JCRC, Latino community pursuing new collaborations

Building on the success of the Jewish-Latino Teen Coalition, a program founded almost 10 years ago by the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona and the office of U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, the JCRC is seeking new ways to strengthen relations between the Jewish and Latino communities.

To kick off this initiative, the JCRC held a special session on Tuesday, Nov. 12, inviting stakeholders in both communities to come together to articulate a shared vision of Jewish-Latino relations and create an action plan. More than 50 people — including several teen coalition alumni — attended the session at the Tucson Jewish Community Center. Many others expressed an interest in contributing to the effort, said Bryan Davis, JCRC director.

JCRC chair Eric Schindler led participants through several exercises to explore views of each community’s strengths and challenges. As participants reported on the conversations at each table, Schindler observed that the groups tended to seek parallels rather than differences.

While participants spoke of working together on issues such as poverty, educational opportunity and immigration reform, George Miller, one of Tucson’s former Jewish mayors, said that to effect change on a wide scale, it must happen at the legislative level, whether state or federal. Politically, the Latino community is “a sleeping giant” with which the Jewish community should be allied, he said.

Schindler called for the group to come up with several small, “doable” ideas, noting the success of JCRC’s “Making a Difference Every Day: The Homer Davis Project” in combating poverty by adopting a single school. The project has become a sustained initiative that provides snacks for kindergarteners and weekend food packs for hungry students, as well as homework help.

One idea that emerged from the session is a screening, in partnership with the Mexican consulate, of the documentary “Visa al paraíso” (Visa to Paradise), about Gilberto Bosquez, a Mexican diplomat who provided visas to Jews fleeing occupied France during World War II.

Another idea was to organize a naturalization ceremony to be held at a Jewish venue. Temple Emanu-El has offered to serve as host, said Davis.

Participants also spoke of the need to coordinate responses to hate speech, whether it is anti-Semitic or directed at the Latino community as part of the rhetoric surrounding immigration reform. “We talked specifically about how that’s affecting our young people. We see that Latina adolescents have the highest rates of depression and suicide,” said Andrea Romero, associate editor of the Journal of Latina/o Psychology and associate professor of family studies and human development in the Mexican American studies department at the University of Arizona. “We see education as an important solution, for our young people and for the future.”

Participants suggested bringing together UA students from the Arizona Center for Judaic Studies, the Mexican American studies department and the Center for Latin American Studies in a format inspired by the Jewish-Latino Teen Coalition. The program might simply be for Jewish and Latino students, regardless of their majors, Davis said.

A final idea emerging from the Nov. 12 session, which would foster mutual understanding, is to encourage Jews to volunteer at Latino nonprofit organizations and vice versa. Davis will compile and distribute lists of nonprofits.

An upcoming opportunity for the groups to come together will be the 10th anniversary of the Jewish-Latino Teen Coalition, which will be celebrated Sunday, Jan. 5 at 3 p.m. at Mercado San Agustin. For more information, contact Davis at 577-9393 or bdavis@jfsa.org.