success stories

Posted November 28, 2003

The Spirit of "Sasquache"

By Father Eugene Hemrick

"In studying immigrant cultures, remember that as much as we want to evangelize them, they too evangelize us." I received that sage advice years ago while conducting multicultural research at the U.S. bishops' conference. Recently, I once again learned how true this is. At the Smithsonian Institution on Washington's mall there is an exhibit on Mexican-American culture that is well worth seeing. One exhibit in particular is dedicated to the Spanish word "sasquache." On videotape, young and happy Mexican-Americans offer examples of its rich meanings:

"'Sasquache' is when you replace a missing gas cap with an old shirt."

"'Sasquache' is using a coat hanger to get better reception on your television. And when a father wanting to watch his favorite football game gets his son to hold on to the hanger and stick his other hand out the window for even better reception, that is real 'sasquache!'"

Hearing these examples, we might automatically think of inventiveness, resourcefulness, ingenuity. This is true, but "sasquache" means much more. For Mexican-Americans, "sasquache" is "the view of the world that says, oye! -- the way we live is beautiful and of value." Again, "to be 'sasquache' is to be down but not down and out."

Someone said that "sasquachismo,' the attitude of 'sasquache,' describes a way of thinking and living" -- it is making do with what you have that is beautiful and being proud of it. Also, "in 'sasquachismo,' the irreverent and spontaneous are employed to make the most from the least."

As I reflected on these words, it occurred to me that they are the very spirit behind a healthy, dynamic life. It is the same spirit that the renowned theologian Father Romano Guardini told us is at the heart of progress.

For Father Guardini, "progress" meant having a vital faith, a zest for life, a sure instinct and being able to recover after being knocked down.

Mexican-American friends of mine have taught me over the years that life has many bright sides. If we see only the dark side, we need to reposition ourselves so as to see it from another angle.

A zest for life underlies this way of thinking -- a belief, a vital faith that life is beautiful and to be cherished despite its difficulties. This is an instinct for making the best of life, and my guess is that it is rooted in family life, which is dearly treasured.

There is a lesson in this for everyone. We all do well to remember when life is hard that there is a difference between being down and being down and out. "Sasquache" reflects a graceful spirit that knows how to progress through life with heart.

I think it also reflects a grace-filled way of understanding Christ as light and life of the world.