Jewtina y Co aims to create a communal space for Jewish-Latin identity in the US

March 24, 2022

By Esther D. Kustanowitz

Published by eJewishPhilanthropy.com. Read it there!

 

Analucia Lopezrevoredo, who identifies as a “Peruvian-Chilean-Quechua (indigenous)-American Sephardi Jewtina” who grew up in Orange County, California, has found that the Jewish professional world is not always a welcoming place for complicated identities.

“Oftentimes, in Jewish spaces, I haven’t really led with these other ethnic identities because I felt that they dilute my Jewishness,” Lopezrevoredo told eJewishPhilanthropy. “So it’s become very important for me to stand proudly in my different ethnic identities that don’t null[ify] my Jewish identity, but rather complement it and really make it what it is…[to] be able to hold all of these pieces together.”

Lopezrevoredo is the founder of Jewtina y Co — a nonprofit devoted to creating space for those who identify as Jewish and Latino, Latina or Latinx, a gender-neutral term.  She created the group in 2019 to eliminate gender-, racial-, or ethnic-based tokenism, and encourage the larger Jewish community to decentralize its leadership and include what she calls la familia Jewtina” — in other words, anyone who holds both ‘Latin’ and ‘Jewish’ as parts of their identity.

The organization seeks to engage the community at large in conversations about Jewish and Latino identity. It also aims to serve as a guide for community members, connecting them to educational resources and programs that will deepen their understanding of the intersection of  Jewish and Latin American texts, holidays, values, culture and rituals.

Jewtina y Co also hopes to help Jewish Latinos explore their own multifaceted identities through its focus on what it calls “the four COs”: Comunidad (Community), Conservación (Conserving and Sustaining Culture), Colaboración (Collaboration); and Conocer (Learning). It runs programs like the Voces Project, a community story initiative that centers on multicultural and intersectional Jewish identity. And it created the Puentes (‘bridges’ in Spanish) Leadership and Resiliency Fellowship, which gathered an intergenerational group of 15 emergent Jewish leaders ages 25 to 59 to learn about Latin and Jewish values and models of leadership, and to share experiences in which their identities were misunderstood, challenged, tokenized or fetishized. Jewtina y Co also hosts healing circles for those who are grieving or healing.

“Everything that we do is rooted in Jewish values,” Lopezrevoredo said. Because not everyone with a Latin identity speaks Spanish, whenever the group uses Spanish words, they also translate to English and Hebrew, she said, “because I think that’s a fun way in which to connect all of those pieces together.”

Jewtina y Co’s work examines how leadership has been pre-defined, and “how our ancestral identities truly guide us in thinking about collective leadership, both within the Latino context and in the Jewish context,” Lopezrevoredo said. While Jews might consider Moses a solo leader, for example, he also had people who supported his work and counseled him, she said. Similarly, in Latin American liberation movements, “it’s never just been one person; it’s been a community. So what does it look like to think about leadership through this lens of collectivity as we develop our individual leadership philosophies, which then help us develop even more what we want to do within our communities?”

While many people assume Latin Jews are Sephardi because of their connection to the Spanish language, more than 80% of the Jewish community in Latin America is culturally Ashkenazi, she said. About 20% of Latino Jews have roots in the Middle East and mostly come from Syria. Even those who identify as culturally Ashkenazi might not identify as white. Among the Puentes fellows, there are Afro-Latino Jews; Latino Jews who have mixed indigenous and non-indigenous ancestry; people with 100% Eastern European identity but who primarily identify as Latinos; and those who are of Middle Eastern ancestry.

The backstories of Latin Jews in the United States also vary, Lopezrevoredo continued, including Jews-by-choice; children of one Jewish parent and one Latino parent; and transracial adoptees, born in Latin America and adopted by white Jewish parents. Adoptees, in particular, may have been raised within a very inclusive family that doesn’t see them as anything other than family, but, she asserts, “their whole life has been about negotiating those two identities…they have had to navigate their Latinidad (Latino identity) as adults.”

