My father is from Honduras, and my mother is from Baltimore, Maryland. My mother is also of Russian-Jewish descent. The basis of my existence is appearing Latin, but being part of one of the smallest large communities in the world – the Jewish people. Unfortunately, I speak neither Spanish nor Hebrew well, but I can read and write both nearly fluently. I attended Jewish schools from kindergarten through my freshman year of high school, yet most of the Hebrew I learned has faded from my memory. My dad’s side of the family is fluent in Spanish, and my mom even taught herself to be highly proficient, yet they never taught me Spanish. I finally took Spanish classes during my sophomore and junior years of high school, which solidified the basic principles of the language in my mind. I’m able to speak it at a simplistic level, but I want to become an efficient speaker.
At times I feel like an outsider in both of my cultures. I’m not a fully-immersed member of the Latin or Jewish community, due to my communicative deficiencies. However, I think I make up for that with knowledge and passion for both cultures. I remember, or can quickly recall, a lot of information about Jewish history, the Torah and traditions. And after taking a Central American Literature class at San Francisco State last semester, I feel much more connected to my Latin identity. I share traits from both. I think I get an inquisitive nature from my Jewish side. Jews like to ask questions and be well-informed on matters they’re interested in and care about. Jews can also be very hard-headed and debate-happy. Trust me, I went to school with very orthodox Jews.
As for my Latin side, the literature class helped me realize that certain traits I’ve noticed in myself stem from those Central American roots. Latin Americans, disregarding the Christianized layer, revere and care about nature. Latin Americans are very spiritual, which is a common theme among the native people across all continents. I believe that is why I feel a personal connection and adoration for many Asian cultures. The main piece of knowledge I gained from taking the literature class is how intertwined the native people of Central America are with all of their surroundings – physical, mental, spiritual. None of the religious nonsense can strip that from the core of Central Americans.
I’m not saying that monotheistic religion is devoid of genuine action and ideology, but most monotheists are hypocrites and don’t abide by the words of the religious texts they reference at will. When I learned about the Mayan and Cakchiquel creation stories—how they didn’t simply make up an invisible god, but rather attempted to explain and appreciate the powers of nature and its forces—I understood why I seek the meaning of the world around me. I understand why I appreciate the universe that surrounds me, rather than simply crediting an invisible force for controlling every aspect of life. I don’t believe god is one all-powerful being. I believe god is part of everything. God is the water, the trees, the stars, the air. I’ve always held that belief, and I wasn’t sure where it came from. Now I know, and it was extremely eye-opening.
As for my personal history, I don’t know a lot. I know my dad was born in Honduras. He and his two siblings were the first generation to grow up in the U.S. My dad believes he has Mayan ancestry. This is the part of my dad’s family history I want to learn about the most. The Mayans were definitely existent in Honduras and the other middle Central American countries, but it’s not a foregone conclusion that he has Mayan heritage. What if it’s somehow Aztec or Incan blood, or a different, lesser-known people? On my mom’s side, I want to learn about my Russian ancestors. There was Jewish genocide in Russia called pogroms, and I want to find out if I had family that dealt with them, whether they died from it or survived it. I also would like to know if I have any ancestors who suffered the Holocaust. I don’t know how far back my Jewish-Russian heritage goes, and I’m unsure if I even had family living in Russia during the pogroms or during the Holocaust and Stalin’s reign.
I don’t feel like there’s a ton of mystery or “missing links” in my family history. I just want clarification on the parts that are still somewhat hazy; mainly who my family members were several generations ago. Do I have anyone who did something significant? Did they live through a monumental or historic occurrence? Things like that are what I want to find out. I’m excited for what answers this project will provide, and what other doors and questions it will open.