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
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
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.ieon his role as Jesus in “Mary Magdalene” (2018).
3. Monica Lewinsky
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
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.
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.
When I was 25 years old, I went through a terrible quarter-life crisis. It was right in the middle of the recession and I had been job hunting for two years while trying to advance my career. Nothing was working, and I was terribly frustrated, angry, and lost. It was a pretty stereotypical tale, I know, but it felt like my world was crashing down at the time.
Of course, eventually, I learned to keep going, changed some things about my life (like dumping a bad boyfriend and moving from a job I was “meh” on to a job I loved), and my life improved. However, as I continued to age and turned 30 a couple of years ago, I realized that there are so many life lessons that I really wish I had been able to share with my younger self. From making sure I always get good sleep to knowing when to let go of friendships to going to therapy, here are the 25 things that I wish I could have said to my 25-year-old self now that I’m over 30. I may not have it all figured out yet, but at least I figured out a few things.
1. “Yes, you should throw yourself a doble quince when you turn 30.”
When I was 15 years old, my family didn’t have a lot of money so throwing a quinceañera was not even a consideration. So, instead, I had a small Sweet 16 and left it at that. However, around 25, I started to seriously regret my decision —and wish I had heard of a doble quince sooner. Thankfully, it’s never too late and I had my doble quince at 30 after all. I’ve even heard of someone doing a triple quince (at 45!) which, I have to admit, sounds very enticing.
2. “Mami is never going to stop calling and texting you daily, so stop being annoyed by it.”
When I was in college, it was a family rule that I had to call my parents daily to let them know I was okay. They were helping to pay for my pricey university, so I figured it was only fair. Of course, this all continued after I graduated and became an actual independent adult. But the phone calls and daily texts never stopped. Sometimes, I still get annoyed by it but, to be honest, I’ve come to appreciate it too. Mami won’t be around forever, and I know this is just her showing me how much she cares.
3. “It’s not true what they say: You really CAN come home again.”
This is something that I heard a lot in my youth, but I am happy to tell you that it’s just not true. When I was 25 years old, I couldn’t imagine going back to my hometown. Then, a month after I turned 30, I happily returned home to take a breather from life in the big city and overhaul my career to be a full-time freelancer. It was scary, but also the best decision I ever made. Coming home was difficult, sure, but I wish I had known sooner that it was still an option.
4. “Please, please, please stop conveniently forgetting to bring your sunscreen to the beach.”
Okay, I admit that this is still a bit of an issue for me. After all, who doesn’t want that legendary JLo glow?! But the truth is that Jennifer Lopez doesn’t get that glow from the sun, but rather from beauty products. The woman just doesn’t risk skin cancer and, seriously, why are we doing that to ourselves by heading to the beach without sunscreen in our chic bags? This HAS to stop.
5. “Don’t forget to dream big… but don’t forget to relax and enjoy life, too.”
When I was 25 years old, I was working hard to grow my career. At the time, I was switching from one job to another and ended up spending the next few years jumping from job to job in order to advance my skills. Although I don’t necessarily regret all of that, what I do regret is not taking a break. I needed to work fewer weekends, and spend more time with those I love. If only I could have that time back now, I would do things a bit differently for sure.
6. “The quarter-life crisis is real, but there’s no perfect age to have it all figured out.”
At 25 years old, many of us had the so-called quarter-life crisis when we freaked out about not having it all figured out. I definitely felt like I was a failure (not true), that my career was stalled (not true either), and that I had no clue what I was doing (kinda true). What I’ve learned since, though, is that there is no age at which we think we have everything figured out. We’re always growing and changing, and the sooner you accept that, the happier you’ll be.
7. “Get good sleep, get good sleep, GET GOOD SLEEP.”
Having recently read and loved the book Why We Sleep, I cannot even begin to tell you all of the important things that sleep does for us humans but just assume that it’s basically everything. A lesson that I wish I knew in my early 20s (and all through high school, to be honest) is that prioritizing sleep will give me more energy, make me more creative, a better employee, a calmer and happier person, and keep me healthy. If you’re not getting 7-9 hours every single night, then you’re doing life wrong.
