Photo by Dr. Swasti Bhattacharyya

David A. Sánchez, Associate Professor of Early Christianity at Loyola Marymount University, died unexpectedly on Saturday, April 6, 2019. He was a pioneering Latinx Biblical scholar whose impact reached beyond his discipline and included the Political Theology Network. We have asked mentors, colleagues, students, and friends to reflect on his many contributions.

All who knew him agree that David was a generous colleague who embraced his leadership role within Latinx theology with zeal, not only serving as the President of the Academy of Catholic Hispanic Theologians of the United States (ACHTUS), but also as book review editor for The Journal of Hispanic/Latino Theology and for the Journal of the American Academy of Religion. He is best known for his prize-winning book, From Patmos to the Barrio: the Subversion of Imperial Myths from the Book of Revelation to the Present (Fortress, 2008), a postcolonial reading of the Apocalypse as a subversive reworking of dominant imperial myths by marginalized voices, and as co-editor (with Margaret Aymer and Cynthia Briggs Kittredge) of the Fortress Commentary on the Bible: The New Testament (Fortress, 2014). His most recent work, and the topic of his essay for the Political Theology Network, “Troubled Northern Ireland: Talking Walls, Open Wounds”, looked at the complex function of murals in communities divided by ethnic, religious, and political conflict.

Students, colleagues and family create a prayer space outside David’s office at LMU (photo by Cecilia Gonzalez-Andrieu)

Jean-Pierre Ruiz, St. John’s University

When I learned that David had passed from this life, the first words that came to mind—amidst the tears—were not my own. They came from the Revelation to John: “I heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘Write this: Blessed are the dead who from now on die in the Lord.’ ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘they will rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them’” (Revelation 14:13). This was no surprise, for it had been my privilege to serve on David’s doctoral dissertation committee and we spent countless hours wrestling with the Apocalypse and its many echoes across the centuries. That work bore rich fruit in David’s book, From Patmos to the Barrio: the Subversion of Imperial Myths from the Book of Revelation to the Present (Fortress, 2008). This, the first Latinx monograph devoted to the Apocalypse, offers a compelling postcolonial reading of the ways in which people on the margins of power resist and subvert the very myths that those at the center of power deploy to construct the social order that marginalized them. In his contribution to the Fortress Commentary on the Bible: The New Testament (Fortress, 2014)—a volume he co-edited with Margaret Aymer and Cynthia Briggs Kittredge, David carefully traced “The Apocalyptic Legacy of Early Christianity,” calling into serious question the supposition that Revelation was the only source of Christianity’s long, complex and ambivalent relationship with apocalypticism. Deeply though I regret that we have read the last of the scholarship that David has left us, I suspect that David himself would interrupt my reminiscing with a knowing smile to encourage all of us to take up the work that still needs to be done. As he urged in his contribution to Latino/a Biblical Hermeneutics: Problematics, Objectives, Strategies (SBL Press, 2014), we Latinx biblical scholars “must flee from those interpretations constructed by the dominant interpretive classes that reify dominant worldviews. We must run from the cover of conformity toward the painful yet emancipatory site of marronage in hopes of constructing…other worlds” (261). I hear you David!

David presenting at the Society of Christian Ethics (photo by Rubén Rosario)

Jacqueline M. Hidalgo, Williams College

I would not be a “biblical scholar,” such as I am, were it not for the sort of work David Sánchez produced (or his magnanimity as a colleague). From Patmos to the Barrio was a revelation, one of the few books that openly moved between the study of religion, the bible, postcolonial theory, and Chicana/o/x Studies. By engaging with visual cultures and daily life in Chicano Los Angeles, David drew on the rich particularity of his home context. But he put that context in conversation with broader world histories. In recent years, he had also moved into Irish Studies, and demonstrated the possibilities of interdisciplinarity, that one can work between and among multiple scholarly fields instead of simply poaching from one in order to focus on another. We will miss his expansive intellect and his warm spirit greatly.

David’s diploma from Union Theological Seminary (photo by Cecilia González-Andrieu)

Cecilia González-Andrieu, Loyola Marymount University

We started talking on a plane, grad students eager to soak up everything. Both Angelinos, first in our families to imagine graduate school, we were trying to make sense of the tug we later faced with our students: “How do I become a scholar and stay connected to my gente?” We knew the pain of marginality intimately. We wondered how anything we did could make a difference. That we both ended up at Loyola Marymount University was a miracle we celebrated and our question became the bedrock of our scholarship and advocacy. On David’s passing Muslim students wept during their Friday prayers, Irish colleagues marveled at his embrace of their world, and an altarcito filled with notes of gratitude. His gente was there, and his scholarship continues to change hearts. Now, we wait for the promise.

