Culture

Here Are Some Latinos You Might Not Have Known Have Jewish Heritage

The Spanish Inquisition and imperialism may have catalyzed a Roman-Catholic dominant Latino community, but it’s wrong to assume we’re all Catholic (or recovering Catholics). Just as Latinos can be every shade of skin color, we can also be practitioners of every major religion. While the number of Latino Jews living in the United States is minuscule, there are thriving Jewish communities living throughout Latin America, with as many as 300,000 Latino Jews living in Argentina alone. It’s important to underscore that the majority of Latino Jews’ ancestors immigrated to Latin America to escape religious persecution and rising anti-Semitism in Europe during the Holocaust. Of course, if you go back far enough, you’ll find that the first Spanish-speaking Jews to immigrate to Latin America did so during the Spanish Inquisition when they were either forced to convert to Catholicism or be expatriated. Many traveled to Italy where they were able to arrive by boat to “The New World.” 

Immigration, courage, and identity in the diaspora is a part of Latino Jewish stories, which is why we feel it’s so important to honor those stories. Next time someone makes an assumption about Latino identity, rattle off this list of proud Latino Jews who made their mark on the world.

1. Frida Kahlo

CREDIT: @HARVARDLIBRARY / TWITTER

That’s right! Frida Kahlo is beloved in both Latino communities and Jewish communities because Kahlo advocated for her full identity, even when it was dangerous to do so. Kahlo may have been just 47 years old when she died, but she spent the last couple of decades of her life shouting from rooftops her pride in her Jewish ancestry. She did so during an unspeakable time when 6 million European Jews were mass murdered. Kahlo has claimed that her father, Guillermo Kahlo, was a Hungarian Jew who immigrated to Mexico in 1891 but letters from her father himself claim that he comes from a long line of Lutherans. Historians are torn over the truth of the statement given that the stain of Nazi Germany caused so many fear-based lies about family origins.

2. Joaquin Phoenix

CREDIT: @ACTUALLY_INSANE / TWITTER

While we typically associate Joaquin Phoenix’s religion with the religious cult he was raised in, his mother is actually Jewish. Phoenix was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico to a mother of Russian and Hungarian Jewish descent. When his mother, Arlyn, moved to California and met Phoenix’s father (while hitchhiking), the two would later marry and join religious cult Children of God. Phoenix spent the early years of his childhood traveling around South America with their cult until they left Venezuela for the U.S. mainland when Phoenix was 4 years old. “My parents believed in God. I’m Jewish, my mom’s Jewish, but she believes in Jesus, she felt a connection to that. But they were never religious. I don’t remember going to church, maybe a couple of times,” Phoenix said during an interview with Buzz.ie on his role as Jesus in “Mary Magdalene” (2018).

3. Monica Lewinsky

CREDIT: @PEASANTMURPHY / TWITTER

Monica Lewinsky is best known as the young intern that President Bill Clinton sexually pursued while he was in office, she’s gone on to use her experience as a nationwide cyberbullying survivor to advocate against cyberbullying. Once you look more closely into her ancestral history, it’s easy to see how surviving persecution is ingrained in Lewinsky. Her father, Bernard Lewinsky, was born in El Salvador after his parents escaped Nazi-Germany. When he was 14 years old, the Lewinsky family moved to the United States. 

4. Bruno Mars

CREDIT: @BRUNOMARS / INSTAGRAM

While Bruno Mars has referred to his identity as a “gray zone” of ethnicity, the Hawaiin born singer is Latino, Jewish, Filipino and Hawaiian. His father is Puerto Rican and Ashkenazi Jewish and his mother is Filipino. 

5. Sammy Davis Jr. 

CREDIT: @WORLDVIEW_TODAY / TWITTER

The infamous singer, comedian and television personality Sammy Davis Jr. found the Jewish faith later in life. He was born in 1925 in Harlem to Elvera Sanchez, a Cuban-American tap dancer and stage performer. Davis had a near-death experience during a terrible car crash in San Bernadino, California. His friend and fellow comedian Eddie Cantor had given Davis a mezuzah the year prior. Davis wore it around his neck every day for good luck and says the only day he forgot to wear it was the night of the accident. In the hospital, Cantor and Davis had a lively discussion about the similarities between Jewish and Black cultures. Years later, he converted to Judaism and practiced its faith until his death.

READ: Disney Is Debuting Their First Jewish Princess And Surprise! She’s Also Latina

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This Anglo Family Posed the Question: ‘Can We Check ‘Hispanic’ On Our Son’s College Applications Because His Egg Donor is Latino?’

