When Tucson passed from Mexican to American hands in the mid-1800s, newcomers began to flow from the East. Not all of them spoke English, either. Some spoke Yiddish or an Eastern European language.
Staking their future in Tucson, which was a very Mexican town, the new migrants shared space with the Spanish-speaking families, many of whom had migrated generations before. Both communities found common ground in the dusty streets of the Old Pueblo.
Today a small group of Jewish and Latino Tucsonans want to re-stake their historical common ground by starting a new dialogue, a new relationship that will lead them to working on common issues and a better understanding of Latino and Jewish cultures and issues.
“The more people learn, the more hopeful there will be change,” said Pat Ballard, a member of the Jewish Community Relations Council.
Recently, the council, an affiliation of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona, convened a meeting of people from the Latino and Jewish communities. I participated.
The group discussed common challenges affecting Tucson — poverty, hunger, education, discrimination, hate speech. The meeting ended with a commitment to create a vehicle to move forward and attract more participants.
The idea is simple, really. Getting there will be the hard part. It’s not an impossible task, however.
“Together we can make things happen,” said Diana Jimenez-Young, program director for Child & Family Resources.
There is optimism because of the values and experiences that the Jewish and Latino communities share, said the participants.
Andrea Romero, an associate professor in the University of Arizona’s Mexican-American Studies Department, said one common experience is being “dehumanized.”
The immigration history of Jews is similar to the current experience of Latino immigration. Latinos today, as Jews then, are made the scapegoats of what ails our country. Latinos today are accused of not assimilating to their new country, just as the Jewish immigrants were. Through legal or illegal means, Jews and Latinos have been excluded.
“I don’t think a lot of Jewish individuals know that they have a very common goal in mind and share common values,” said immigration attorney Mo Goldman.
The initiative comes from a 10-year similar community dialogue: the Jewish Latino Teen Coalition.
The teen program will soon celebrate its 10th anniversary, said Bryan Davis, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council. The coalition was launched in partnership with Rep. Raúl Grijalva in 2004. Several years later, then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords lent her support.
Davis said the Jewish Latino Teen Coalition brings together Jewish and Latino high school students in a multicultural program that builds leadership skills and culminates in a trip to Washington, D.C.
The coalition is the springboard for creating another level of dialogue, said Davis.
“There is a wonderful history of collaboration and solidarity between the Jewish and Latino communities here in Tucson and around the world, and we want to nurture the relationship so we can jointly work together on initiatives such as confronting poverty and promoting civility and tolerance that will make the community a better place,” he said.
A participant in last year’s Teen Coalition believes that, based on the success that the high school students found, the adults will achieve similar results.
“We found we had more in common than differences, said Adina Artzi, a 17-year-old Catalina Foothills High School senior. “It’s a really cool feeling.”