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The art of Bronx religious propaganda.
A photo series about the literature I receive from the Black and Brown aunties and grannies evangelizing in the Bronx.
I am starting an ongoing photo essay series to feature the different religious propaganda I receive from the Black and Brown aunties and grannies evangelizing around the Bronx.
I love walking around my neighborhood and seeing the different religious groups that live and organize within the community, including various Christian and Muslim groups that run weekly food pantries. These groups are instrumental to understanding this borough, especially our immigrant communities.
Most often, I interact—when I am not quick enough to hide when they are in my building hallway or lobby—with Jehovah’s Witnesses.
They are adept at gathering, developing an agreed-upon strategy for getting into buildings, and talking to residents. They impressively gather addresses, names, routines.
They are persistent.
When I lived in my last building along Mosholu, in either late 2020 or early 2021, I received a handwritten note from one of the Witnesses who evangelized in our building.
The letter featured some version of “in these trying times” and let me know that they knew it was hard. That I wasn’t alone. That God was with me. That if I needed them, the Jehovah’s Witnesses were there for me.
Those were desolate days, and those words, outside our theological differences, were soothing.
I no longer have that letter, though I wish I had.
I have started to collect all religious pamphlets I get, so far, from different Christian denominations.
There is something so profoundly beautiful about the ways bilingual, religious writing is distributed in my community.
Something consoling, poetic, and stunning about the Scripture featured or the art or colors used, or the questions listed.
I love that these groups always speak Spanish, many made up of mostly Dominican women. Not everyone talks to them, but almost all say “no” or shake their heads; some stop and talk.
In my new building, there are white Mormons who I ignore whenever they attempt to talk with me. Every few weeks these young Mormons try to talk to the people outside, in English, about coming to church. I have never seen anyone but my partner, E, talk with them. He asked them about their message, chatting for about five minutes one random afternoon earlier this month.
I often smoke and stand outside and laugh at how unsuccessful they are, how out of place, colonialist they feel. They are so lost, possessing very little cultural understanding of the spaces and people here. If they did, they would understand and recognize their evangelization is not needed in buildings and streets and communities filled with people already in touch with the divine.
There is an urgent need to preserve these pamphlets. At a time of gentrification, white evangelizing all around the borough, when the mayor undermines the city’s faithful, I want to write and share and keep these.
So often I have ignored getting these in the streets in the past. They felt mundane, unimportant because I did not fully understand or value historical work in my community.
The women who create and distribute these are part of the history and resistance that existed on these lands before the patriarchal, colonialist violence.
I want to learn to honor and preserve that.
I want to learn storytelling and history work for my community, and I want to think about religion, the divine, the supernatural, our universe.
I want this series and all Bronx Frontlines work grounded in how different Black and Brown groups understand and live and survive while believing in something greater and deeper than ourselves, than the material, physical world we can perceive around us.