Latino Jews “likely have very different experiences than U.S.-born Jews,” and are “living in a double diaspora: outside of Israel and outside of Latin America,” Lopezrevoredo said. “Our community is so diverse; no two Latin Jews are alike.”

In the Puentes fellowship, for example, fellows focus on what it means to be a bridge between their Jewish and Latino identities. The four-month experience includes virtual learning workshops and community gatherings, and aims to empower participants to create change surrounding their Jewish and Latino community.

“We spend a lot of time getting really clear on values, ethics…and also really breaking down the expectations and the whiteness around leadership that exists a lot in our society,” Lopezrevoredo said.

Something that became very clear from the Puentes fellowship gathering, Lopezrevoredo said, is that Jews crave community with other Jews, because having an affinity space enables the nuances of identity to arise “in ways that don’t always happen in [Jews of color] spaces and hardly ever happens in larger Jewish spaces,” she said.

Last year, a study by the Pew Research Center found that Hispanic Jews made up the largest share of non-white American Jews, at 4% of the total Jewish population. Mijal Bitton, a sociologist and scholar-in-residence at Shalom Hartman Institute who is herself Argentinian and grew up in Latin America before her family moved to the U.S., said Latino Jews are far from monolithic. Social scientists who study American Jews are now examining how Latin American Jews think of themselves vis-a-vis American racial and ethnic categories and how they engage with the rest of the U.S. Jewish population, she added.

“Latin American Jews in the U.S. are a very diverse population that comes from multiple countries across a large continent,” Bitton said. “They share a language and cultural elements but there’s high levels of diversity in all issues — countries of origin and times of immigration, whether they identify as white or nonwhite or other, political orientations, Jewish denomination/practice, whether they are Sephardi vs. Ashkenazi, socioeconomic class, geographical location in the US, etc.”

Jon Cohen, a Puentes fellow from Miami who is half Sephardi and half Ashkenazi, said that as a child, he felt people didn’t understand his identity.

“Growing up with a white dad and a Mexican mom, I experienced a bunch of different ways people react to you based on what they think you are,” said Cohen, the national director of community mobilization for the Jewish LGBTQ+ organization Keshet. “I remember in the first grade being told for the first time that I couldn’t be Jewish and Mexican because ‘Jews were white.’”

While South Florida has a lot of Latino Jews, when he became more involved in the Jewish community as an adult, he realized that in other cities, Latino and other non-white Jews were rare, and people labeled him a Jew of color. “All of a sudden there was a box that I was being placed in that took me time to understand and unpack,” he said.

During an identity exploration exercise at the Puentes retreat, another participant self-identified by writing “queer Jewish Mexican” on the wall. “For the first time, ever I was like, ‘Wow, I could have written that, and so could three other people here,’” Cohen said. “I’ve never been in a space where so many intersecting parts of my identity were all present and honored at once.”

Lopezrevoredo grew up with a Catholic father and a Jewish mother, and had some freedom to explore faith as a child, but really only felt attached to Judaism. She added that her father’s faith also “influenced my own practice of thinking about the divine and thinking about oneness and our purpose…what are we here on earth to do?” She married a Jew and has a Jewish home, but is proud to be part of a larger interfaith family. “I’m not ashamed to say that I came from an interfaith family, because that shaped my choosing Judaism in such a clear way every day. I wasn’t just born Jewish. I choose to be Jewish every day. And I think so many of us do.”

Lopezrevoredo said that Jewtina y Co is deeply connected to other organizations led by Jews of Color, and partners with many of them. The organization was also named one of Slingshot’s “10 to Watch” this year.After wrapping up the Puentes fellowship in Berkeley, Calif., Lopezrevoredo went to Charlotte, N.C. for a meeting of her Wexner Field Fellows cohort, a leadership development program for promising Jewish professionals. Because some in the diverse cohort work in legacy Jewish organizations, Lopezrevoredo found it encouraging to be able to introduce her organization’s mission to many of her peers for the first time.

“Jewish communal life is an ever-expanding cosmos,” she said. “Some of our colleagues are well aware of JOC-led, multicultural organizations and many are still learning the landscape… there is still much room for collaboration and learning in the field.”

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