The recent publication of This Bridge We Call Home: Visions for Radical Transformation,1 a follow-up volume to This Bridge Called My Back,2 reopened a wound for me. Instead of our book helping the contributors to bond despite deep differences in culture and experience of oppression, it led to a bitter schism between the Jewish and non-Jewish participants. We created the book with high expectations of developing a vision capable of helping women of color in American society grow together into the next millennium; or so I thought. Now it seems that I temporarily abandoned logic for the sweet promise of a feminist "Norman Rockwell" family dinner.
It all began when AnaLouise Keating, a women's studies professor at Texas Women's University, teamed up with Gloria Anzaldúa, one of the editors of This Bridge Called My Back, to produce a new anthology with the intention of updating our knowledge about women and minorities and move forward to a new radical vision. As a historian, I work on Latin America, women's studies, and Latino history. My submission to the collection dealt with the lack of nationally recognizable leaders in the Latino community. It never occurred to me to mention that I am Jewish.
As we went through the arduous editing process, the editors initiated an e-mail list for the contributors,3 dealing largely with matters pertaining to production. Not long after we started our discussions, I received a peculiar private e-mail from a man with whom I had a professional acquaintance, whom I shall call Oscar. He included an article from the New York Times about Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount in September 2000, and prefaced his letter with the following quotation from Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas (who was later killed by Israeli forces): [End Page 174]
I have the strength of a man who is ready to fight for the liberation of his land. Who does not need tanks, aircraft, or atomic bombs. What can the Israelis do against a people willing to sacrifice its sons as martyrs?
Oscar ended by praising Allah and signing his post with a Muslim name. If his e-mail address hadn't been in his original name, I would never have known who was writing to me.
Oscar had been a graduate student a couple of years ahead of me in the Latin American history doctoral program at UCLA. When he graduated, he was hired to teach one of UCLA's 400-student survey lecture courses on Latin America while he interviewed for tenure-track jobs. I was assigned as his teaching assistant. Until his letter, my only contact with him had been in the weekly tutorials where the lecturer and assistants meet to hash out the week's strategy and discuss student problems. I also participated with him on a panel at a professional conference some years later. I doubt that I ever had a full conversation with him.
I don't know how he knew I was Jewish. We had never discussed it, nor had we talked about Israel, but he probably deduced it from the Magen David that I wear on a chain around my neck. I didn't know he had become a Muslim.
I responded politely to his letter, congratulating him on the recent birth of his daughter and wishing him warm regards, and hoped that that would be the end of it. It wasn't. A few weeks later, he wrote another, longer diatribe. This time I didn't reply, in the hope that my silence would discourage him from continuing. Of all the Jews in academia, why had he focused on me? It troubled me very deeply. A Spanish-speaking immigrant from the Caribbean—someone I would not have thought of as a natural convert to Islam—he was a reserved man and one I respected, a brilliant teacher and orator
While I was dealing with Oscar's letter, the e-mail list was engaging in a variety of lively discussions about race, privilege, sexism, and ethnicity, among other issues. This changed abruptly when one of the...