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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Pope Francis Comes Out In Support Of Civil Unions For Same-Sex Couples

Culture

Pope Francis Comes Out In Support Of Civil Unions For Same-Sex Couples

Franco Origlia / Getty Images

In a historic move, Pope Francis comes out in favor of same-sex civil unions. The announcement is being heard by Catholics around the world. The Catholic church has been notorious for its anti-LGBTQ+ views and Pope Francis continues to push the Catholic church into the 21st century more and more.

Pope Francis called on the passage of civil union laws for same-sex couples in a documentary.

“Homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family. They’re children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out, or be made miserable because of it,” Pope Francis said in the film.

The pope’s declaration is a clear departure from the Vatican’s long held anti-LGBTQ+ beliefs. The Catholic church has long demonized and ostracized LGBTQ+ people because of who they are and Pope Francis has done a lot of work to change that rhetoric from within.

Pope Francis has advocated for rights for several marginalized groups during his time as pope.

Pope Francis became the first pope from Latin America when he was chosen in March 2013. In the past seven years, Pope Francis has called for compassion for migrants fleeing violence in their countries, advanced LGBTQ+ acceptance in the Catholic faith, among other things.

“What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered,” the pope said in the documentary “Francesco,” which debuted at the Rome Film Festival. “I stood up for that.”

The importance of the statement is not what he said but who he is to say it.

Popes before Pope Francis have long upheld the archaic views against the LGBTQ+ community. Pope Francis is the first pope to speak directly to the Catholic people in favor of humanizing and protecting LGBTQ+ people and their dignity. The pope has called on the church and Catholics to welcome LGBTQ+ people and took the stance that homosexuality is not an illness. Pope Francis’ papacy is a welcomed change for LGBTQ+ rights activists.

Catholic politicians are praising the pope for modernizing the church bit by bit.

The declaration is not only historical, it is moving Catholics closer to accepting and embracing LGBTQ+ people in society. The pope holds a lot of power in moving the Catholic church and its followers. With declarations like this, the pope is pushing the church to reckon with its own teachings and take steps into the 21st century.

Some are wondering what this will mean for devout Catholics in government, like potential Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett.

Coney Barrett has been tied to vehemently anti-LGBTQ+ hate groups. While she claims that she doesn’t know that the organizations hold these views, as a devout Catholics the word of the pope holds weight. Many are curious to see if the pope’s words break through and resonate with the judge.

You can watch the trailer for the documentary below.

READ: Pope Francis Condemns Capitalism and Populism in New Official Church Document

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Alaina Castillo’s New TikTok Video Is Empowering People To Embrace Their Latinidad

Culture

Alaina Castillo’s New TikTok Video Is Empowering People To Embrace Their Latinidad

Not everyone has the privilege of growing up surrounded by their cultura, with parents there to pass on knowledge of traditions and customs from home. That, combined with heavily opinionated internet trolls, has led to many people struggling to feel confident in their identity. In a digital world that tries to force us all to fit into boxes, what does “Latino enough” mean and how do you know if you’re there?

Recently, we asked our Instagram community “what does being Latino mean to you?” and although some responses had details in common, for the most part they were as unique as every member of the community itself. There is no one definition of Latinidad, and therefore there is no way to measure what exactly makes someone “Latino enough.”

We got the chance to talk to Alaina Castillo, musical artist and TikTok Queen, about how she identifies with Latinidad and what this TikTok video means to her.

@wearemitu

Checklists don’t define you so don’t ever let anyone tell you you’re not enough! 😤@alainacastillo #AreYouLatinoEnough #FamiliaLatina #hhm #orgullo

♬ original sound – we are mitu

What does being Latina mean to you? – mitú

“It means that I have something to identify with and be proud of because of my family members, my culture, and the things that I participate in as a Latina.” – A.C.

Side note, this was a personal reminder that we represent the community wherever we occupy space, whether we realize it or not. We are all participating in things as members of the community.

What’s something that, as a Latina, you are proud of? – mitú

“The strength and endurance that we have. I’ve seen it in my dad, his family, and so many others and it makes me feel proud as well as encouraged to achieve my goals with the same mindset as them.” – A.C.

While they may not be perfect (and let’s face it, who is?), our parents are the definition of hard working. Remembering that their blood runs through my veins always keeps me going when the going gets tough. Si se puede!

What Latino figures inspire you? – mitú

“Selena, even though she was an artist that I didn’t really grow up listening to. When I found out who she was, she was someone who I related to because she was a Mexican-American learning to speak and sing in Spanish, while breaking a lot of barriers that people had set up around her.” – A.C.

La Reina del Tex-Mex was a trailblazer indeed! Who else could forget Selena’s iconic “diecicuatro” blurb when she appeared in an interview with Cristina Saralegui? The important thing to focus on is that she was TRYING! As long as we’re all working on improving and being the best versions of ourselves, that’s the best we can do, and it’s okay to make mistakes along the way.

IMAGE COURTESY OF ALAINA CASTILLO

Name one meal that, no matter where you have it, always reminds you of home. – mitú

“Homemade tamales!!!! 100%” – A.C.

You know we love some good tamales, so naturally our next question was…

Where is your family from? – mitú

“My dad is from Mexico and my mom is from Ohio.” – A.C.

Mmmm…Mexican tamales 😋

Have you ever been to those places? – mitú

“Yes, both places. I went to Mexico when I was really young, maybe about two times, and then I’ve traveled to Ohio on various occasions to see family. I was young each time I went to those places so they’re little memories I think of when I miss my family.” – A.C.

What would you say is the most “Latino” item in your home? – mitú

“We have these blankets from my grandma that I grew up using. I thought they were normal blankets but then I saw on social media that almost every Latino household has some and I was like hmmm, what do you know?” – A.C.

IMAGE COURTESY OF ALAINA CASTILLO

What would you say to people who think that not speaking Spanish makes you less Latino? – mitú

“I think it’d definitely be nice to know the language fluently but some people aren’t taught Spanish growing up and that’s not their fault. Not speaking the language doesn’t mean that they don’t have the same customs or should be rejected from the culture that their family is from. I decided to learn on my own because I’ve always been interested in Spanish, and also so I could speak with my family and I see that’s what a lot of other people are doing too.” – A.C.

One more time for the people in the back: not speaking Spanish doesn’t make you any less Latino.

How do you celebrate your Latinidad? – mitú

“With pride. I wouldn’t be who I am today without influences from my family so it’ll always be something I carry with me and proudly show throughout my life and career.” – A.C.

What do you hope people take away from this trend? – mitú

“That Latinidad is something you’re born with and it can’t ever be taken away from you,” – A.C.

So forget about the opinions of other people! All they’re doing is projecting their beliefs onto you and that is not an actual reflection of who you are. We hope you are inspired to embrace your Latinidad on your own terms, and that you walk more confidently in your identity. So duet us on TikTok and don’t forget to use the hashtag #AreYouLatinoEnough to join in on the fun!

Did we mention quarantine has not stopped Alaina Castillo from dropping new music? Check out her latest single, “tonight,” below!

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