Interview on March 8, 2022, with Mario, who is studying history, near the Cesar E. Chavez Library at San Jose City College.
Do you consider yourself religious?
Mario: Yes. In adolescence it was more serious, because I went through the Catholic Church later, because most people go as a kid through the Communion and Confirmation, and I went as a middle-schooler. Now I would say that my connection with God is private. In Islam, there’s no thing like Confession. Your connection is one on one and that’s something I agree with. There shouldn’t be a middleman with your connection with God. Now that I’m educated in other areas, there are times when I’m skeptical about God and all that, but I still view my religion as my tradition because I am Mexican and Catholicism is heavily involved with our tradition.
What changed between middle school and now?
Mario: I was heavily invested in it because I had to, but then you pick up those habits. For example, I didn’t like going at first, but then I found myself going to church by myself without my parents even after – because back then you had to put a slip in that shows proof that you went to church – even after that I still continued to go by myself. It was like therapy for me. But then the older you get, especially now that I work on weekends, there isn’t that time for me to be at church. So it’s more reasonable for me to have that one on one connection with God, more private.
How were you exposed to Islam and what did you learn from it?
Mario: I was in a group chat with people who apply to Berkeley, and then there were a bunch of students who believe in Islam there. I was just intrigued so I asked, “In Catholicism, there’s Confession. Is there anything similar to that in Islam?” And they said, “No, your connection with God is personal.” And that’s my only exposure to Islam and ever since reading that quote from that student, I felt like it now made sense for me to now privatize my relationship with God.
Did you go to Confession regularly before you learned that from the Muslim student?
Mario: Well, not lately because of Covid, but also because I am busy during the weekend. So I don’t find time for myself to go to confess. But then I truly now feel like if you’re sorry for your sins, I don’t think there’s a middleman needed for you to be forgiven of your wrongs.
Do you believe in an afterlife?
Mario: I don’t know. I think religion is a tool to help us get by. There’s no right or wrong answer. I would hope there’s a greater afterlife, but I’m skeptical about it because there’s no proof of that. I can’t answer that. It makes me anxious.
If someone asked you who Jesus is, what would you say?
Mario: I would ignore the question. I don’t put myself in positions of speaking about religion. Everyone has their own belief.
What do you think about the moral teachings of the Church?
Mario: Regarding sexuality, there are so many restrictions and there have been studies where sex is taught wrong in Catholic schools, where their main focus is impurity and all this. For example, when I was going to Catholic school for my First Communion, we had to go protest in San Francisco for the March of Our Lives [Walk for Life]. And so I was exposed to abortion at an extremely young age and I got to see vivid images which I now disagree with, because that psychologically tormented me for a while. Then there’s expressing yourself sexually being a sin. That, for me, is wrong. I believe, as a human, sexuality should be indulged and should be expressed. I think it’s a human right to be sexually free. So when you have those restrictions, also on gender and sexuality and all this, students who don’t feel like they’re part of that heterosexuality and that gender spectrum, they’re going to feel like the Church is going to be harsh on them. Those simple principles that continue on and don’t adapt – there obviously are churches that are adapting to those – I’m a straight cisgender male who falls basically traditional, but if I was a gay student or even a transgender student and if I knew my church didn’t recognize me, I would most definitely go to a church that did.
You say the march about abortion traumatized you?
Mario: It’s because the people on the sides who were rooting against it did have pictures and vivid images of babies and blood and all that, so that traumatized me. I wish I didn’t go through that experience because when you have that embedded in you at a young age, you will go through your life thinking it’s wrong. Obviously now I don’t think it’s wrong. I also don’t think I have a right to say what a woman can and cannot do.
If you were looking at one of those bloody pictures now, would you just say, “That’s fine.”?
Mario: That’s propaganda, though. They don’t pull babies out and kill them. They don’t. Even if it was, I wouldn’t say it’s wrong. It’s too hard of a question to answer. I simply don’t have an opinion on abortion because it doesn’t effect me personally because I’m not the one who’s getting it and I wouldn’t want a woman or someone else making a decision about male vasectomies. It was just too much to experience at that young age. Obviously now I would be able to comprehend why the image is wrong, but seeing it at 13 or 12, it was just too much for me.