The Not So Random Latino-Jewish Student Coalition at The University of Texas

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This blog post is brought to us by Tracy Frydberg a student leader at The University of Texas at Austin.  I generally get two initial responses when I try to pitch to fellow students the idea of a Latino-Jewish Student Coalition.

The first is, “I didn't know you were Latina!” Coming in at a close second, and usually accompanied by a confused face and amused giggle, I'm told what a “random” combination these two groups are.

I’m not Latina (I’m about as gringa as it gets), and there is absolutely nothing random about the idea of a Latino-Jewish Student coalition. On the contrary, implementing long-term coalition or “bridge building” initiatives between the Jewish and Latino community on campus is the most effective way to foster deep relationships and widespread support for Israel that can last far beyond our time in college.

The idea for this coalition started with “Building Latino-Jewish Bridges on Campus,” a two week trip to Israel organized by The David Project, the National Hispana Leadership InstituteAmerican Jewish Committee and Project Interchange in the summer of 2011. I was one of eight lucky students to represent the University of Texas at Austin on the program along with other Latina and Jewish female college students from campuses across the U.S.

Like on any good Israel program, there was a great deal of bonding, story telling, dancing, eating, and most importantly, meaningful friendships made on the trip (Check out the David Project’s YouTube video about the program).  The goal of the trip was to create long-term relationships between the Latina and Jewish participants while introducing the Latinas to the wonder that is Israel. At the end of the trip, we were all expected to plan a program on our campus in the fall.

At University of Texas last year, our program led to the creation of the co-ed Latino-Jewish Student Coalition (LJSC). We recognized that to grow our organization, we must first explain to potential Jewish and Latino members and organizations why these two communities are an ideal marriage waiting to happen.

If you’re curious or looking to make the pitch yourself, there are three reasons why reaching out to the Latino community should be at the top of every Jewish group’s agenda:

First, the Latino and Jewish communities don’t know each other well, but there is great potential for that to change. A recent AJC survey found that 59 percent of U.S. Latinos never interact with Jews and 41 percent know nothing about the Jewish religion. However, in an encouraging sign for future relations, the survey also found a strong correlation between positive views of the Jewish community with an increase in the frequency of personal contacts between Latinos and Jews, levels of education, income, and acculturation. Additionally, 61 percent of Latinos surveyed said they believe Jews make positive cultural contributions to the U.S.

The results of the survey showed that many in the Latino community also have a very limited knowledge about Israel, but compare Jewish connection to Israel to their own connection to their ethnic country of origin. To me, this statistics points to an  incredible starting point for bridge building.

Second, the Latino and Jewish community have mutual interests. Neither the Jewish nor Latino community can afford to live apart any longer. We both need each other to accomplish our individual and mutual interests. The Jewish community should be involved with immigration initiatives and partner with existing Latino organizations on service projects, such as mentoring or tutoring programs in the community. Partnering in this way will be noticed and appreciated by the Latino community and will show the Jewish community’s commitment to shared values.

In turn, the Jewish/pro Israel groups have an exciting opportunity to educate the Latino community about Israel. As the Latino population in the US continues to sky rocket(within 40 years, Latinos will make up 30 percent of the U.S. population), and Latinos continue to rise in all sectors of society, it is critical that we convey to the Latino community the significance of Israel to the Jewish people, and find creative ways to relate Israel’s achievements and attributes to Latino groups’ specific areas of interest.

On a campus level, there are countless ways for both communities to support each other. Dina Siegal Vann, the director of AJC’s Latino and Latin American Institute, was spot on when she noted, “On the U.S. campus, there is both increasing anti-Israel sentiment and increasing bigotry and racism. As the Latino population in America grows, the importance of building bridges between the communities becomes increasingly clear.”

This semester on my campus, in addition to two incidents targeting minority groups, one in which bleach balloons were thrown at students of color, the Jewish community experienced a wave of shock when two swastikas were carved on the door of a Jewish student’s off campus dorm room. Because of the existence of the coalition, leaders in the Jewish and Latino community came together against these hate crimes making sure that appropriate action was taken, and are now working on joint initiatives to create a safer environment for students at The University of Texas. By coming together, our communities sent a powerful message that the radicals who committed these heinous acts are the minority, not us.

Third, coalition building works. Once the Jewish and Latino communities get to know and appreciate each other on a cultural and social level, and more importantly, become real friends, Israel can be brought into the conversation by first inviting members of Latino organizations to Israel related events and then better yet, asking them to co-sponsor an event with the pro Israel group.

During Operation Pillar of Defense, the Latino community, invited by LJSC, came out to support Texans for Israel and their tabling efforts, creating an even stronger presence against the anti-Israel sentiment on campus that week.  The Latino community has become a valuable ally on campus in support of Israel.

There is still so much more to do and these efforts are only the beginning of what the future holds for the Latino-Jewish Student coalition. This Friday night, the LJSC is sponsoring a special Shabbat dinner and performance featuring the “Hebrew Mamita,” a.k.a. Vanessa Hidary, a sassy slam poet who focuses on her Jewish identity and diverse cultural background. The David Project, Texas Hillel, an array of Latino and Jewish organizations, and three departments on campus are co-sponsoring the event.

While the combination of fajitas and challah at Shabbat dinner might be a bit random, my experience tells me the company certainly won’t be.


Below is video about the “Building Latino-Jewish Bridges on Campus” trip Tracy references: