Two years ago, as I was passing through airport security, the security guard looked at my passport, checked my name and looked back at me with a look of shock and surprise. After telling him I was French and Honduran, he said, “Wow, that’s quite the mix!”
The only other person I know that’s French and Honduran is my brother. When you throw in the fact that I’m Jewish, my identity is even more of an enigma. Although I am proud of my diverse background, it is hard to go through life without meeting many people like me. I have never felt quite Hispanic, French or Jewish enough. I do not see much representation of my identity on the big screen, in politics, or honestly, anywhere.
That changed about a year ago. I was sitting in the kitchen when my mom read aloud a news article about a newly-elected Mexican-Jewish member of the Arizona House of Representatives, Alma Hernandez. Finally, someone that looked like me was involved in politics. Someone who is an ethical leader and politician who advocates strongly for both Hispanic and Jewish rights.
Back on campus at UNC Chapel Hill, I noticed a lot of campus events happening with guests from outside of North Carolina where I attend school. I could not help but think of the article my mom had read to me. As the Cultura Committee chair for Mi Pueblo and the Kehillah (Community Chair) for UNC Hillel, it was easy for me to connect the two organizations–and my two communities–and get the event approved. I emailed Alma and her assistant, asking her to speak at a panel and waited for a response. Thankfully, she was more than willing to attend.
On the day of the event, nearly 50 students filled the boxes on my Zoom screen. Friends from UNC Hillel and Mi Pueblo sitting–virtually–side by side. Alma told us the story of her Bat Mitzvah where Mexican food was served after she chanted from the Torah for the first time. The anecdote reminded me of my own Bat Mitzvah where my Tunisian grandfather made Spanish Tortillas for everyone. For me, it was not only powerful to see my communities show up for this event, but also to hear directly from Rep. Hernandez, a lawmaker that stands up for Jewish rights and fights against antisemitism. She discussed her own experiences with antisemitic comments–almost on a daily basis–and how she continues to prioritize combating antisemitism, even when others do not. The night of the panel, Alma had been working on passing her Holocaust Education Bill to add Holocaust Studies to school curriculums in Arizona. Hearing about her work was inspiring, and made me think more about what I could do in my own community.
When a few questions were asked about her ties to Israel, I was pleased to hear her stand up for Israel and support its people. Given my personal ties to Israel, it has been difficult attending UNC, where there are a lot of people who are not in support of the country. Hearing from a political figure who was not only a Zionist but openly fights for the country, I felt a weight coming off my shoulders.
The intersection between Jewish and Latinx advocacy echoed throughout the conversation. After the panel ended, various students asked Rep. Hernandez how they could get involved in politics, and what first steps they could take as college students.
Right after the Zoom call ended, my friend texted me thanking me for organizing this event and telling me, “that was seriously like my favorite UNC event I’ve been to.” It was not just the positive feedback that pleased me, but also the opportunity to build new relationships across communities. Moving forward, I would definitely like to do more work focusing on minorities within Judaism. This April, I planned a Mimouna themed Shabbat to celebrate the end of Passover with the traditionally North African celebration. I presented the traditions and history behind Mimouna and led a conversation about why we should be talking about Mimouna and incorporate it into our lives. Whether it is Mexican food at a Bat Mitzvah or working together for political goals, diverse voices should be uplifted and highlighted. Acknowledging other cultures within our own is only the first step.