The title of this post is a commonplace belief/tradition/practice among Jewish people. On its own it seems quite innocuous. I mean, someone’s side has to rule when you’ve got one reformed Jewish family and one Catholic family, right?
Today I’m exploring how the wrong kind of emphasis can teach a child something you truly did not intend.
For example – if you repeat a phrase more than Big Bang Theory re-runs and with more force than Caribbean mothers use to swat children for lack of manners then it’s kind of overdoing it. Their strategy (strata-JEW?) was to mold me into “Nice Little Jewish Girl”. The methods used clearly illustrated intent to exclude everything else in my genetics that created me. It wasn’t really about following a religion or teaching a cultural heritage…
Because that didn’t actually happen.
Any attempt to bring me up “Jewy” was a Rabbi-level FAIL. They may as well sit Shiva for my Jewishness because “raising all offspring of the marriage in the Jewish faith” by just saying they’re Jewish, feeding them matzoh on the holidays, insisting they have a “Jewish name” and telling them “Y.A.W.Y.M.I” is pretty much tank-top-in-a-blizzard flimsy…
That “Jewish name” thing initializes a Puñeta!-KILL! sequence within my recently healed cultural identity. Mom uses this annoyance to assuage her guilt over not indoctrinating me in Jewish scripture. Being the stubborn half-Latina rebel, I play the birth certificate card and state the obvious – my name is the one DAD gave me. This pauses the phlegmy utterance of “Jewish name” long enough for me to whip up a batch of yummy, island-style empanadas. Delicious cuchifrito WIN!
By the time I reached eleven it burned my culito to hear “You are what your mother is” from every Jewish friend, relative and yenta-from-the-block mom recruited to help enforce my waning Jewocity. I had amassed enough logic and backbone by then to hit anyone & everyone back with –
“HOW does this even make SENSE!?? If it wasn’t for the contributions of my FATHER, then I wouldn’t be here!”
(“Juan” – 1; “Epstein” – 0!)
They also used some subliminal attempts to tone-down my PR side –
– Mom wrapped and pinned all my hair up around my head each night to press it straight. I had almost forgotten I had curls until high school when a new hairdresser showed me the magic of “scrunching”. Apparently straight hair was more acceptably Jappy.
– Think about WHY a preschooler would say stupid shit like “I don’t eat rice & beans! I’m JEWISH!” unless she had been taught as much. My Uncle Enrique still LOVES to tease me about that! (Thanks a lot, Bergmans.)
– The disturbing way they’d freak out if I squished my nose flat because it made me look like a “monkey”. It was an ethnic-feature thing; trust me…
– Speaking Spanish was initially frowned upon until they figured out they could just tell people I was “Sephardic” (seriously, wha…!?)! Eventually they had to stop that shit because of my vociferous exclamation of my true heritage in front of whoever-the-fuck it was. Fuckers.
It’s not like my mother can rationalize this by citing her intrinsic, religious Jewishness (haha! NOT!) or attempts to keep a Kosher-household. Mom ate so much bacon while she was pregnant with me that for my first twelve years on this planet I wouldn’t touch it. Unheard of, right!?
We even had a Christmas tree that Mom insisted was a “Hanukkah bush”. Nice try, but the appearance of presents under said “bush” always coincided with Jesus’ birthday. It was SO much fun to be a smart-ass about that one. Strategically wielding my logic for bullshit like this felt gleefully victorious!
When I wound up marrying a Puerto Rican, I almost punched my mother’s cousin for saying “He better take care of you!” (although husband #1 did turn out to be a complete waste of oxygen). With much certainty I say if he had been a white, Jewish doctor she’d have had to go change her panties.
Despite the ethnic-cleansing bullshit, my rebellion was blissful. Teaching me to avoid Puerto Rican food just made me learn to cook it like a PRO. Trying to hide my ethnicity just made me want to drape myself in P.R. flags & azabache beads and go hang out at the Puerto Rican Day parade in NYC. With Menudo… (Those dudes were HOT; PR or no PR! HELLO! – Ricky Martin!!)
I love my family. But the backwards-assed Jewstapo efforts put me in alignment with the technical minority, where I felt love and unconditional acceptance. (Unless I misbehaved – then I got “pow-pow con la chancleta” like everybody else!)
The way I identify might NOT be what my Jewish family bargained for. But, you made your beds. You people never even told me what the HECK you WERE until I was in junior high! How do you think THAT lunchroom debate felt?? So you can all go feel THIS: In high school I got a 99% on my Spanish Regents, bitches! My flan is delicioso, I make killer empanadas and to-die-for rice and beans which are all repeatedly requested by my 2nd husband’s family for holidays.
Oh, and he’s 100%-proud Puerto Rican, too. And quite a catch according to my mother! 🙂