For Juanatano Cano, the United States is his third world.
His first world was the small Guatemalan town of Santa Eulalia, where he was born to a Mayan family who converted to Catholicism and only spoke Q’anjobal, one of the 23 Mayan languages. His second world was the city of Huehuetenango (Guatemala), where he learned Spanish.
Soeriani Kheng traveled a similar journey. Born in Indonesia’s capital city Jakarta to a Buddhist family, she ended up residing in Los Angeles as a result of what she can only explain as “the grace of God.”
Kheng and Cano are both longtime leaders of their ethnic communities, and members of the archdiocesan Ethnic Ministry that for the last 10 years has sponsored and organized the annual Celebration of Cultures at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. This year the Mass will be held Oct. 4 starting at 9:30 a.m. with the prelude Indonesian dance Laju Berkabar (“When you sing, offer yourself,” in Bahasa Indonesian).
Dressed in festive attires traditionally used in West Sumatra, eight Indonesian dancers will sing accompanied by piano, guitar and an Indonesian choir.
“The song Laju Berkabar, means moving forward,” explained Kheng, a parishioner of Our Lady of Grace in Encino. “Both the song and the dance tell us how we [Indonesians] sailed around the world through the big ocean with fear and hopelessness, yet we kept seeking God in our journey. And finally we found the place where we are able to worship and praise Him in peace.”
Acknowledging that the journey as immigrants continues for most Indonesians in this country, the dance offers an opportunity to “give thanks to God by telling the world that we found God, how great He is and how we are able to spread His word.”
Kheng and her husband were undocumented during the first five years in California, but “by the grace of God,” she says, she was “randomly” selected from a lottery to receive the U.S. permanent residence card; a month later her husband also received it. They are now U.S. citizens, “no longer homesick.”
More than 2,000 Indonesians attend 2 p.m. Sunday Mass in Indonesian at St. Stephen Martyr Church in Monterey Park. Their worship includes after-Mass family gatherings where they share familiar foods and wear the traditional batik blouses, shirts, dresses and/or skirts.
Likewise dressed in traditional handmade attire, Mayan community members (many of them young Mayan-Americans) will join more than 30 ethnic groups processing down the Cathedral’s main aisle Oct. 4.
Among them will be Juanatano Cano, who 26 years ago had no idea he would represent his hometown in the United States’ largest archdiocese.
Born to an extremely poor family that converted to Catholicism (influenced by Maryknoll priests, who arrived in Guatemala to build schools and health care centers), Cano moved at age 13 to Huehuetenango seeking a better future. He earned his high school diploma working during the day and attending night school.
A friend who had traveled to L.A. then persuaded him to come work for a year so he could purchase a car that he could use to return to Guatemala and enroll in college. Wanting to have a better life and provide for his parents and 11 siblings (he is the second oldest), Cano took his friend’s advice.
Once in L.A. he met members of the Mayan community and, although he admits the first years it was hard “living in the shadows,” he gradually accepted the challenges: learning English, being away from his large family (that he now visits every Christmas), attending college, and accepting the “American way of life.”
But the real breakthrough was when he attended a Catholic Charismatic Renewal Congress. As a leader of the Mayan community he became part of the Ethnic Ministry, and years later Auxiliary Bishop Oscar Solis nominated him as a Maya National Consultant to the Subcommittee on Native American Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, a position in which he travels throughout the country and the world as a speaker and social justice advocate.
Currently, he is a high school mathematics teacher in the L.A. Unified School District. He is currently enrolled in a master’s program at California State University, Northridge, from where he earned an undergraduate degree in mathematics.
For more information about the Celebration of Cultures Mass and of the different ethnic groups in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, call the Office of Ethnic Ministry, (213) 637-7356. Visit angelusnews.com for a larger version of this story.