ON BEING A MEXIJEW ON CINCO DE MAYO!
Rodrigo Rafael Rodarte, MoHoLA
Ever since I moved into Moishe House LA, I’ve been filled with pride. Proud of being young and living in this great city, proud of being part of an amazing organization, and proud of being a Jew. So much so that I was recently called a racist – sort of. “It’s great that you’re getting in touch with your Jewish roots,” a friend of mine told me, only half-sincerely, “but what about your Mexican side?” It’s true I am half Mexican, and that my Mexican side is not Jewish, so it often sparks a conflict of who to identify with, and occasionally someone will point out the fact that I do seem to favor one culture over the other – at least externally.
“You live in a house with all Jews, you host Jewish events and hang out primarily with Jewish people, you eat at Kosher restaurants and you talk about Judaism all the time. What about the other wonderful cultures out there? And what about your own Mexican side? Don’t you think you’re being… exclusionary?!”
Exclusionary? Does she mean racist? Is it racist to care about your religion and culture so much that you want to incorporate them into all aspects of your life? I don’t think so. My Moishe House mates and I don’t treat anyone else any differently, we just happen to love Jews a little extra. But what about the other thing she said – the part about my other half, my… non-Jew half? I’d hate to think I’m only embracing half of who I am. But what am I supposed to do? I was raised by a single mom, a Ukrainian Jew from the Bronx, I went to an Orthodox pre-school, got yelled at by my grandparents in Yiddish constantly, ate gefiltefish and borsht more than rice and beans, and probably most noticeably, I’m white as can be, wear glasses and possess what you might call a healthy Jewish nose. It does get Jew-ier than that, but not by much. So then… my friend is right… Right? Maybe not – culture, after all, is not as simple as black and white.
This month is Cinco de Mayo. Also it’s my birthday month. A month filled with little reminders of who I am at every turn. When I get just as many “feliz cumpleanos” Facebook posts as “happy birthdays.” A month filled with tequila and piñatas and sombreros and Coronas – when, for one special day, everyone gets to feel like they’re Mexican. And more than that, it’s also a time to remember our past and honor those who haven’t always had it as easy as some of us do now. This Month we celebrate May Day, commemorating the history of labor struggles in California and those who fought hard for equal rights. Also on May 1st this year we remembered the 6 million members of our extended family who were taken from us during the Holocaust. And on May 11th we honor our fallen soldiers in Israel – our brothers and sisters who gave their lives so that our people will always have a land of our own.
With all of this going on in one month, it’s impossible for me to ignore the fact that so much of who I am is in no small part thanks to these two cultures – both having struggled so much and come so far. I spend so much time thinking about myself, making Facebook invites for my birthday and worrying about how many girls are going to come to my party, that I sometimes forget I’d be nothing at all if it weren’t for my parents, both of them, and their parents before them, and the generations before them, both Mexican and Jewish. That I’d be nothing without Hashem, and the thousands, the millions who’ve given their lives so that I can do what I do today. So that I can live in this house that brings so much joy to my community.
This month I remember to be proud of who I am, and of everything that has played a part in bringing me to where I’m lucky enough to be right now. To keep my heart open for all, not just Jews, and, whether it be in English, Hebrew, Spanish or Tagolog, to offer a warm welcome to anyone who wants to be a part of my life.