Things That Matter

This Anglo Family Posed the Question: ‘Can We Check ‘Hispanic’ On Our Son’s College Applications Because His Egg Donor is Latino?’

via Christian Glatz/Public Domain

Earlier this month, The New York Times published an advice article that posed an interesting question: What constitutes a Latino identity?

The question stemmed from another question that some parents posed to the Times ethics expert: “My child’s egg donor is Latin American. Does that make him Latino?”

The question was:

“I am the parent of a child who was conceived via in vitro fertilization and surrogacy using the sperm of a Caucasian man and a donor egg from someone who is half Colombian and half Central American. My spouse and I are professionals and both Caucasian, so (knock on wood) our son will most likely not encounter financial hardships. May we in good conscience check ‘Latino/Hispanic’ on his college application? We don’t need to decide this for many years, but it has been a topic of discussion, and we would love to hear your reasoning.”

The question is a complicated one. And in this case, there may be no right or wrong answers. The Times‘ ethics expert, Kwame Anthony Appiah, shares his opinion that there are many factors that constitute a Latino identity.

“Being Latino, clearly, is not a matter of genetics,” said Appiah. “It’s a matter both of how you identify yourself and of how others identify you.”

And yes, we would think anyone would agree with that. Latinos come in all shades, races, religions, and regions. But these unnamed parents’ question sparks a larger question: is a Latino identity born into, or is constructed?

Appiah continues: “Your son may or may not identify as Hispanic/Latino when the time comes, depending on a host of factors, from peer groups to pigmentation. If he does, it won’t be wrong to say so.”

Appiah points out that these parents are already thinking about how they can use their child’s identity to their advantage.

Reading this advice column, you can’t help but feel a little uncomfortable. These non-Latino, Anglo parents are already thinking of their Latino child’s college application advantages. And the child isn’t even born yet.

As these unnamed parents say, they are both “professionals” and Caucasian. They think their child “will most likely not encounter financial hardships” like many people of color do.

“You’re presumably thinking that, in college applications, being identified as Hispanic/Latino will give him some advantage,” wrote Appiah, “and that if he hasn’t experienced discrimination or borne the burdens of the identity…this might be unfair.”

He continued: “In that situation, he’d certainly be getting advantages designed for people with a different set of experiences than his. Deliberately engineering such an outcome would be wrong.”

Twitter user seemed to be divided on the question. One Twitter user wrote: “Your child is therefore half Hispanic.. why would you deny them half their heritage? That’s the real question…”.

Another, seemingly frustrated with the parents, wrote: “It’s probably a good idea to ask important questions that will affect your child’s sense of identity BEFORE deciding to proceed with egg donation.”

One thing’s for certain: questions like this are going become more and more common as genetic technology continues to both advance and become more commonly used.

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Latinos You May Not Have Known Were Jewish

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Latinos You May Not Have Known Were Jewish

Photo via Getty Images

Although Roman Catholicism is the dominant religion in most Latin American countries, we all know by now that Latino culture is not a monolith. In fact, Latinidad comes in all shapes and forms, and it’s a total misconception that all Latinos are Catholics. Latinos follow a variety of religions, from Islam to Buddhism to Judaism. And while most people don’t think of Judaism when they think of Latin America, there is, in fact, a small but proud population of Jewish peoples living throughout Latinidad.

Although the Jewish population in Latin America is relatively small (only an estimated 300,000), Jewish Latinos keep their culture alive through tradition and a strong sense of community. The largest Jewish community resides in Argentina, which is considered to be the “center of the Jewish population in Latin America”. With this in mind, we’ve compiled a list of famous and influential Jewish Latinos who have made their unique mark on the world. Take a look below!

1. Frida Kahlo

via Getty Images

Frida Kahlo was both proud and vocal of her Jewish ancestry at a time when Anti-Semitism was at its height in Mexico. According to Kahlo, her father, Guillermo Kahlo, was a Hungarian-Jew who immigrated to Mexico. In fact, many of Frida’s work have been displayed at Jewish art exhibits.

2. Monica Lewinsky

via Getty Images

Monica Lewinsky’s father is El Salvadoran–born to Jewish-German immigrants who fled Germany during WWII to escape persecution from the Nazi regime.

3. Daniel Bucatinsky

via Getty Images

Beloved “Scandal” actor Daniel Bucatinsky was born in New York City to Argentine-Jewish parents. Bucatinsky has been candid about how his “roots” are in Argentina and how he speaks Spanish fluently. You can even catch him speaking Spanish to his fans on Twitter.

4. Sammy Davis Jr.

via Getty Images

One of the most talented and charismatic performers of the infamous “Rat Pack”, Sammy Davis Jr. was a Latino born to an Afro-Cuban mother. Citing a strong connection to the Jewish faith due to its people’s history of oppression, Davis Jr. converted to Judaism in 1961 and remained devout until his death.

