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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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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People Are Sharing Their Personal Experiences Of Feeling Shame Over Their Bisexuality And It’s Pretty Heartbreaking

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People Are Sharing Their Personal Experiences Of Feeling Shame Over Their Bisexuality And It’s Pretty Heartbreaking

mitu

It’s no secret that more than most sexualities, the bisexual experience is often invalidated and largely stigmatized. Often times, people who are bisexual are forced to shoulder the social stigmas from partners, friends, and family who believe that they are hiding their homosexuality, are sexually promiscuous, and or more likely to spread sexually transmitted diseases.

Curious about the effects of the stereotypes, we scoured Reddit for personal experiences with the sense of shame some people feel attached to their bisexual identity.

Check out what we found in one thread below.

https://www.reddit.com/r/bisexual/comments/4r4ha4/does_anyone_else_feel_shame/

So, I’m bi and finding some videos on the youtubes about bisexuality and started watching videos of people saying being bi doesn’t exist. I also noticed on some apps like grindr and a few others who seemed to have a ‘problem’ with my being bi for some reason. Which makes me feel bad about being bi :c

“I was really insecure about my sexuality for a long time… I still kinda am but I’m mostly ok with it Now. Sometimes I even love it. I’m not really ashamed of it anymore, I’m just incredibly introverted and very private so I’m not open to most people about it. It took me several years to come to terms with my sexuality and accept myself and I still struggle with it sometimes. I used to wish I could just be straight. But now I feel like if there was something I could do to make myself straight, I wouldn’t do it.”-Strawbeerylemonade

“No I don’t feel bad about who I am. If someone doesn’t like me for who I am, I don’t want to date them.”- EnLaSxranko

“There is a lot of misconceptions about us in the gay and straight community. I don’t feel shame but I feel awkward. No matter who I choose to be with I feel I need to explain. I’m currently in an amazing opposite gender relationship with a queer woman who I adore and we encounter bi-phobia. Today I kissed her at Pride. We are in love and queer.
I hold my relationships with my male partners in high regard and will never be ashamed that I loved them (because of their gender). So like it or not, as queer people my love for my girlfriend will be political. oh well. I’m used to it and so is she.”- torontomammasboy

“Kinda. I find it embarrassing for some reason, kinda like if I had a skin condition or something. I actually came out to my parents yesterday and they haven’t disapproved or anything but I feel really weird that they know now. Kinda exposed feeling. It’s weird. I also get the whole shame part. I don’t want to be public about my same sex attractions in the sense that they are almost purely sexual in nature. I would probably not date a guy. I’m ashamed I have sexual feelings for men but really wouldn’t date them (I could do a BFF with benefits thing but it wouldn’t be romantic at all and I don’t think I’d ‘fall in love’).”- CompartmentalizeMyBi

“I’m 25 and am currently having my homophobic mother staying with me until she finds her own place. I’ve came out to her a couple of years ago, but she dismissed it as “foolishness” and has basically been in denial about it ever since. I basically have to tip-toe around her if I want to have another guy in my own apartment. That combined with my own internalized homophobia and biphobia makes it hard not to feel ashamed of my own attractions.” – acethunder21

“No I do not feel any shame. Mostly because I actually don’t give myself any label at all. And why I don’t give myself one is because honestly, I hate labels. For jobs, for relationships, for sexuality. It all is just not something I want to deal with. Now I’m not saying that any of the the labels you give yourself aren’t any real to you. You’re reality is just as personal to you, as mine is to me. And I don’t want to get in the way of how you want to live. And that’s how everyone should really treat each other about their sexuality. I’m nearly 17, (6 days from now) and male. I’m in love with my first, and 7-month boyfriend. A lot of my friends and family know this, and I didn’t feel any different coming out about it to them than when they did not know. When wondering about your sexuality, learn it like you would playing an rpg game. Go out and explore, and find what you like, and make it yours. Hopefully my tired 1:30 am rant meant something. Have a happy night and 4th if your in the good ol’ U.S. Of A like me.”-PopsOnTheRox

“I stopped giving a f*** about what people think eons ago. Opinions are like assholes, everyone has them. Yours is the only one that should matter to you. Make yourself proud and you’ll find people respect and admire it.”-StroppyMantra

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