“Virgin’s Seed,” a mural in East Los Angeles (photo courtesy of Google Maps)

Carmen Nanko-Fernández, Catholic Theological Union Chicago

David Sánchez was a reader and interpreter of texts. The texts of the bible and the texts of la vida cotidiana. He sought Revelation in the New Testament book by that same name, and on the walls of los barrios from East LA to County Derry. He sought the Divine in the open arms of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, en las luchas of those pushed to the margins, and on the fairways, diamonds, fields and courts of his favorite sports. All of these texts made their way into his scholarship. David was a Latinx scholar who read the walls, ancient and new, in order to challenge those powers who aimed to divide, exclude, colonize, dismiss. He played golf on municipal courses as a performance of resistance that rejects classicism, racism, elitism, and sexism. On restorative green spaces David found inclusion as a site of liberation; in his classrooms and through his scholarship and service he cultivated liberative sanctuaries. The words of another Chicano hero, Sal Castro, belong to David as well: “That’s why I’m a teacher. Que Dios los bendiga y que la virgen morena los proteja.”

The view from David’s office, which he loved (photo by Cecilia González-Andrieu)

Cristina Castillo, Loyola Marymount University

I officially met Dr. Sanchez during my admissions interview at Loyola Marymount. Sanchez came out and had me follow him to his office. Halfway through the interview he stopped and said, “the road ahead will not be easy, promise me that you will be ready to join the party and KICK A$$ in a field that had once been dominated by white men.” Sanchez challenged and influenced my work in such a way that I can no longer ignore the constant inequalities that surround our everyday lives. Sanchez helped me find my voice and to fight for my place in this world as a Latinx female. He inspired me as well as other Latinx students to be subversive and to challenge the traditional views rather than become complacent. I will be eternally grateful for the opportunity to have my academic and professional life be influenced by such an amazing man.

David at the Carnoustie Golf Links in Scotland (photo from David’s personal collection)

Jorge Aquino, University of San Francisco

Adios, David Sánchez

David Sánchez was the best of men. His decolonial spirit was a beacon for Latinx religious and cultural studies. From Patmos to the Barrio: Subverting Imperial Myths (Fortress 2008) forever challenges us not to underestimate the power of myth in subaltern resistance.

One of my richest memories is of David’s 2012 ACHTUS Presidential Address, remembering Ada María Isasi-Díaz. He really nailed it — especially for us hetero-male Latinos in the room who recognize ourselves as feminist nephews of a loving, but really tough Tía. If we’d suffered the lash of her ego-blows, David reminded us that Ada-María was surgically cauterizing our mangled, macho manhood, putting us on a path of healing so that we might become truer men. I had long cherished her mujerista mentoring, dulce y amarga. But hearing David declare it so clearly and publicly gave me joy, making me feel I was part of a larger community.

When the ACHTUS board tasked me to re-platform the Journal of Hispanic / Latino Theology, my first call was to David. I will hold him forever in gratitude for saying “yes!” to me — knowing full well what that might entail, amid some big challenges in his personal life. But that’s how he was — very courageous and very true. If he believed in you, he would risk his skin for you.

As I said: the best of men.

Adios! Rest in Power, hermano. ¡Nunca te olvidaremos!

The shelves of a deep and complex scholar (photo by Cecilia González-Andrieu)

Robert Jay Rivera, St. John’s University

This November would have been 21 years of friendship, David. I’ll never forget meeting you at the 1998 Annual AAR/SBL meeting in Orlando. We had seen each other at an event and then bumped into each other, out of all places, in the book exhibit. You were a PhD student at Union Theological Seminary (NY), and I was a janitor/ doorman at 200 E 57 St. My credentials at the time didn’t stop you from seeing me, my potential, and treating me with dignity and respect. Not to mention you were intrigued that this Nuyorican janitor/ doorman, who hadn’t even earned a BA, was a high school/college dropout, was at this major meeting. I can see you smirking now, and hear you whispering “estas cabron!” You made me feel like I belonged. A rarity given how the academy is so impressionistic!

What developed from that moment on was a beautiful friendship, a brotherhood, which made it possible for us to journey together in solidarity, while you were in the east coast, and when you moved to the west coast (I will still claim you as New Yorker at heart!). Thank you for always finding the time to reach out, follow up, listen, encourage, indulge my crazy, for seeing me and loving me!

Just the other day—just the other day!—you asked, “how’s a brother doing?” As always, concerned, reaching out, checking-in. After some smack talk about the NCAA tourney (sorry, both our teams got knocked off), I returned the question. You words to me were, “I’m healing.” May the healing process continue, my dear brother. Rest well, carnal!

One thought on “Remembering David A. Sánchez (1960-2019)

  1. There are life experiences that connect you to another soul in the most unexpected unimaginable ways. I will treasure the wisdom he shared, the memories we made and conversations which made our friendship what it became.

    We had a pending Dodger game this season, the lunch date we rescheduled the week before you left us. we had so much yet to share. Te extrañare David, siempre te llevare en mi corazon.

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