5. William Levy

via Getty Images

Cuban actor and all-around heartthrob William Levy was born in Cojimar to a single mother, Barbara Levy of Jewish descent. At the reported urging of his friends, he converted to Catholicism in 2009

6. Diego Rivera

via Getty Images

Celebrated artist and husband to the venerable Frida Kahlo, Mexican painter Diego Rivera was descended from a Portuguese-Jewish family. Of his roots, Rivera said: “My Jewishness is the dominant element in my life. From this has come my sympathy with the downtrodden masses which motivates all my work”.

7. David Blaine

via Getty Images

Born to a Puerto Rican father and a mother of Russian-Jewish descent, famed magician and illusionist David Blaine is of both Jewish and Latino heritage.

8. Geraldo Rivera

via Getty Images

Journalist and television personality Geraldo Rivera was born to a Puerto Rican father and a mother of Russian-Jewish descent. He was raised “mostly Jewish” and had a Bar Mitzvah ceremony. Rivera affectionately describes himself as “Jew-Rican”.

9. Bruno Mars

via Getty Images

Bruno Mars was born in Hawaii to a father of mixed Puerto Rican and Ashkenazi Jewish descent, while his mother is Filipino. Mars has referred to his ethnicity as existing in a “gray zone” of neither black nor white. Of his ethnicity, Mars has said: “I hope people of color can look at me, and they know that everything they’re going through, I went through. I promise you.”

10. Sara Paxton

via Getty Images

Sara Paxton was born to Lucia Menchaca Zuckerman and Steve Paxton in Los Angeles. Paxton’s mother was originally from Ciudad Acuña, Mexico, where she was raised in a Jewish family. Paxton’s father has since converted to Judaism.

11. Cecilia Roth

via Getty Images

Acclaimed Argentine actress and “muse” of Pedro Almodóvar, Cecilia Roth was born to parents Abrasha Rotenberg and Dina Gutkin in Buenos Aires. Like many European Jews in the 1930s, Roth’s father fled Europe to escape the rising tide of anti-Antisemitism.

12. Eduardo Saverin

via Getty Images

Facebook co-founder, tech entrepreneur and multi-billionaire Eduardo Luiz Saverin was born in São Paulo, Brazil to a wealthy Jewish family. In 1993, the Saverin family immigrated to Miami. Interestingly enough, he was portrayed by the British actor Andrew Garfield in the acclaimed movie “The Social Network”.

13. Jamie-Lynn Sigler

via Getty Images

Known for her role as the spoiled daughter Meadow on “The Sopranos”, Jamie-Lynn Sigler was born to a Cuban mother and a Jewish father. Sigler’s mother converted to Judaism upon marrying Sigler’s father. Sigler has revealed that being raised Jewish, she both attended Hebrew school and had a bat mitzvah.

14. Joaquin Phoenix

via Getty Images

Joaquin Phoenix was born in Puerto Rico to a Jewish mother and a (lapsed) Catholic father. At the time, his parents were acting as missionaries for the cult “Children of God”. Phoenix’s father currently lives in Costa Rica. Of his Latino roots, Phoenix says, “I do like Spanish culture…I like to practice my Spanish when I am working with any actor who speaks Spanish or with members of the crew”.

15. Don Francisco

via Getty Images

Cultural stalwart and host of Univision’s “Sábado Gigante”, Don Francisco was born in Chile to German-Jewish immigrants who fled their home country to escape the Nazi regime.

16. Gabe Saporta

via Getty Images

Cobra Starship lead singer Gabe Saporta was born in Uruguay to a Jewish family. Like many of the entries on this list, Saporta’s grandparents fled Europe during the WWII era to escape anti-antisemitism. His Instagram bio currently reads “I was a terror since the hebrew school era” and he frequently interacts with fans on the account in Spanish.

17. Joanna Hausmann

via johaus/Instagram

Joanna Hausmann is Venezuelan-American comedian, Youtuber, and TV personality. Hausmann is the daughter of Venezuelan intellectual and Harvard professor Ricardo Hausmann and CNN en Español host, Ana Julia Jatar. Hausmann has a series of videos called “Joanna Rants” on Flama where she covers a variety of issues affecting Latindad–from differences in accents to cultural stereotyping.

18. Kayla Maisonet

via kaymais/Instagram

Known for playing the sporty sister in Disney Channel’s “Stuck in the Middle”, Kayla Masionet is a biracial actress of Puerto Rican and Russian-Jewish descent. On dealing with criticism in the industry, Maisonet has revealed that she chooses to embrace what makes her different as opposed to “conform[ing] to what people say I should do”.

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