Jewish/Latino Relations the Next Issue?

By | Jul 28, 2008

As much as everyone is talking about Jewish/African-American relations these days, The Jerusalem Post blog presents an interesting new angle. Maybe Jewish/African-American relations in fact isn’t as critical an issue this election cycle as everyone believes.

Maybe the real issue is a reconciliation of Jewish and Latino communities.

Before Sen. Barack Obama’s trip to Israel, columnist Samuel Friedman wrote:

With more young black men in prison than in college, with Hispanics surpassing them as America’s largest racial minority, blacks actually have some other, slightly more pressing things to worry about. [Jews] are the ones who keep that myth going, and it’s time to give it a rest. […]

While much of Obama’s visit will rightly be concerned with issues of Israeli security and Iranian aggression…inevitably the subtext will be the supposedly special relationship between blacks and Jews. […]

The myth of blacks and Jews has long since stopped serving any useful purpose. In one respect, it provides a self-satisfying narrative that absolves Jews from making the new alliance we should be creating with Hispanics.

The Jerusalem Post‘s blog went further, saying the Latino-American and Jewish-American communities should be “natural” allies.

First, there’s the historical and cultural similarities. The University of California-Irvine held a conference in 2006 called “Uncovering Latinos’ and Jews’ shared history—and future.” It planned to “uncover the often forgotten cultural, social and political ties that have existed between Latinos and Jews for more than 500 years, since Sephardic Jews fled the Spanish Inquisition and settled in Mexico.”

What’s more, both American Jews and Latino-Americans share the experience of existing in a Diaspora, as well as what it feels like to live with a distinctive minority culture within a larger paradigm. Steven Windmuller’s 1999 research, called “Rethinking Latino-Jewish Relations in Los Angeles,” has this for proof:

Reading the poem presented below, one would be hard pressed to believe this was not the work of a Jewish writer. The theme clearly resonates to a traditional Jewish focus on “memory” and history. Yet this is a Latino writer’s quest to reflect on his people’s experience within the United States. There are numerous other literary examples of common themes and messages dealing with such issues as family, past events, and holiday celebrations, as well as a focus on heroes and national symbols.

Who, how
Remember who you are.
How did I get here?
Remember your descendants.
Remember who you are.
Even when there is a prejudice
Of who
And what you are.

But there is also a political commonality. American Jews, in general, vote liberal in issues important to Latino-Americans, such as immigration. Thus many Latino-Americans believe there is an inherent opportunity to build a coalition with Jewish political power in Latino-heavy population centers like Los Angeles and elsewhere to achieve the shared goals.

Latino-Americans also believe that Jews, having succeeded as a minority group in a hostile American environment for so long, can assist them in moving forward. Says, in response to a Dallas Morning News article describing Jews and Latinos fighting discrimination together, “I’m glad to see this kind of cooperation, as I think the Latino community can learn so much from this group who has successfully incorporated itself into the mainstream in the US.”

So it seems that the Jewish-American/Latino-American reconciliation is already underway. Whether or not it will impact the election come November, we’ll just have to wait and see.

Benjamin Schuman-Stoler

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