Written by Sonia Alvarez, a student at the University of Texas, Austin An idea sparks change.
My curiosity for Israel began when I was invited to participate in Building Latino Jewish Bridges on Campus, a unique trip to Israel modeled to bridge the Latino and Jewish communities on campus. As a social work student, I was drawn to the program because I believe in relationship building. Born and raised in El Paso, a city along the U.S.-Mexican border, my home is in the heart of two countries. I have been exposed to two cultures, two languages and violence in Mexico which surrounds me. Before visiting Israel, I did not know a lot about Jewish identity. I soon realized that both the Jewish and Latino communities have many things in common.
Last month, The Latino and Jewish Student Coalition (LJSC), an organization I helped start after returning from Israel, hosted Vanessa Hidary at a Shabbat Dinner. Vanessa is a talented writer, and she performs her poetry from her heart. Listening to her perform, I was deeply moved as she spoke passionately about her Jewish identity. I related to the feeling of being a part of a multidimensional identity and learning to embrace it all.
My favorite part of the evening was when Vanessa performed her famous piece, “The Hebrew Mamita.” As she connected her story to the story of the many Jews who have been persecuted, I felt chills throughout my body. This piece highlights the importance of speaking up when we have the opportunity to defy stereotypes and educate.
I received positive feedback from this event. Stephanie, a close friend, was happy to be a part of the event. She enjoyed learning more about Jewish culture and hearing Vanessa’s story about Don Francisco. Many think that you are either Latino or Jewish but you can’t be both. For years, Don Francisco has been a huge icon in Latin-American television with his popular show, Sabado Gigante. What most of us don’t know, is that he is both Jewish and Latino.
I anticipate an exponential effect over time, with each event inviting more people to be a part of our coalition. Soon enough, we will have a network of individuals able to reach a large population on campus. I believe that casting a vision of small changes to address big problems is more empowering than presenting people with big problems alone, which can be paralyzing. For the same reason, I see that my college campus is the most strategic place to build bridges through relationships and promote Israel advocacy.