The experience was fascinating. My knowledge of what the holiday celebrates and of its Biblical story was derisory. And this ignorance was unbelievably fortunate: my avid interest in everything I heard and saw allowed me to follow the two-hour process of reading the Haggadah with infinitely more ease than I can wait in line at the DUC salad bar (and I hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast that morning, mind). Being non-religious, my interest acquired yet another dimension. I could recount every little detail of the ritual. I’m afraid I must have looked a little like a toddler enchanted by something she experiences for the first time, but that is not really the point of this post. (I will only say that I especially liked the symbolic representation of taking the plagues out of the wine cup.)
After watching the skit at Carnaval, I was particularly intrigued by one little circumstance during my passover experience. One of the first things my mother asked me when I called her to share my experience was whether anyone had asked me how come I wasn’t Jewish if my last name is. She asked it matter-of-fact-ly, obviously expecting an answer in the affirmative. Maybe an Argentinian Jew would likely have posed me the question, just like an American Jew might likely have done to an non-Jew-but-with-Jewish-last-name American. But no one in the thirty-person congregation did. I did not think anything of it, until my roommate told me that her mother had shared a suspicion with her that I have Jewish roots. The manner in which she said it—laughingly, amused to be sharing a funny silly thought—made me wonder why she’d be so surprised to find that my grandfather grew up in a Jewish household, more than if he’d grown up in any other kind of household.
I wonder if the considerable relationship the U.S. has with Latin American immigration does not mold the way in which Americans interpret information about Latin America. What I mean is this: the U.S. undeniably has a “background knowledge”, per se, of Latin American cultures. But can this background hinder the way in which we, in this American society, gather and classify new information about Latin America? Why search for, or pay attention to, the primary source when a summary has been passed down to us through a long history? In this way, the U.S.’s long history of Latin American immigration becomes a lens, focusing and coloring everything that is known or thought about Latin America through its limited, but long-lived, representation. Certainly, if this intuition is correct, it should be true not only of religion, but of all aspects of culture, including even ethnicity. My experience as a recent Argentinian immigrant—certainly not part of the majority of Latin American immigration—suggests that this is true. So I ask you, how has your identity as a Latin American immigrant (or descendant of immigrants) or its perception been influenced by others’ expectations? Or, to what extent do you let your “background knowledge” determine your notions of those around you?
Freshman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org