonization, and warfare, and has upheld institutions of patriarchy, racism, and homophobia.

My life has been enhanced tremendously since I became nonreligious. Adopting a humanist philosophy has allowed me to value community, compassion, and empathy more than I have ever been able to through religion. These humanitarian values have been able to flourish with this philosophy and through activist work I’ve done in my community.

Additionally, one of the greatest ways my life has been enhanced has been the personal peace I’ve made with my authentic self.

I believe that being nonreligious has allowed me to be authentically altruistic. By believing in the inherent good of humanity, without the biases that come with religious teaching, I have been able to serve more communities without any sort of discomfort. Without religion’s biases constricting the choices that I make or holding any weight over the lives that I value, I feel more free and at peace with myself than I ever have. Choosing to stray from a generational beaten path has been one of the most liberating experiences of my life.

I found that one of the hardest parts I have had to overcome as a student of color is the rare feeling of alienation when I cannot connect with my community that upholds a religion that, for the majority, condemns my existence as a queer, pro-choice woman.

For students of color, religion is such a deeply ingrained value that our communities have used to deal with generational trauma. It can be difficult at

Isabelle Rosales

times for young students to separate themselves from what is so familiar to us. However, as activist Audre Lorde said, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house,” which is how I view religion when it comes to making social change.

I think that one of the ways in which the secular community can engage people of color is by becoming more visible to those who choose to become nonreligious and by actively supporting marginalized and vulnerable communities. By cultivating a sense of community, a student of color would be able to have a supportive group that fosters growth and learning, therefore making this controversial choice that much more fulfilling. Through this community’s support we can all shed the weight of the pen, the cross and the sword that hangs over us.

Isabelle, 21, is from Chandler, Ariz., and attends Arizona State University, studying journalism and Latinx. She considers herself a first-generation queer Latinx student organizer. Her professional goal is to create a place in the media where communities of color are represented fairly and celebrated for their talents.