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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
First Communion is a very important moment in any Catholic child’s life. The family gets together to watch the little ones walk down the church aisles in white and partake in the sacrament for the first time. For one family, however, a priest has taken that moment away from them because their child is autistic.
The LaCugna family is upset that their autistic son was denied his First Communion.
Jimmy LaCugna took to Facebook to share his disappointment with his church for denying his special needs son his First Communion. First Communion is one of the most important moments in a young Catholics life and the family feels like it has been taken away from them.
“They said there is no way he can make his Communion. He doesn’t understand what the Holy Communion is about,” Nicole LaCugna told News 12 New Jersey. “Nowhere in the Bible does it ever show discrimination of anybody.”
Since the Facebook post by Jimmy, the church tried to change course then deleted their reversal from Facebook.
Allegedly, the church released a statement that painted the LaCugna family as being dishonest about the situation. However, it was deleted from their Facebook page without warning.
The post initially stated that “new information has come to light” stating that children with intellectual and cognitive disabilities “should be presumed to have an inner spiritual relationship with God.”
“My heart shattered,” Nicole told the New York Post. “My first thought was, how do you take a child who was one of God’s children and say that he is not good enough, basically, to be making the sacrament?”
At the center of the controversy is the fact that Rev. John Bambrick made the decision but hasn’t addressed the family personally.
In a statement posted to the church’s website, Rev. Bambrick blames the controversy on a breakdown of communication.
“With the guidance and support of Bishop David O’Connell, we were able to discern a way for the child to receive First Holy Communion without any delay,” Rev Bambrick stated. “We have made the family aware of this development and hope to be able to meet with them to discuss it. Their child continues to be welcome in our program, and will be able to receive First Holy Communion this year.”
Catholic parishioners have been shocked and dismayed by this church’s handling of a child with special needs.
The decision to withhold the child’s First Communion for mental or health issues isn’t the first time. A quick Google search brings back several cases of children being denied their First Communion because of mental or health issues.
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.
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