Barack Obama · culture/multiculturalism · food · Hispanics/Latinos · Jews/Jewish/Judaism/Orthodox Judaism · language · Los Angeles · pesach · plantains · prayer · race/racism

What’s a Jewminicana?

What’s a Jewminicana? Well, for one, a Jewminicana is an American girl of Dominican descent who converts to Judaism. Are you still with me? Well, reverse that because I’m a Jewish Latina…in that order. I’m fusing my identity together with American glue. And just because I put my religion first doesn’t mean I think my culture should be second.

I often find myself in uncomfortable conversations because of my hyphenated identity. It’s hard for people to wrap their heads around someone who claims to be an American Jewish Latina. How can she be all those things without her poor little head caving in? Aren’t there too many options and too many flags and too many homelands, between Israel, the Dominican Republic and America, to choose from? She must feel more comfortable just being one of those things. One of those things must be important than the rest, they suspect. That’s how I ended up in a conversation where a white Jewish guy explained that it’s the inbreeding that makes Jews really quite superb.
“That’s why we have so many Nobel Prize winners,” he offered cheerfully, blinking at me through the lenses of his large black glasses.

I know you want to tell yourself that he didn’t know I was a convert but indeed, he did. He thought I’d married into the Jewish family so I could take full advantage of such prestigious bloodlines. He didn’t stop to think if his comments might offend me, the product of not an ounce of Jewish inbreeding, the product of 100% Dominican parents. Wouldn’t I be offended by listening to him talk about Jewish superiority? No, he thought, because he was one of those people.

There are those people who believe that I converted because I thought Judaism was better than being Latina. To some others, converting means that I don’t care about being a Latina at all. To still others, it means that I want to take my Latino heritage and bury it deep in the ground. And trust me, I get it, some people think Judaism rocks and though I don’t disagree, my identity is a little bit more complicated than those people understand.

“When are you going to learn to cook Jewish food?” I was asked by a friend at a recent Shabbos meal. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard it.

I smiled politely and offered, “Isn’t all the food I cook Jewish because I’m Jewish?”
I’ve been told, never asked, to learn several Eastern European recipes since I converted. I’ve been told that part of becoming a nice Jewish girl is learning to cook Jewish food. But when did gefilte fish win the battle against rice and beans for top choice of Jewish foods? I think my Sephardic (spiritual) ancestors would disagree with what some people think constitutes Jewish food. Again, I converted for the religion, not the recipes.

Too many people, both Jews and non-Jews alike, think that Eastern European culture IS Jewish culture. It troubles me that Ashkenazi Judaism still gets top billing this way in Jewish circles. That people still think most Jews don’t look like me. That people think I’m not really Jewish because I REFUSE to learn how to make potato kugel . I won’t force my plantains on someone and call them racist if they don’t bite, if they’ll stop insinuating that I’m slightly anti-Semitic for finding potato kugel more than bland.

Yes, it’s true that I will choose plantains over herring any day. I’m an ethnic Latina but not an “ethnic” (read: Ashkenazi) Jew. I know that when my (thus far imaginary) children grow up, they will know that Judaism is more about how you pray than what you eat (as long as it’s kosher). I won’t tell them that just because Mordechai’s Ima believes in matzah brei on Pesach and Mami believes in yucca that either one of us is a better Jew because of it. I’ll look my baby straight in the eye and say, “Kid, Jews come in all flavors.”

Because it’s true, Jews DO come in all shapes and sizes and colors. But when you walk into a Jewish day school there doesn’t seem to be too many people that look like me, something that is changing thanks to adoption, conversion and intermarriage in the United States. Still, it’s no secret that Ladino and Spanish aren’t often choices on the day school curriculum even when the kids are living in middle of Latino Los Angeles. So you can bet, I’m worried that my own kids will think they’re a minority if I don’t drag them to Israel and the Dominican Republic once a week where they will surely encounter plenty of Latino Jews, plenty of black and brown Jews, plenty of black and brown people period. I fear my kids will be asked to represent every Jew of color everywhere on a day to day basis. That seems to be my fight. I don’t want it to be theirs.

I don’t want my children to be fighting the same stereotypes that the Jewish community, the American community and the Latino community (everyone’s in on it!) have been fighting for as long as we can all remember. We should have moved past stereotypes now but we haven’t. They say Barack Obama is a big leap in the right direction and I hope he is. But in the Jewish community, I don’t want people to forget that Judaism is not a race because so many of us Jews come from different races. We are a nation, a people, a culture (and what kind of culture is to be a loosely interpreted). Judaism is big. It’s multicultural, it’s multiracial and multinational. Judaism often doesn’t fit into just one of those tiny little boxes that people use to define themselves.

