Culture

Here’s How Judaism, One Of The World’s Largest Religions, Made Its Way To Latin America

The history of how religion is expressed in Latin America today is, in the case of Catholics, largely the result of imperialist missionaries on behalf of the Roman Catholic empire or, on the behalf of Jews, fear of religious persecution from Catholics. While the trope of the typical Latino usually includes an altar of velas with varying Catholic saints emblazoned on its labels, there is a thriving Jewish Latino community whose menorah doesn’t get the spotlight it deserves. By definition, a Latino-American Jew will have an ancestral route that begins in Europe and passes through Latin America before arriving in the United States. Latino-American Jews are a very small minority within the United States. 

To understand how Latino-American Jews came to be, we must begin with the Spanish Inquisition.

Spanish-Jews were first displaced by the Inquisition in 1492.

CREDIT: @MIZU_YONG / TWITTER

The Alhambra Decree of 1492 required every Spaniard Jew to be either converted or expelled from the country. The vast majority of Jews converted, becoming known as “conversos.” As Spain began to colonize The New World, they were forced to assimilate due to blood laws that forbade new converts to travel. Only those with family documentation that their lineage had long been Christian were allowed to travel to the New World. Those who fled did so to the Netherlands, France, or Italy, where they would eventually be allowed on trans-Atlantic voyages to what would become Latin America. 

Within 100 years of the Alhambra Decree and launch of the Spanish Inquisition, Jewish communities were functioning in Brazil, Jamaica, Barbados, Colombia, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Peru. Those that lived in Spanish-controlled colonies had to conceal their identities and practice their faith underground, becoming known as crypto-Jews. After World War II, another mass exodus of Ashkenazi Jews emigrated due to extreme religious persecution, largely forming in Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico. Argentina has become the hub for the Jewish community of Latin America, with over 300,000 Jews now living in the country. 

Today, a third of the Jewish population in Miami-Date County and the Bronx are Latino.

CREDIT: @SMOKYQUARTZES / TWITTER

The results of a recent report based on interviews of 85 Latino Jews living in the United States reveals “a sense of alienation in their adopted communities. Many have feelings of being outsiders among fellow Latinos, whose family heritages are often deeply flavored by Catholicism; while often feeling estranged from their larger Jewish communities, with whom they may feel inadequate commonalities due to factors such as culture and language,” according to J Weekly.

Some Jews view Latin America as the “Jewish promised land” rather than Israel.

CREDIT: @DANIELLIPSON / TWITTER

Jewish Latino scholar and author Ilan Stavans told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) that he’s exhausted with the narrative of Jewish immigration ending with Zionist goals to return to the state of Israel. “But the fact is that Latin America has been, in many ways, the Jewish promised land,” Stavans told the organization. Much like other Latino Americans, Stavans added, “at this point in my life, I can’t tell you anymore if I’m Mexican or American — if English or Spanish is “my language.” But I think that this is the experience of thousands of Jews in the Diaspora.”

I think that being out of context is a Jewish condition, not quite in and not quite out, always dislocated,” Stavans told JTA. For Stavans, the diaspora and feeling of “dislocation” is central to the identity of the Latino Jew. 

For those of you who crave a deeper dive, “The Seventh Heaven” promises a closer look at the history of Judaism in Latin America.

CREDIT: @BLUMEAGON / TWITTER

“Very few people know about Latin American Jews, including Jews in Latin America, who know about their own communities but not necessarily about those in other Latin American countries,” Mexico-born Ilan Stavans told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Stavans wanted to offer the Jewish-Latino narrative to the English-speaking world, and with that intention, he published “The Seventh Heaven.” Stavans moved to the United States as a young adult and has bore witness to many misconceptions about Latin American Jews here in the U.S. “American Jews have been very successful in the United States,” Stavans told the organization. “But the tragic and dramatic aspect of this is the high rates of assimilation. In Latin America, because of the ethnic and religious dynamics, there’s less assimilation. The loss of members to the tribe is smaller; Jews have a more devoted sense of tradition, culture and identity.”

According to Stavans, Latino Jews in the United States experience the benefits of being deeply tied to two communities: the Jewish community and the Latino community. With over 60 million Latinos in the United States, the U.S. is home to more Latinos than most Latin American countries. The number of Latino Jews is far smaller, but, as American Jews, they’re often more educated and “well-off” than other Latinos, according to Stavans. “What is happening right now in the United States is a fascinating connection between the Latino community and the Jewish community,” Stavans added, “and the bridge between them is the Latino Jews.”

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

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Meet ‘Padre Cheke,’ The Mexican Priest Combining Religion And Tech On TikTok

Culture

Meet ‘Padre Cheke,’ The Mexican Priest Combining Religion And Tech On TikTok

A Mexican priest has turned to social media to meet young people where they are – on TikTok. He’s using the popular social media app to help “bring young people closer to God” and him becoming an actual influencer in the process is just a coincidence. But a very successful one at that.

Known as Padre Cheke, the priest from Puebla already has nearly one million followers on TikTok and has gained millions of likes on his videos. So just what does a Catholic priest upload to TikTok?

Padre Cheke is a massive hit on TikTok for uploading religious content.

Ezequiel Padilla is “Padre Cheke,” a Catholic priest and rector of the Chapel of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and San Cayetano in Puebla. He is also a new star of TikTok. He currently has almost 700,000 followers and 3.2 million likes on his platform.

Padre Cheke has become famous for using TikTok trends and using them to give religious messages to his followers and anyone who comes across his videos.

With the onset of the pandemic and confinement, Father Cheke decided to implement new strategies to keep people from turning away from religion. After returning to Mexico following a formation meeting in Italy, the priest became interested in this platform.  “In those days was that I downloaded the application, because I saw some stories on social networks and from there I started to make TikToks. I did not know how but little by little I was learning,” said the TikToker.

At 48 years old, the priest pointed out that when he noticed that one of his videos went viral and went from 60 followers to 10,000 followers in a very short time, he understood the power of social media.

Ezequiel feels that religion is not at odds with daily life and he uses TikTok to share that message.

Father Cheke does it all for TikTok. He dances, sings and interprets his videos with a lot of ease. He also lip synchs to dubbed videos, follows trendy choreography and viral songs, sometimes alone and sometimes with members of his congregation.

I mean who wouldn’t love a padre doing TikTok?!

Due to the great impact of social media, he has become a viral character and even has his own hashtag,#ChekeTokers, which has already been and will probably continue to trend throughout Mexico and, if he has his way, around the world.

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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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