- Jewish History, Life, and Culture in Latin America
Latin American ethnic studies have traditionally focused on indigenous groups and people of African origins. Scholars have paid less attention to immigrant groups and their descendants, especially to non-Catholic and/or non-European immigrants such as Jewish Latin Americans, Arab Latin Americans, or Asian Latin Americans. Much of the literature about each of these groups has been produced by members of their own organized communities. In recent years, however, Jewish Latin Americans are attracting a growing interest on the part of historians, sociologists, anthropologists, and literary and cultural scholars. In the past decade Jewish Latin American studies have become a subfield of research characterized by vitality and innovation. This subfield can certainly contribute to a better understanding of the ethnic experiences of other groups of immigrants and their Latin America–born children.
Recent methodological and theoretical discussions have encouraged new studies of Jewish Latin American experiences.1 The current bibliography on Jewish experiences in this continent is less focused on political aspects than on cultural and social facets. Scholars nowadays are less concerned with Jews as victims of [End Page 253] anti-Semitism, xenophobia, or racism and more interested in their place and role as an integral part of society at large; research is now founded less on communal and institutional sources and more on testimonies produced by unaffiliated ethnics, focusing on history from below and on oral testimonies rather than “official stories.” Many authors currently favor comparative perspectives across ethnic divides within the nation as well as from a transnational viewpoint linking the diaspora to its real or imagined homeland.
In the discussion of Jewish Latin Americans we thus hear today voices which were hardly heard before: those of unaffiliated Jews, women, workers, Sephardim, left-wing anti-Zionists, children, or LGBTQ individuals. All are incorporated into the larger story of hybrid identities in Latin America. Put together, these voices often challenge accepted ideas about Jewish Latin Americans. Furthermore, scholarly attention has traditionally been devoted to the larger Jewish communities of Argentina, Brazil, or Mexico, marginalizing the experiences of Jews in smaller communities. However, recent studies of Jews in Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, or Chile have demonstrated that the size of a group should not be a criterion for determining the extent of research consideration it should receive.2 Smaller communities and subcommunities can teach us just as much about the ebb and flow of ethnic relations as can the larger ones. The volumes under discussion here add to this productive exchange, ranging across a variety of cases in the early to mid-twentieth century and covering political, social, and cultural themes.
Daniela Gleizer’s El exilio incómodo demonstrates that systematic archival research and the reformulation of old questions may yield important contributions to the well-trodden field of Jewish immigration to Latin America. This is possibly the best book on the subject since the publication of Jeffrey Lesser’s Welcoming the Undesirables: Brazil and the Jewish Question.3 It builds on earlier works by Haim Avni and Judit Bokser on Mexico’s immigration policies during the refugee crisis caused by German National Socialism, but presents a broader and more nuanced picture.4
The book challenges the well-established image of Mexico as a country of asylum and a safe haven for persecuted people in the stormy 1930s and 1940s. [End Page 254] This image has to do with Lázaro Cárdenas’s...