8. “Learn how to budget. You’ll thank me later.”
Look, nobody likes budgeting but we all have to learn it eventually. I spent much of my 20s not really understanding how budgeting works and, thus, living beyond my means. I had credit cards and abused them more than I care to admit. Thankfully, I eventually got my financial life in order but I definitely wish I had done it much sooner since the bad credit (from months when I couldn’t pay even my minimum on some cards) is still hurting me.
9. “It’s better to start that crazy, intense project than to keep dreaming for the next 5 years.”
Shortly before I turned 25 years old, I got an idea for a book. Now, seven years later, I am still working on that book. Granted, I didn’t actually start it until a couple years ago and I didn’t fully take it seriously until last year. It is a big undertaking but I let my dream just sit there for years because I was too afraid to even try. Now I realize what a disservice that was since if I had started it back when I first got this idea, I would have definitely finished it by now and moved on to the next one.
10. “Nurture your important friendships, but don’t be afraid to let others go.”
I love my friends and I do my best to keep in touch with them, especially now that most of us live in different cities. From texting to monthly FaceTime dates to simply liking each other’s stuff on Instagram, there are a plethora of options for connecting these days. But I’ve also realized that there are some friends who don’t put in the effort to keep in touch with you, so I have learned to let go of those friendships. Sure, it’s heartbreaking, but friendship only works if you are both into it.
11. “Go to therapy. NOW. Please! Do not wait.”
I’ve been in therapy for about two years now and boy oh boy do I wish I had done this sooner. Although I’ve made some serious progress, I also know that there are still plenty of things that I am figuring out, both on my own and with my therapist. We as Latinos rarely take care of our mental health because it’s just so shameful to talk about it in our communities, which is why I didn’t do this sooner. I wish I had.
12. “While we’re on this, also start getting regular check-ups and not just OB-GYN.”
After I started going to therapy, someone wisely told me that we should all be going to a mental health professional at least once a year for a check-up, just as with other doctors. That’s when I realized that I hadn’t had a regular check-up in almost four years, other than my annual visit to the gynecologist. This is actually common for women, so I finally made a commitment to get everything checked out. I was 31 at the time and, although I was in mostly good health, there were definitely a few things that I should have gotten taken care of years ago.
13. “Start contributing to your 401k, even if you haven’t quite figured out what that is exactly.”
Putting money into savings has always been a problem for me, and it’s no easier now that I have started to seriously think about retirement. Retirement planning is not a simple conversation to have and, if I were really honest with you, I would tell you that I am doing the bare minimum. However, putting into a 401k (if your company offers it) is basically free money. If they don’t, then start researching other options. You don’t have to know everything to get started, but the sooner you start, the more money you’ll have when you retire.
14. “Stop dating the bad boys, and start giving the nice guys a chance.”
This was a lesson that I truly wish I had learned when I was 25 years old, when I dated the worst of the bad boys I went through. Although that relationship ended a few months later, it was still many years before I finally figured out that nice guys do NOT finish last (and I have the awesome husband to prove it now). In fact, nice guys (and gals) make excellent, loving, amazing, caring, supportive partners — and as an independent woman, I want someone who could be as great as I knew myself to be.
15. “Don’t let the fear of disappointing papi keep you from doing what you really love.”
Like many Latinos, and immigrants like myself in particular, I felt great pressure form my family to be successful. I did well in school, attended a good college, and started a career that my papi doesn’t really approve of and doesn’t really understand. He wants to see me be a success, but more on his own terms as a lawyer or a doctor. That’s not for me, but I had many doubts in my 20s about whether I was doing the right thing by chasing doing what I love instead of going with the more secure thing. I’d like to tell my younger self that doing what you love is really, truly worth it.
16. “Happiness is a choice. Work on it, and own it.”
