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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Growing up Latino and Jewish

Published: October 5, 2007
Section: Arts, Etc.

As part of the University's Hispanic Heritage Month events, AHORA! and Hillel co-sponsored “LATINOS: Different Colors, Flavors and Religions” on Tuesday to explore how religion, specifically Judaism, functions within the Latino community.

AHORA! President Meredyth Gonzalez and Hillel President Yael Bronstein took turns asking a panel of students, including former Student Union President Alison Schwartzbaum, Orly Wapinski and Sasha Parets. The questions covered topics, such as identity, heritage, image and the experience of growing up Jewish and Latina.

Each panelist shared a different life experience with the audience. Schwartzbaum shared her story on how it was to grow up being Jewish and being half Cuban.

For her, growing up Jewban was always a part of her identity. Schwartzbaum attended a predominantly Latino school in Miami while being raised in an upper middle class family. In her high school being Latina also meant being part of the majority.

When she arrived at Brandeis her concept of image was challenged because people would usually be shocked to hear she was Latina. As a child Spanish was her first language and while she might have lost a little of the language along the way, she said that students were often shocked to hear Alison speak in Spanish.

A striking part of the presentation was when Schwartzbaum was asked how she plans to raise her children she simply responded by saying she doesnt know quite yet but, a large part of her identity and culture lies within her family.

Wapinski was born in Monte Rey, Mexico where the Jewish community is quite small. She said that for her, being of Jewish and Mexican descent is not a separation of culture, but instead a mixture of both.

After coming to Brandeis, Wapinski connected to her heritage by recognizing that she did not have to choose between her Jewish heritage and her Mexican background. For Wapinski, her two sides are so deeply fused together that being Jewish and Mexican is what she is.

Wapinski shared how Mexicans in general are very patriotic people and the dedication she has for her home is also the same dedication she has for her religion. In her home they have a synagogue and they have Shabbat dinners but, within each she will feel a mixture of both being Mexican and Jewish.

The final panelist, Sasha Parets also grew up in Miami, Florida where she struggled with balancing what she deemed to be her two separate lives: her Cuban heritage and her Jewish religion. For Parets, the greatest battle in being Jewish and Cuban is the struggle with each side. Growing up she felt the need to simultaneously please both sides.

Even now, at Brandeis, she continues to try to strike a happy balance between both sides of her family, instead of creating this separation between both sides. She often finds herself missing many aspects of her Cuban home life she shared with the audience about how she had to get this specific type of coffee that she simply could not find on this campus.

Following a question-and-answer session with the panelists, it was the audience's chance to speak. Those who attended were split into discussion groups in which to discuss their reactions to the panelist's experiences.

The Latino Comedy Fest on will be the next Hispanic Heritage Month campus event will be the Latino Comedy Fest on October 10 at 8 p.m. in the Hassenfeld Conference Center. Co-sponsored by AHORA! and the Roman Studies Department, the Latino Comedy Fest will feature comedian Alba Sanchez.