There are these two worlds, the Jewish world and the Latino world, and we talk about them often like they’re two totally separate communities,” Michael Johnson said.
“That’s not entirely true. There’s a middle part where they meet. There are all of these people who have very different experiences being both. We wanted to take a personal look as well as a historical look at Jews migrating to and through Latin America before many of them [came] to this country.”
Johnson is an associate producer with Latino USA, a radio program, syndicated by NPR, which explores various aspects of Latino life in America. Latino USA recently aired an episode entitled “Ay Vey: The Jewish Latino,” which explores the experiences of Jewish Latinos in the United States. Johnson took the lead on the episode, and spoke with the Forward about it in advance of its airing.
Are there any stories you came across in your research for this episode that were especially compelling to you?
Originally what I had been pushing for was the kind of Jewish Latinos whose Jewish families came from somewhere in Latin America, and then we got a pitch from someone who her mother’s side is Russian Jewish and her father is Indigenous Peruvian. She embodies a different mixture of being Jewish and Latino because she’s half Jewish and half Peruvian in a way that’s different than being, [for instance], a Colombian Jew. Once I talked to her I realized the diversity of experiences that this show can try to capture, and more importantly, that just exist in the world.
What do you hope this episode might make its audience think about?
In doing the research for this it’s amazing how quickly issues of race and class both came up. When Jews first migrated from Europe to Latin America they of course were very poor, but when they got to Latin America they very quickly rose to economic prosperity. They rose very quickly throughout the social world and became leaders in politics and medicine and philosophy. But they ascended much quicker in Latin America than in the United States, and that was largely because in Latin America they were immediately white when they got off the boat. The people that they were being compared to were the indigenous people of Brazil or Afro-Brazilians and they were neither of those. They immediately had this racial advantage they didn’t really know about but were able to take advantage of. When most people then come to the United States, particularly if they come by themselves, they might experience a different…
To read full story: http://forward.com/culture/325974/jewish-latinos-get-radio-spotlight/