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Latino Jews: Dual identities pose challenges and choices
September 30th, 2005
In the American Jewish community, they are seen as Latino. And in local Latino circles, their Jewish identity trumps their birth culture and language.
As Latino Jews, You belong and you dont belong, said Milwaukeean Marina Maller-Huck, who grew up in Argentina.
Maller and four others spoke to a group of some 50 on Thursday, Sept. 22, as part of a panel discussion with other Latino-Jewish Milwaukeeans. Sponsored by Latino Arts and the Latino-Jewish Alliance of the American Jewish Committee, the event also featured a preview of the paintings, sculptures and tapestries of the prominent contemporary Mexican Jewish artist Leonardo Nierman.
Harriet McKinney, director of the AJC-Milwaukee Chapter, led the discussion with Maller-Huck and Jose Sectzer, both Argentine Jews; Cynthia Herber and the artist, Nierman, both born and raised Jewish in Mexico City. Nierman also called Chile native Hernan Henry Hirsch to the stage for his insights on the topic.
The panel members agreed that one difficulty of being both Jewish and Latino is that, to some degree, Latinos do not see them as belonging to the countries of their birth.
I dont look Latin, said Sectzer, and we all think in stereotypes. Its tougher in the Latin community to be received as a Latin than it is in the Jewish community.
It is disheartening to be speaking Spanish and to be told you dont look Latin.
Mexicans feel that if you are Jewish, you arent really Mexican, Herber agreed.
Yet while the perception may be that they arent really Latinos, these Latin-born Jews expressed appreciation for the richness their dual identities contributed to their lives.
Maller-Huck pointed out that the family structure is very similar in the two cultures and added, I belong to everywhere.
Herber said that although she didnt find out she was Latin until she came to [the U.S.] she feels she can choose who she wants to be and that is wonderful.
Sectzer, who thrive[s] in both the Latin and the Jewish cultures, said, that being exposed to more than one culture makes one a big winner.
Being born in Mexico has given me a very rich background, Nierman agreed. I could live anywhere on the planet, but I live in Mexico because I love it. I love the attitude of the people, he said, noting that being competitive is not so valued in Mexico. No one becomes depressed because his neighbor just got a new car.
Like his large and boldly colored paintings and tapestries, Nierman, in his seventies, is bursting with a Latin style vitality and joie de vivre.
Asserting that just being born is a mathematical miracle, Nierman said, All of you are one of those chosen [to be born]. It is a reason to celebrate every second of your life. Do not waste this fantastic gift. Do not insult God by being dissatisfied. Enjoy the party!
The event, held at the United Community Center, in Walkers Point, also included kosher Latin hors doeuvres.
Niermans exhibit opened there on Friday, Sept. 23 and will run until Oct. 21.