To be completely honest, the first time I’ve ever heard about the life of Saint Martin of Porres, patron of mixed race people, was last Wednesday. His feast day is coincidentally on November 3, so I thought it would be good to remember him for the day, religious or not.
Some people whine when minorities ask for representation or simply don’t acknowledge the fact that having a bond with a historical or current figure can be very meaningful to us. I was incredibly surprised when my grandmother (of Puerto Rican black ancestry) knew this saint’s biography as if he was her own relative. I could realize once again that diversity matters, in every aspect of life, including something as personal as religion.
Saint Martin of Porres was a Peruvian man, son of a Spaniard and a Panamanian freed slave, born as illegitimate on December 9 of 1579. The historical context was difficult for POC; the Americas were practically dominated by Europe and were victims of constant mistreatment and discrimination, and, specifically in Peru, the descendants of native or African people weren’t allowed to be a part of religious orders (which didn’t make sense at all since the Spaniards sent their men to “evangelize” but didn’t allow the people they were evangelizing to become an active part of the religion they were teaching?). He grew up in poverty, and as he always showed interest in becoming a member of a religious order, he joined the Dominicans of Holy Rosary in Lima as a servant in 1594. In 1603, he was finally accepted and lived with the vows of “humility, chastity and obedience”.
One of his main qualities was his humble and selfless attitude, always helping the poor even if he wasn’t in the best position himself. The website ReinaDelCielo.org states that “a mulatto did a greater good than all the whites together to Lima’s society[…]”. A black American didn’t owe anything to the people who exploited their ancestors, in fact, those people owed him, including (at least) a decent life.
He was the son of a former slave and had to live in poverty as he was illegitimate, he lived in a land that was taken away from their own people (the natives, who were also segregated and exploited) but he still decided to follow the good path of helping people in need, nursing sick individuals regardless of their race or their economic status. He also took care of the slaves brought from Africa. He was attributed to have many gifts such as bilocation, and was seen in places such as Mexico, China, Japan, Africa and the Philippines even though he never left Lima (as close sources to him stated), which still remains a mystery. He died of a fever on 1639.
Even if you don’t profess a religion, there’s no denying that he’s a strong historical figure of all mixed-race people. Not only in America, but the world, as he lived his life with generosity until the day of his death. Even though he lived in a period of history when human beings were still treated as products, he defied the absurds racist laws of his time and I feel like his story should be widely known.