Here’s Why Mexican and Jewishness Have Always Been A Thing

In Mexico City, on a rainy evening this past July, on the eve of the 2017 Latin American Jewish Studies conference, I decided to have a meal that would bring me a little closer to my research on the history of Jewish migration in Mexico. Just a short stroll down Avenida Masaryk, and I found myself sitting at Klein’s Deli in Polanco, a Jewish owned restaurant that has been around since 1962. “Una orden de tacos de salami kosher, por favor,” I asked the waiter from my booth. (Kosher salami is pork-free, beef salami that satisfies the requirements of biblical Jewish law.)

CREDIT: MEXICO – JANUARY 01: Jews In A Synagogue In Mexico, 1940 (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)

This culinary fusion between Mexican and Jewish cuisine made me feel right at home; I was raised in California and grew up speaking both English and Spanish on a regular basis. But while the intersection of Jewishness and “Mexicanness” is nothing new for me, for many others, this religious identity sounds surprising, foreign even. Certainly, Mexico is a country with deep Catholic roots. But the lack of knowledge about Jews in Mexico, has always intrigued me, particularly when you consider that Jewish roots to Mexico are as old as its Spanish and African ones. Yet, just as official Mexican history has long silenced the country’s African heritage, Jewishness has remained a marginalized category of Mexican identity within the country and throughout the global Jewish diaspora.

Unlike the erasure of Mexico’s African roots however, which is about separating blackness from “Mexicanness” — the silence surrounding Mexico’s Jewish history is largely connected to the preservation of whiteness, a racial category that does not conform to the nation’s unifying ideology of mestizaje, or racial mixing. For Mexico’s Jewish community, whiteness has meant different socio-economic privileges and other forms of mobility.So how did Judaism first begin in Mexico? Modern Jewish migration to Mexico began in the late 19th century, when the dictatorial regime of Porfirio Díaz welcomed migration from Europe and the United States.

Among these early Jewish migrants, the majority were single men of German and French background, who did not publically identify as Jews. They often married Catholic women and assimilated into the Mexican elite. The privileges that some of these European immigrants enjoyed during the Díaz regime was in part, informed by the legacy of the Spanish casta (caste) system, where your race determined your social position in colonial Mexico. Spaniards were always positioned at the top of the social order, followed by mixed-race individuals, and then African and indigenous peoples.

“However, unlike the erasure of Mexico’s African roots, which is about separating blackness from “Mexicanness” — the silence surrounding Mexico’s Jewish history is largely connected to the preservation of whiteness, a racial category that parallels the nation’s foundational concept of mestizaje, or racial mixing.”

As Jews and other Europeans migrated to Mexico in the decades following the country’s independence from Spain, the casta system continued to grant European migrants with certain privileges due to their Western heritage. During the Díaz regime, Jews in Mexico held political office were involved in global and private banking and participated in colonization initiatives in the northern regions of the country.

At the turn of the 20th century and the decades that followed, Jewish migration to Mexico hit record levels, with families arriving from Central/Eastern Europe, the Middle East and the Mediterranean, through the ports of Veracruz and Tampico. Increased levels of migration from these countries were influenced by decades of political and economic instability, the shifting of empires into nation-states, along with immigration quotas and restrictions in the U.S.

As time passed, the children of these first-generation Jewish immigrants began to set roots in the urban landscape and formed vibrant Jewish communities in Mexico City. The center of Jewish life blossomed along la calle Jesus María in el Centro Histórico, near where the first synagogue was established, along with kosher meat markets and bakeries; today, this neighborhood is known as the Garment District. Beginning in the 1930s, the Jewish community began to move into different ethnic enclaves, moving east into colonias like Roma and Condesa. (It should be noted that many of Mexico City’s historic Jewish neighborhoods have been gravely affected by the recent earthquake, which has claimed 230 lives to date).

Increased levels of Jewish migration to Mexico collided with a Revolutionary period, which unified the Mexican national identity around the ideology of mestizaje, or racial mixing. Outwardly, the political ideology was meant to challenge the Euro-centric racial hierarchy of the casta system, defining the modern Mexican as a racially mixed subject. In practice however, mestizaje continued to exclude the majority of Mexico’s ethnically diverse population, silencing the histories of those communities who did not fit into the narrow Spanish / Indigenous mold.  Under mestizaje, Jewish immigrants became ‘unwelcome foreigners.’

CREDIT: Historical Synagogue, Centro, Mexico City. Image credit: Angélica Portales

Throughout the 1930s, Jews were the targets of xenophobic immigration legislation and fascist, anti-Semitic groups, like los Camisas Doradas, The Guilded Shirts.  The self-isolation of Mexico’s Jewish communities, compounded by age-old trends of Christian anti-Judaism and the institutionalization of mestizaje as the core to Mexicaness, helped popularize the idea that  Jewish immigrants were unassimilable foreigners in Mexico.