Someday soon, I hope people will think of me when they think “Jew.” Look, they’ll say, there’s a nice Jewish girl and she’s got an awesome afro! Isn’t that nice? She loves merengue. She loves a good sukkah. She hates sour cream on latkes (or anything). And of course, she’s a saucy girl who peppers her English with Spanish, Hebrew and sometimes, even Yiddish. She’s as much a Jew as those who don’t know their way around Hebrew. She’s as much a Jew as those who thrive on bagels. She’s as much a Jew as any other Jew you’ve ever met and the tie that binds is Judaism, not the color of their skin or what goes into their stomachs.
And then perhaps, every Jew of color I meet won’t tell me about the thousands upon thousands of times that they’ve been asked if they were REALLY Jewish. Perhaps, every convert of color won’t confess to being worried about not being accepted in the Jewish community because of the color of their skin. Perhaps, we’ll really start showing everyone else that Jews are different because we’ve moved past racist assumptions and accepted our multicultural reality.
So to recap, I’m Jewish, I’m Latina, I’m American and I’m staying that way.
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11 thoughts on “What’s a Jewminicana?

  1. The questions are ridiculous. Trust me.So back when I took Dor Yeshorim (this is an okay topic for polite conversation I hope?), they ask you to put down your parents’ origins. My mother is Jewish and my dad is Cherokee and a mixture of whoknowswhat (in other words we don’t know). So I put down Russia for my mother and Cherokee for my father.I got a call a few days later asking to confirm my father’s origin. I told them Cherokee. “What country is that?” “Uh, it’s a Native American tribe.” “Oh, so you’re saying your father’s family has been here a long time?” “Yeah I guess so.” “Is he a convert?” “Nope, just not Jewish.” “Okay thanks.”Yeah.

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  2. I still can’t get over “Oh so you’re saying his family has been here a long time?”A long time? Talk about before all you white people came over and trashed the place! That’s how long!