Anyone who tells you that they’re deeply unhappy is either clinically depressed (and should likely see a medical professional) or hasn’t yet realized that happiness IS actually something that you can work on. There have been many studies done about this and, in particular, how the happiest people are those that have a lot of gratitude. It may sound hokey, but keeping a gratitude journal has been a really positive change in my life, and I really wish I would have done it during my rough 20s.
17. “Create something that matters: A podcast, a book, anything!”
This is something that I know a lot of us millennials feel: A desire to create something that matters. I don’t mean a legacy in the traditional sense, but so many of us have a need to do something creative or important to us. If I could speak to my 25-year-old self, I would tell her to take a chance and write that book she wants to write or start the podcast she’s been thinking about. The sooner you take chances, the more you will learn.
18. “Speak up for what you believe in, ALWAYS.”
Although I was generally a pretty outspoken kid and young adult, I really wish I had done more in my 20s to conquer my fears and speak out for the things that I believe in. Considering what is happening in today’s political climate, I also wish that I had taken more time to volunteer for worthy causes when I could have instead of just spending my 20s stressing about my own damn self and my career. These days, I try to do what I can for immigrant rights, women’s right, LGBTQ+ rights, and more. If only I learned this lesson sooner.
19. “Meet people of other cultures. Travel. Make friends. Move somewhere else.”
There’s something truly special about going to a new country and making friends with someone completely unexpected. Unfortunately, I squandered most of the money I made in my 20s on necessities like food and rent (which are worth it) and things I now regret (like going out too much and buying clothes I can’t afford). Instead, I would tell my younger self to travel more, make friends everywhere in the world and, maybe, even consider moving somewhere else in the world for a while.
20. “Stop complaining about that bad boss and update your resume ASAP.”
My first job was a great experience but, ultimately, I didn’t love my boss. It’s not that he wasn’t a good person, but that we just didn’t work well together as a team. I wish that I had known what I know now about what it takes to be happy at work. I would have instead put all of my energy into finding a better working environment. These days, if someone tells me that they hate their job, I say: So have you updated your resume yet?
21. “Figure out your talents, and invest in yourself. Never stop growing.”
Often, we graduate from college and think that’s it. We’ve put in the work to learn and that’s all there is to it. Now we can go out into the world to work and live successful lives… but if you think you have stopped growing and learning after college, then you are seriously mistaken. Learning and growing as a person should be a lifelong process. These days I pride myself on investing some of the money I make from working into developing other talents and interests I have, like learning a new language or a new skill like video editing. It’s never too late to learn, and it’s always a good idea to keep doing it.
22. “The most successful people aren’t afraid of failure. They’re afraid to never try.”
This piece of advice comes directly from a friend of mine who graduated with her MBA from a top university. During her graduation party, she imparted this little piece of advice: Almost none of the businesspeople and entrepreneurs she learned about were a success because their ideas were great, but rather because they kept trying and didn’t take failure personally. Almost nobody makes it on their first try but, with perseverance, you will eventually get there.
23. “Your thighs aren’t going anywhere, so you might as well start loving them now.”
I still struggle with this one a little bit because I simply do not love the way my thighs look. Growing up, I was a chubby kid that eventually grew into an overweight and ultimately morbidly obese adult. Although I am happy with where I am now, loving my body is still a lesson that I learn and relearn every day. I really wish I had known this at 25 though when I was way too harsh on myself and never appreciated the things that ARE actually positive about my body.
24. “Be kind, even when you’re having a bad day.”
You know how they say that a smile is contagious? Well, being a grumpy SOB is pretty contagious too. I experienced this personally when a coworker’s attitude spread from them to me to my boyfriend later that day. This cycle is a negative one, and it’s one that I have since tried to stay away from. Instead, I smile and attempt to be kind everywhere I go. Sure, it’s difficult to be kind to people I sincerely disagree with (like Trump supporters), but I still try — if not for their sake, then at least for my own.
