Posted on December 28, 2004

Posadas Take a Political Turn

Teresa Watanabe, Los Angeles Times, Dec. 23

Mary and Joseph’s futile search for a room at the inn in Bethlehem might, two millenniums later, seem an unlikely inspiration for skits about police brutality, class inequities and job discrimination in Santa Monica.

But that’s what happened on a chilly night this week at St. Anne Catholic Church, where a crowd of more than 100 gathered with candles and carols to give the timeless Christmas story a modern political twist.

“Cholo!” roared one youth playing the role of a police officer, as he scuffled with Jesse Tovar, a 16-year-old student from University High School in Los Angeles, cast as an “innocent person of color.” “You’re from a gang, huh?”

“Racista!” retorted Tovar, the son of Mexican immigrants. Later, he said he identified with the rejection faced by Mary and Joseph as young, poor migrants from another land.

In Latino communities worldwide, it is the season of Las Posadas, a beloved tradition of candlelight processions reenacting over the nine nights before Christmas the Holy Family’s search for shelter.

Today, many posadas remain primarily religious, featuring Gospel readings and actors outfitted as angels and Jesus’ parents who lead a procession of people to ask for housing at several places before being admitted at a final stop. Other posadas are mainly parties, with an emphasis on the pozole stew and pinatas that usually follow the procession.

But several churches are using posadas to connect the biblical story with such modern issues as immigration, affordable housing and labor rights.