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  3. Nuevo Plan de Aztlan WHEREAS, We the Chicanas y Chicanos of the United States of America honor our Native American heritage with all our hearts and minds; WHEREAS, We the Chicanas y Chicanos of the United States of America honor the sacred call of our Native American ancestors for peace and justice throughout our Americas; and WHEREAS, We the Chicanas y Chicanos of the United States of America recognize La Raza has been struggling with a new wave of racial harassment, discrimination and persecution in our Americas since September 11, 2001. NOW THEREFORE, We the Chicanos y Chicanos of the United States of America resolve as follows: SECTION 1. TITLE This resolution may be cited as Nuevo Plan de Aztlan. SECTION 2. TERMINOLOGY Nuevo Plan de Aztlan is based on the following terms: a) Americanas y Americanos Americanas y Americanos are ALL AMERICANS regardless of our races, colors, languages, cultures, nationalities, ethnicities, religions or creeds. b) Aztlan The concept of Aztlan is derived from the Nahua history of the Mexicas before their southern migration from Norte America into Centro Mexico during the 11th Century. Aztlan today is Indigenas of Mexican-American and(or) Mexican descent who consider ourselves Chicanas y Chicanos regardless of where we were born, live or die. c) Carnalismo Carnalismo is the love and compassion Chicanas y Chicanos have for each other as carnalas y carnales (sisters and brothers). Carnalismo is what unites and strengthens Chicanas y Chicanos as we work together for peace and justice. d) Chicanas y ChicanosChicanas y Chicanos are Indigenas of Mexican-American and(or) Mexican descent who consider ourselves Chicanas y Chicanos based on our Native American heritage. e) El Movimiento El Movimiento is the Chicana y Chicano Movement for peace and justice. El Movimiento is comprised of numerous academic, athletic, artistic, business, commercial, cultural, educational, political, recreational, social, spiritual, wholistic and other Chicana y Chicano organizations and individuals working for peace and justice throughout Aztlan, our Americas and the world. f) Heritage Our Native American heritage includes our ancestral lands and freedoms; and all the histories, cultures, traditions and mores of our Native American ancestors. g) Indigenas Often called Native Americans or American Indians, Indigenas are all the indigenous peoples of our Americas including those of mixed-race heritage like La Raza. h) La Causa La Causa is for peace and justice, the eternal cause of Chicanas y Chicanos who recognize there can be no true peace without true justice, i.e., the abolition of poverty, racism, sexism and all other injusticias in our Americas. i) La Raza Chicanas y Chicanos can be Black, White, Brown, Red, Yellow and(or) any other “skin color” like the rest of La Raza and the human race. The concept of La Raza was derived from a 1925 essay published by Jose Vasconcelos, a Mexican educator who called the millions of mixed-race Indigenas with Latin-American and(or) Latin-European ancestors La Raza Cosmica. La Raza is comprised of every race, color, nationality, ethnicity, culture, language, religion and creed in the world. This rich diversity is the unifying power, force and strength of Chicanas y Chicanos, and of all La Raza as we grow to know, understand and honor our great heritage. j) Latinas y LatinosLatinas y Latinos of our Americas are Indigenas with a Latin-American and(or) Latin-European heritage. Millions of Latinas y Latinos also have African, Asian and other Non-Latino ancestors. k) Racism ·Racial categories are crude labels based on parentage, genetics and(or) physical traits, not religious or scientific proof of one’s superior or inferior nature like racists believe. ·Racism is the belief one or more “races” are inherently “superior” to one or more other races. [Example: Many Americans believe “White people” are inherently superior to “Non-White people” and that “Black people” are inherently inferior to all other people.] ·Racism includes the belief “mixed-race” people like La Raza are inferior to those with birth parents of the same race. “Race-mixing” is still condemned by racists today. · Indigenas were considered savages (less-than-human) when Europeans first invaded and occupied our Americas. “Christianized” and(or) otherwise assimilated Indigenas are still considered inferior by today’s racists. ·Racists are not just poor or poorly educated citizens, there are wealthy and highly educated racists throughout government and society who strive to protect and preserve their privileged status via institutional, industrial and commercial racism. Racists are not just White, either; there are Brown, Black, Red, Asian and other racists, too. ·The racist imposition of the colonial English language on Indigenas continues to cause horrendous problems for Chicanas y Chicanos in education, employment and virtually all other aspects of life in the U.S. Laws, rules and regulations are selectively enforced by local, state and federal institutions against La Raza, as English is used as a weapon to deprive Chicanas y Chicanos of liberty, equality and justice throughout our lives. ·Private industry (“free enterprise”) also causes havoc for Chicanas y Chicanos by perpetuating racist stereotypes and beliefs about La Raza for profit and gain. [Example: Mass media and the “entertainment” industries commercialize racist stereotypes and beliefs about Latinas y Latinos throughout the world, while pretending to be “spreading freedom and democracy” alongside the Pentagon.] l) Terrorist(s)A terrorist or terrorists are human beings who use unwarranted violence and(or) the threat of violence to kill, rob, rape, torture, imprison or otherwise impose their will over other human beings. SECTION 3. STATEMENT OF PURPOSE Nuevo Plan de Aztlan addresses the alarming attacks orchestrated against Indigenas throughout Norte America since September 11, 2001 (9/11). U.S. officials are using La Raza as a scapegoat or smokescreen to distract or divert attention away from their heinous war crimes in the Middle East. According to their domestic propaganda, the “real problem” and therefore actual enemy or threat to national security is Mexicans and other Indigenas “invading” Norte America, not the Pentagon killing, torturing, maiming, imprisoning and destroying other indigenous peoples’ lives in faraway lands. Thousands of racist media, vigilante, “homeland security” and other hostile actions have been executed against Indigenas since 9/11, as tens of thousands of these indigent men, women and children have been rounded up and herded out of Norte America like cattle. SECTION 