25. “Life never ever stops changing so embrace that NOW and stop stressing.”
When I was 25, I really, really wanted to have life figured out. After all, that’s what the quarter-life crisis is all about, right? You’re a few years out of school and desperately wanting to be “on the right track.” Well, here’s some bad and good news: There IS no right track. It simply doesn’t exist. We can decide to do something today, and change our minds tomorrow. You can try something and fail, and do something else and succeed. There are no guarantees in life, but that’s what makes it pretty amazing too. It never stops changing, so embrace the change and go into it with your head held high.
Frida Kahlo’s Death Has Long Been The Subject Of Debate —This Play Unpacks The Painter’s Last Week Of Life
This LA Play Explores The Mystery Surrounding Frida Kahlo’s Death, Her Love Affairs, And Her Passion For Art
This Play Explores The Last Week Of Frida Kahlo’s Life —And The Mystery Will Have You On The Edge Of Your Seat
There have been many movies, television dramas and stage productions based on the life and works of Mexico’s most famous artist Frida Kahlo, but none of these stories had ever explored the woman’s last week of life. As it turns out, her death has been an open-ended and unanswered question mark. Many believe there was a cover up, and this play dives deep into the mystery.
The award-winning playwright and actress, Odalys Nanin explores the mental, emotional and physical condition during the last week of Frida Kahlo’s life in her latest play.
After writing and producing nearly a dozen plays, Nanin presented her last production at the MACHA last fall. The play was another original she wrote, this time about Mexico’s most controversial artist, and one of the world’s most famous painters, Frida Kahlo.
Frida: Stroke of Passion, enjoyed a three-month long run last fall and received rave reviews and awards.
Frida Kahlo died July 13, 1954. Her death certificate alleges cause of death: “pulmunary embolism” but no autopsy was allowed and she was immediately cremated. The play explores her mental, emotional and physical condition during the last week of her life – exposing her love affair with famous Mexican singer Chavela Vargas, Maria Felix, Josephine Baker, Tina Moddoti, Leon Trotsky, a Cuban spy and her complex passionate love for Diego.
Back by popular demand and with a grant from LA County Arts, DAC and CAC, “Frida: Strokes of Passion” premieres February 7 in Boyle Heights for six shows.
In Nanin’s tale, Kahlo’s bout with bronchopneumonia and the loss of her right leg left her frail and numb, “Her right leg had been amputated from the knee down so she is either in her wheel chair or bed ridden. She was under a lot of pain killers and alcohol in order to numb her pain. So she was between a daze of sleep and awakening.”
“Espero que la salida sea gozosa, y espero nunca mas volver.”
“What initiated the spark of passion in me to write about Frida Kahlo was because as a lesbian Latinx I relate to her courage and fearless determination to stand up to injustice and to be the voice of the voiceless through her art and political activities.”
The main players in the story are Kahlo’s tormented husband, Diego Rivera, the love of her life, but there were other lovers.
Her passion didn’t just start or end with Rivera, there were several women in-between and one other man who also captured her heart, and during her final days, they all came visiting– taunting and haunting her with the memories they each represented. Women like Mexican singer Chavela Vargas, Mexican movie star Maria Felix, cabaret singer and dancer Josephine Baker, famous model and photographer Tina Modotti, and Cuban revolutionist/spy Teresa Provenza. There was also the ghost of Leon Trotsky, a man she admired and loved and whose murder haunted Kahlo for the rest of her days.
The production has also been released in the form of a book.
Nanin has written a book capturing her play in print– the story goes far beyond Kahlo’s Mexican and European Surrealism, and her indigenous Mexican culture influence. Frida Kahlo hated societal rules and traditions at every level, and she felt shackled as a woman. In the book, Nanin explores her frustrations, her love affairs, her queerness and overall, her passion for art.
“Frida – A Stroke of Passion” runs February 7–9 and 14–16 at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and at 2 p.m. on Sundays at the Casa 0101 Theatre in Los Angeles. For tickets and more information, click here.
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