More than 100 teens who otherwise may have never met have shared their cultures through the Jewish Latino Teen Coalition, a program founded by Rep. Raul Grijalva and the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona. The purpose of the coalition, which may be the only one of its kind in the country, includes building relationships between Jewish and Latino teens, learning about each other’s cultures and engaging in political advocacy.
The coalition will celebrate its 10th anniversary on Sunday, Jan. 5, from 3 to 5 p.m. at Mercado San Agustin, 100 S. Avenida del Convento. The event will be a reunion for alumni, many of whom are now college students on winter break. They haven’t forgotten the coalition — especially the annual lobbying trip to Washington, D.C. — says Bryan Davis, JCRC director. Mayor Jonathan Rothschild and Grijalva are featured speakers. A fundraising video designed to raise awareness of the coalition, set to post on www.kickstarter.com, will be shown. Festivities will include music by coalition alumnus Jonathan Vogel with his Blues by Five band, and the Davis Elementary School’s Mariachi band. Mexican baked goods will be served. The event will also serve as the JCRC annual meeting.
Alumni planning to attend include 19-year-old Louie Sanders, now a sophomore at the University of Arizona. “I’m both Jewish and Hispanic,” Sanders told the AJP. “I’m adopted. I was born in Santiago, Chile. My father is Jewish and I was raised Jewish. I had a Bar Mitzvah.”
He recalls discussing issues with other teens that affected both communities, especially the DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors), legislation first proposed in the U.S. Senate in 2001. As of November, 13 states have passed their own versions. “It was eye-opening to hear different perspectives on the DREAM Act from kids of different backgrounds, from all parts of Tucson,” explains Sanders. “I liked stepping out of my comfort zone, my little niche in Tucson. It’s good for me. My father is a doctor. I went to St. Gregory’s. I come from a stable background where money wasn’t a big issue. I’ve learned a lot about different socio-economic backgrounds.” Plus, he adds, “I follow everyone I met on Facebook.”
“To say that the coalition changed my life seems like a gross exaggeration and a painful cliché,” says JLTC alumna Natalia Navarro, “but, alas, it’s true. I was always interested in politics and always thought I had a unique set of values, but the JLTC helped me discover my true self. I solidified lasting relationships and came to the understanding that speaking up has power.”
Navarro cites the 2011 trip with coalition members to Washington, D.C. The group lobbied in support of the DREAM Act at the office of former U.S. Rep. Ben Quayle (R-Ariz.). “Rep. Quayle was reluctant to hear us out and instead pointed the conversation away from the DREAM Act and education reform to the state of drug cartels,” says Navarro. “With the responsibility of arguing our case, I was diligent in my attempts to steer the conversation back to our topic, with only partial success.” Although she was frustrated, “something clicked in my head — if 15-year-old me could stand up to a member of the U.S. Congress, then what couldn’t I do? Now I’m a freshman in college considering a career in politics. I will always remember my experiences in the JLTC as the first time I felt truly confident in myself.”
For coalition member Sergio Selguero, now a senior at University High School, it was all about culture and dispelling stereotypes. Being an active member of the coalition for two years “opened me up to the Jewish community, what conflicts they have here and abroad,” says Selguero, who this year is trying to recruit new JLTC members while awaiting early admission results on his application to Harvard University. “I want to study medicine,” he says. “I learned about the compassion in the Jewish community, and about their contributions to U.S. history. We did exercises that broke down stereotypes, some that I had too.”
Lindsey Bressler, 18, a UHS graduate, is a freshman at Northeastern University in Boston. “I had never been to D.C. before. We did a lot of prep for advocacy on our topic of the DREAM Act,” she notes. “I thought we’d present and everything would be tied in a neat little bow, but advocacy isn’t like that. It’s interactive.” Bressler discovered “the more I learn the more I recognize how nothing is one-dimensional.” So far this year, she’s studying international relations, Arabic, economics, and planning to pursue a career in public policy.
The JLTC opened another door “to everything I’m passionate about” in Tucson, says Bressler — a strong Jewish community and the Hispanic/Mexican community. One of her favorite moments on the D.C. trip was when “we were all wearing our sweatshirts with Jewish Latino Teen Coalition on the front. A person came up to us and said, ‘That’s what’s up, yo!’”
For more information, contact Bryan Davis at 577-9393, ext. 124, or [email protected].