December 9, 2015

I Am Starr King: Interview with Dr. Hugo Córdova Quero

Dr. Hugo Córdova Quero

Director of Online Education

Adjunct Faculty

Why did you decide to become a religious leader?

I think it runs in the family. My great grandfather was a minister, my two grandfathers were ministers, and my father and mother were ministers. So it was logical for me to become a minister. I really felt like it was something I wanted. When I was a kid I used to read theology and church history books just for fun. I became really interested in how the Christian faith developed. I wanted to have a formal theological education but at the same time I wanted to have a career, so I decided to study law first. When I started to take classes I realized that I was not called to be a litigant or a defendant. My sense of justice came from my spirituality, the examples of people around me, and the church and community of faith. We passed through the military dictatorship in Argentina and that was really difficult for many religious leaders. Coming from a minister’s family I came to know and see many of the difficult situations that people would experience just for their sense of justice amidst pain and sorrow. Ministers like our Bishop —who suffered persecution— also inspired me to live out my faith.

However, the desire to serve as a religious leader has always been with me. Through time, I became more and more of a religious leader. I think it started when I was working pastorally with homeless people in the districts of downtown Buenos Aires. That taught me a lot about the reality of life for people and what they expect from someone from a religious organization. It’s not just nice words, it’s one’s actions that really count. It was really a powerful experience to break bread with them, to have lunch in the soup kitchen program, to have bible study were they brought their struggles to the reflection, and drink tea from paper cups —something that at the time was not considered good manners in Argentina— with them. Some of them had some mental health issues. But there were times when they would say something that was the right thing to say. That’s when I understood that there was something, some divine power, that connects us. They would come to this point where they were present in a situation saying something that would empower all of us, that would open our eyes to the divine. So I understood at that time that being a religious leader is not a position of authority. It is to be someone who can invite others to be together in comm[on/]union. I believe that in everything we do, we are called to do it not because we are better but because we are more aware of inviting others to full humanity. But the final result is we all come together in unity. We all are together doing what we are called by the divine to do. That, for me, is what makes me keep being a religious leader all of these years. The word leader sometimes may be misleading. Some people may think it’s a word of power. For me it’s on the contrary. It’s a word that has to make me more humble and aware that the others are intrinsically important to fully embrace my humanity. No matter who the others are, everyone is unique to make us all whole.

Why did you decide to teach at Starr King?

I think it was a natural thing because Starr King has been my community since I was doing my master’s degree. When I graduated, the type of work I did fit completely with the education for counter oppression and the freedom that I have at Starr King to develop courses that are interdisciplinary and are going to be taken seriously. So when I was invited to submit a syllabus for consideration at Starr King, I decided to be creative and put what I really wanted to see in a course. It was a leap of faith. I didn’t know if the curriculum committee would like it, or if they would accept it, but I got very good feedback and they were very encouraging. That was the beginning of my teaching at Starr King. This kind of natural flow from being a student to being an instructor felt like an affirmation and a continuation. It felt natural. It felt like the right place to be and the right time to do it. I seek to empower students, and I consider them as colleagues from whom I also learn. It is this connectedness that makes me grow —and I hope this is the same for my students— not only in knowledge but in commitment to embrace the fullness of our humanity.

Can you tell us a little about the work you do outside of Starr King?

My academic, pastoral, and activist work is always related to immigrants, ethnicity as well as sexual and gender diversity. When I was here doing my master’s degree and Ph.D. I was involved with a bilingual Latino-Anglo community. Many of them were immigrants. When I was in Hawai’i doing a chaplaincy residency, I was working with immigrant families from all over the Pacific. When I went to Japan I was researching Latino immigrants in Japan, and now I’m researching Asian immigrants in Latin America.

So my whole interest in the life of people always comes to migration, which is very close to home because I’ve been a migrant in many places. I’m always looking for what we can do in terms of rights, and what we can support in terms of campaigns or awareness about the needs of immigrants. How to live with the intercultural relations, how to learn from others, how to create communities that are diverse. And at the same time I’m also involved with – especially from theology and queer theory – developing queer theologies that are going to take into account the reality of people whose gender or sexuality has not been the mainstream either in Christianity or in other religions.

And the last area, related to both of these, is the issue of ethnicity. Being myself a mix of different ethnicities, part of my work is to create an awareness about the ideologies of race, and the interconnection of different ethnic groups in their cultural or linguistic heritage. And I see this also as a pattern in my own life. The first church that I grew up in received a lot of immigrants during the military dictatorships in Latin America, whose ethnicity were predominantly Native Latin-American.

So these three things have always been connected since my childhood. When I was starting to think about my Ph.D. and what I wanted to do as a professional in the academy those things were also present. I think that my life, my work, my production, and my activism cannot be disconnected from that. It’s like a tapestry. If you put the strings apart, the beautiful picture doesn’t exist anymore. Our lives are a tapestry, and every string is essential to make our lives complete.

What is your most memorable or meaningful experience at Starr King?

It’s hard to choose among so many good memories at Starr King. Starr King is home, a place where I have been fortunate to thrive and grow as a scholar and as a human being. But one thing I remember is when I was going to Hawai’i to do my chaplaincy residency, and I was not sure if I was going to be able to return to Starr King for my Ph.D., it felt like a farewell. So I came to see Ibrahim and other people. And of course Ibrahim came to the corridor from his office and said aloud “Oh, so you’re leaving right now?” I said, “Yes, I’m flying tomorrow.” And at that moment every single person from the offices in the corridor started to come outside and hug me. It was so touching because everyone was there. For me, that’s the memory that I have of Starr King. This community of people who embraced me, who had me. This community who were around me, literally and affectionately. I’ll always remember that image. Coming back to Starr King is always an image of people hugging me and being with me, so it’s an inspiring memory and a happy memory that gives me strength to do my academic, pastoral, and activist work to the highest standards.


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