While exclusion from the official discourse of mestizaje has created an ambivalent relationship between Jewishness and Mexicaness, it has also meant the preservation of racial and economic capital (read: whiteness) for the Mexican Jewish community. The privileges that whiteness has, overtime, afforded Jews in Mexico, are made evident through high levels of education, above average literacy rates in both Spanish and English, and the high rate of employment, particularly entrepreneurship that continues to be seen throughout Jewish communities in Mexico City.

Today, there is a growing diaspora of Mexican Jews in the United States, a south-to-north migration that began in the 1980s. The inclusion of Mexican Jews into the U.S. Jewish community challenges us to think in new, dynamic directions about the cultural, linguistic, ethnic and racial fabric of Jews in the Americas. As we welcome in Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) this year, it’s important that we remember that the Jewish community has a long history in Mexico that should also be recognized.

Max Greenberg is a fourth year doctoral student in the UCLA Chicana and Chicano Studies Department. Their research examines Jewish migration and racial formation in Mexico. 

READ: This Is How Jewish Latinos Get Down With The Food During Hanukkah

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What I Wish My Family Knew About How Their Vote For Trump Impacts My Life


What I Wish My Family Knew About How Their Vote For Trump Impacts My Life

fidmart85 / cantstayput / Instagram

Politics is a tricky topic for families and friends, especially when you are on opposite sides of the aisle. It’s hard not to take things personally when it comes to how those closest to you vote. Those feelings have been heightened since 2016 when President Donald Trump won on a campaign based on fear and hate. His rhetoric has never changed and his words and policies are having a real impact on the lives of millions, including me and my husband.

My family is a Cuban family living in Florida. They fit the description in more ways than one. They are a close-knit unit always visiting each other and having mini family reunions for every occasion. Covid changed that for a while but over time they have safely created a bubble with themselves. I am one of three in my immediately-extended family to leave Florida so they don’t see my life on a daily basis. I can only imagine that living in Florida would change that.

With the 2020 elections in just days, I have had some hard conversations with my family about things they’ve never understood or asked about. As a gay Latino man living in the U.S., my life hasn’t always been easy and safe. I grew up in a rural town in the Florida panhandle where it was not okay to be visibly and audibly Latino nor gay.

I was 16 when I had my first run-in with violent homophobia. I was at a keg party and I was pouring a beverage. A college student came up to me and asked if I was gay. Knowing the importance of self-preservation, I immediately said no. Without missing a beat, the man sucker-punched me in the face, called me a faggot, and ran to a waiting car that sped off.

My parents never heard that story. I lied to them when they noticed the welt on my face and told them I got elbowed at cheerleading practice. I know. I was a cheerleader and my parents couldn’t see I was gay. It was safer for me to lie and not let my parents know I was targeted for being gay, something they were in no place to accept are Cuban immigrants living in a rural, conservative southern town.

That moment instilled in me a fear that I live with to this day. No matter where I am or what I am doing, I always function at the level that I can be attacked at any time for being gay. President Trump’s rhetoric and administration has made that worse.

During President Barack Obama’s administration, I felt safe for the first time in a long time. I know that comes with some privilege, but it was the first time in in my gay life that I felt safe to be who I was. I came out to my parents. I became involved in politics to get people elected. I traveled as an openly gay man. I was no longer living in the shadows.

The 2016 elections shattered the feeling of safety and peace for me and my friends. Suddenly, all of us were on the chopping block as our rights and dignity were under attack again. The Pulse Nightclub shooting in June 2016 reminded me of how much hate there still was for people like me and the Trump campaign was fanning those flames. I was scared. My family didn’t understand why.

Most of my family voted for President Trump that year. It was a knife through the heart to know that most of my family was not concerned about my own safety and dignity. For them, President Trump’s election was more important than the very real threat he posed to millions of people.

I remember confiding in my family my fear that President Trump would try to eliminate marriage equality, won just one year before. I was made to feel like I was being dramatic. My husband and I got married the Friday after Thanksgiving because we just did not trust what the administration would do.

Four years later, Supreme Court justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito signaled that they want to overturn Obergefell v. Hodges, the case that made my marriage legal. How? With the help of Amy Coney Barrett, who was rushed in with just days left till election day. Marriage equality became law of the land in a 5-4 ruling.

This blow to the LGBTQ+ community comes after the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that LGBTQ+ people cannot be fired for being LGBTQ+. The ruling in June stated that LGBTQ+ were included in the Civil Rights Act under protection from discrimination based on sex.

The lawsuit brought to the Supreme Court to make discrimination against me legal was drafted by the Trump administration. The man my family voted for wanted to make me less than everyone else.

