This article examines ethnic joking among young Ashkenazi and Syrian Jewish Mexican men in a Torah class. Jews in Mexico City are participating in social, economic, and political changes at multiple scales. These include the transition from mestizo to multicultural politics of Mexican national belonging, with its potential for greater inclusion of Jews and other ethno-religious minorities. Young Halebi (Aleppan) and Shami (Damascene/Beiruti) Jews are often the first generation in their families to go to university and enter social and professional domains outside of communal networks. At the same time, many engage with the growing presence of Haredi, or ultra-Orthodox Jewish religious sectors. All of this prompts greater self-scrutiny and awareness of external gazes that negatively evaluate many Syrian Jewish beliefs and practices. Jewish Mexican ethnic joking reflects and refracts this context. Because of its similarities to other ethnographic accounts, I argue for characterizing this activity as a variation on relajo, a genre of collaborative verbal jousting known throughout Latin America. However, it is distinctive from other documented instances of relajo in key ways. One is the participants' frank rejection of the relajo label (as hinted in title of this article), which reveals tensions between emic and etic language ideologies. Another is the jokers' invocation of multiple socio-geo-graphic-temporal scales or chronotopes (Bakhtin 1981b) in their wordplay, reflective of their experience as members of a diaspora. I characterize this simultaneity and multiplicity of scale using Peeren's (2006) notion of diasporic chronotope, which exists beyond the narrative event into the lived experience and identities of Jewish Mexicans. Finally, while many scholars have theorized relajo as a mode of empowerment for Mexicans contending with socioeconomic injustice, here I show it to be an effective tool for addressing challenges specific to diasporic and other ethnic/religious minorities in modern Mexico.


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pp. 671-707
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