4. HISTORICAL ANALYSIS Indigenas have suffered centuries of injusticias including genocide, rape, torture, mayhem, kidnapping, slavery, peonage, poverty, homelessness and groundless imprisonment at the hands of the original European invaders and occupiers of our Americas. The offspring of these European terrorists expect Chicanas y Chicanos to ignore or forget this true account of their ancestors’ horrendous atrocities, as if these abominations against our Native American ancestors never occurred or mattered. As English imperialism via the U.S. government seeks to conquer the entire world, La Raza is increasingly faced with discriminatory law enforcement, housing, education, employment, healthcare, mass media, entertainment and other racist industrial, commercial and institutional policies and practices, especially since 9/11. The offspring of the European terrorists who originally stole our ancestral lands are guilty of receiving this stolen property. Receiving stolen property is no less a crime than stealing it. These aliens remain in denial as they continue to exploit, oppress and otherwise deprive us of our ancestral lands and freedoms from generation-to-generation much like their terrorist ancestors did against our ancestors for the past few centuries. U.S. racists are now working to outlaw MEChA and other Movimiento organizations being blamed for “too many Mexicans” and other Indigenas in Norte America today. Local, state and federal government agencies have also made it extremely difficult for the Partido de La Raza Unida to rise politically against this institutionalized harassment, discrimination and persecution in any significant way. These same racists oppose Chicana y Chicano Studies, affirmative action, financial aid, bilingual and multicultural education, ethnic studies, fair housing, equal employment opportunities and all other ways and means of attempting to create level playing fields for La Raza, as if the U.S. only belongs to Anglo-Americans and everyone else is a second-class citizen at best. SECTION 5. MEXICO, CENTRO Y SUR AMERICA The 21st Century campaign against Mexicans in the U.S.is also aimed at Chicanas y Chicanos since we are all familia. Chicanas y Chicanos have a natural, inherent or innate relationship with Mexicanas y Mexicanos because of our common Native American heritage that is everlasting.Other Indigenas throughout our Americas are suffering from these racist attacks too. We are all being treated as a threat or potential threat to national security by the racist U.S. government at the local, state, federal and international level. SECTION 6. GOALS AND OBJECTIVES a) We the Chicanas y Chicanos of the United States of America must reach beyond nationalism to establish and(or) coalesce with parallel movements of other Indigenas united around our multilingual, multiracial and multicultural heritage throughout our Americas and on outlying islands. b) El Movimiento’s mass communication, organization and mobilization initiatives call for Chicanas y Chicanos to join forces with all La Raza against our common exploiters and oppressors because we cannot be free unless and until all La Raza is free.c) Economic justice cannot be achieved without social and political justice. La Raza must join together as an international union of Indigenas to work for this justicia as opposed to permitting the racists to continue to exploit and oppress La Raza via commercial, industrial and institutional racism from generation-to-generation. d) This indigenous union must ensure liberty, equality and justice for all Americanas y Americanos so We can all live, work and travel freely in peace and justice throughout our Americas for so long as the rivers flow. e) The first priority of our new union is to abolish poverty, racism and sexism throughout our Americas. f) This union must ensure all workers in our Americas receive good jobs and compensation so that all Americanas y Americanos can have nice homes in safe and secure neighborhoods and communities. People unable to work will also have nice homes in these safe and secure neighborhoods and communities because no one will live in poverty or homelessness in our Americas except by her or his own choosing. g) We the Chicanas y Chicanos of the United States of America must ensure our children learn about our indigenous ancestors, at home and in all the schools, colleges and universities of our Americas so they and future generations will know, understand and honor our Native American heritage. NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, We the Chicanas y Chicanos of the United States of America will live our daily lives in accordance with Nuevo Plan de Aztlan to the best of our abilities. BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, We the Chicanas y Chicanos of the United States of America will encourage Chicana y Chicano organizations everywhere to review, adopt and incorporate Nuevo Plan de Aztlan into their own missions, goals and objectives so all Indigenas can stand united against the new wave of racial harassment, discrimination and persecution La Raza faces in the 21st Century. Copyright 2008 Internet Mecha. Nuevo Plan de Aztlan may be reproduced, republished and disseminated freely.

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  4. You know I think you rock, right? And btw, Kugel will never be as tasty, as yummy, as awesome, as maduros. ’cause it’s veggie asopao at my house for Shabbat folks, or if you’re really lucky, my red bens over kasha. Mmmmmmmm.Wo’nt even touch hoe lame the “what country” is. Sigh. People’s stupidity never ceases to shock when it shouldn’t. Typing with broken hand, sorry for typos

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  5. Love your blog! Ashkenazi dad here with a Latino Jewish son and I couldn’t agree with you more. The weird thing is that long before we adopted our son and thereby Latino became part of our family identity, I was over being Ashkenazi — the food sucks, I can’t stand the sound of Yiddish (I speak Hebrew fluently), and have long felt that American Jewry’s nostalgia for Eastern Europe was slightly ridiculous. Even before our son came into our lives, we tended to cook Sephardic for the holidays. Now Hanukkah includes Guatemalan tortitas de papa, along with latkes/levivot con mole…Because we’re raising our son bilingual, Ladino is a far more salient (to say nothing of beautiful) language than Yiddish will ever be.Although our son’s religious school has a number of Jews of color in it, the program still is overly Ashkenazi in its assumptions, and I hope to slowly change that.Keep on being out there!

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