The Chronicle of Higher Education
The Chronicle Review
From the issue dated February 8, 2008
The Twisted Roots of Hispanic Anti-Semitism
By ILAN STAVANS
It would be a mistake to underestimate such incidents. In fact, while
It's time to conceptualize Hispanic anti-Semitism on its own terms. Seeing it just in a global context, as one more sign of anti-Semitism around the world, doesn't offer a full picture. It is a phenomenon with a complex, multifaceted history.
Before I go further, a word about the term "anti-Semitism." A few months ago, I delivered a lecture on the subject at the
Among the audience at the talk were a dozen representatives of the United Nations from different parts of the Hispanic world. They were all educated, middle or upper-middle class, with an average age of 50, and none of them (to the best of my knowledge) were Jewish. I was struck by a number of comments during the question period. Some in attendance said they had never witnessed an anti-Semitic remark in the Hispanic world or, for that matter, anything more physical. My impression was that as official representatives of their respective nations, they were eager to condemn, at least on paper, any form of such hatred. Given a bit more time, though, a number of the group suggested that misconceptions about Jews did indeed exist in their countries. Still, they were skeptical that those amounted to any orchestrated phenomenon.
That skepticism isn't surprising. The Hispanic world, constituted by
Among the 43 million people who make up the Latino minority north of the Rio Grande, attitudes toward Jews have undergone changes in the last few decades as the process of assimilation has progressed. A survey conducted by the Anti-Defamation League in 2002 showed that 35 percent of Hispanics in the
A specific Hispanic anti-Semitism feeds the animosity, sometimes influenced by global events, but stemming from concrete historical, religious, and political forces in the Spanish-speaking countries and among Latinos in the
There are three distinctive, albeit interconnected, emphases in Hispanic anti-Semitism: church-connected — and sponsored — animosity; a more secular ideological hostility; and attitudes relating to the conflict in the
The source of the first type of anti-Semitism is the period known as
To this day, religiously based anti-Semitism in the Hispanic world revolves around a set of beliefs sponsored by Church fathers during the Inquisition to justify hostility to Jews. Among the claims: that Jews had betrayed Jesus, and that, as witnesses to his ordeal, their existence was proof of the authenticity of the Passion. In March 1492, the Edict of Expulsion was issued in
I am distressed that the edict isn't better known. It was an intricate document, with the first portion devoted to justifying the expulsion. The sheer presence of Jews in the Iberian midst made "wicked Christians" misbehave, the edict said. That is, there were good Christians and bad Christians. A successful nation would endorse the former while rejecting the latter. The edict used the verb judaizar, which would feature in Hispanic lexicons for centuries to come: to judaize means to spread the evil gospel. In 1502, Muslims were also given an ultimatum: either convert or leave too.
There has been much debate among historians as to the true function of
Fear — and the assumptions feeding it — spread widely. To be a Jew and to be a judaizante were different things: The former resisted conversion and, hence, was a lost cause; but the latter was all the more dangerous, surreptitiously undermining the foundation of Iberian civilization. The terms castizo and honrado, in vogue at the time of the trans-Atlantic colonial enterprise in the 16th century, are apropos. Neither is readily translatable into English. They make reference to the pure blood in one's family, to the difference between a cristiano viejo and a cristiano nuevo, an old and new Christian. At the time of the colonial enterprise, that hierarchy, based on ancestry, shaped the
In Latin America, anti-Semitism has been grounded in the phobias that arrived from the
To meditate on anti-Semitism in the Hispanic world, and particularly in
Ideology became the fountain of anti-Semitism in
Among the chapters in the history of this type of ideological anti-Semitism is the Semana Trágica, the Tragic Week, in
Businesses were destroyed. Some sources say close to 700 died, and thousands were injured. A number of them were Jews. Since then, anti-Semitic attacks based on ideology have been sporadic, used by various political figures to their advantage, their tone depending on circumstance. When I was growing up in
Since the founding of
On July 19,
Such incidents signaled the vulnerability of Jewish communities in
It is crucial to understand the intertwined roots of this Hispanic anti-Semitism, not least because it has an impact among the growing Hispanic population in the
Of course it is also important to consider the other side of the coin: anti-Hispanic sentiments among Jews, a topic that requires attention, especially in the
Here, the point is that the terrorist activities in Latin America and the anti-Jewish rhetoric among Hispanics north and south of the
Ilan Stavans is a professor of Latin American and Latino culture at
Section: The Chronicle Review
Volume 54, Issue 22, Page B10
The article, "The Twisted Roots of Hispanic Anti-Semitism" will
be available to non-subscribers of The Chronicle for up
to five days after it is e-mailed (05/02/2008).
The article is always available to Chronicle subscribers.