One of the first cases before the majority conservative court that could erode LGBTQ+ rights is Fulton v. City of Philadelphia. The case, which will be heard the day after the election, will decide if private agencies that receive government dollars can refuse people based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, and even religion. How is this happening in the U.S. in 2020?

I am also a recently diagnosed diabetic. The Trump administration has been a hostile enemy of the Affordable Care Act since day one. The ACA, also known as Obamacare, has become increasingly popular with Americans, especially now during the pandemic.

Another case being heard on behalf of the Trump administration is a case to dismantle the ACA once and for all. This would throw millions of people off of their healthcare and would leave millions more with pre-existing conditions without healthcare.

A vote for Trump is a vote to strip people of necessary and life-saving healthcare. We have all read the horror stories of people dying of diabetes because they couldn’t afford their insulin. The Trump administration wants us to go back to those days. The court case could force numerous people to die from treatable and manageable diseases for the sake of profit over lives.

Republicans have no plan to replace the ACA. However, they have continued to lie to the American people and claim that they do.

There are several communities under attack right now. Black lives are at stake. Abortion rights are at stake. Healthcare is at stake. Immigrant rights are at stake. Trans lives are at stake. LGBTQ+ rights are at stake. Our standing in the world is at stake. The soul of our nation is at stake.

Under this current administration, I have seen my friends live in fear that they will lose rights. I have watched friends grapple with the understanding that they have lost rights.

My family claims to care for me, and I am sure that on some level they really believe that. However, as a gay Latino man living in the Trump administration, I have grown resentful. I resent that their votes are costing me and my friends their human dignity. I resent that their vote exacerbated the ongoing pandemic that has cost more lives than it should have. I resent that they ask why I don’t visit despite voting to limit my rights and freedom.

To my family members who have voted against this administration, thank you. Thank you for standing by my side. Thank you for understanding what is at stake for me and my marriage. Thank you for rebuking an administration that has caused unnecessary harm to millions of innocent people.

It is not too late to have your voice heard. Go vote. Millions of us are relying on you using your voice to determine the future of this nation.

READ: Remembering The Victims Of The Orlando Shooting, Many Of Whom Were Latino

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Dodgers Win First World Series Championship Since 1988 And It’s Great To Be An Angeleno


Dodgers Win First World Series Championship Since 1988 And It’s Great To Be An Angeleno

Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The Los Angeles Dodgers are the champions after 32 years. The bizarre year of Covid and social distancing was also a year of wins for Los Angeles after both the Lakers and Dodgers bring home the championships. The city was alive with energy after the historic and wonderful win.

The Los Angeles Dodgers are the new World Series champions.

The baseball team has not won a World Series championship since 1988. This year, after a long 32-year drought, the Dodgers broke that curse and delivered LA a win during the time of Covid. The Dodgers went against the Tampa Bay Rays and battled it out in a nerve-wracking and nail-biting World Series.

Of course, there is a lot of love being showered on the Latino players.

Latinos are a major part of the Dodgers and their fanbase is huge. There is a reason that the nickname of the Dodgers is Los Doyers. There are four Latino pitchers on the Dodgers and they made themselves crucial parts of the team this season leading the team to the championship.

The Dodgers triumphed over the Tampa Bay Rays in the World Series on Game 6. The teams kept battling it out for the first four games with the Dodgers winning the first and third. The Tampa Bay Rays won the second and fourth. Yet, the Dodgers came through at the end with victories in the fifth and sixth game to clinch the title.

The story overpowering the coverage of the Dodgers’ World Series win is Justin Turner.

The third baseman tested positive for Covid-19 during the game and was removed when the test came back positive. However, when the Dodgers won the sixth game, Turner ran onto the field without a mask. He was photographed holding the trophy, posing with the team for photos, and even taking selfies without wearing a mask.

It is a clear violation of Covid guidelines for the MLB. According to reports, officials sent security to remove Turner from the field because he was breaking safety guidelines. He allegedly refused to leave the field.

Fans have a lot of questions about how Turner caught Covid since the league was supposed to be operating in a bubble.

The MLB has had issues with some teams dealing with Covid infections but it had been a while since one had happened. Turner was tested the day before the game but it came back inconclusive, a pretty common issues with Covid testing right now. Turner was then tested before the game and when the results came back positive in the second inning, Turner was immediately removed.

The MLB has launched an investigation into Turner’s outright refusal to comply with Covid safety guidelines.

“Following the Dodgers’ victory, it is clear that Turner chose to disregard the agreed-upon joint protocols and the instructions he was given regarding the safety and protection of others,’’ the Commissioner’s Office said in a statement. “While a desire to celebrate is understandable, Turner’s decision to leave isolation and enter the field was wrong and put everyone he came in contact with at risk. When MLB Security raised the matter of being on the field with Turner, he emphatically refused to comply.’’

READ: The Los Angeles Dodgers Are Playing In The World Series And People Are Excited

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