Immigrant Experience Helps Unite Jews, Latinos

Immigrant Experience Helps Unite Jews, Latinos

Above: Discussing Jewish and Latino interests in this year’s elections are (from left) Richard Foltin, Mariela Romero and Judge Dax Lopez.

By Sarah Moosazadeh

Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta CEO Eric Robbins finished his second day on the job by re-emphasizing his commitment to Atlanta’s diverse Jewish community.

“We need to make Atlanta the greatest city in the Southeast, and we do that by creating dialogues, learning about other cultures and creating key relationships,” Robbins said at the fourth annual Charla and Challah Jewish-Latino community event Tuesday, Aug. 2.

AJC Atlanta Regional Director Dov Wilker
AJC Atlanta Regional Director Dov Wilker

The event, hosted by American Jewish Committee’s Atlanta Chapter and the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, debated Robbins’ point in greater detail by discussing immigration in today’s political climate.

The panelists were AJC National Legislative Affairs Director Richard Foltin, DeKalb County State Court Judge Dax Lopez and Univision Community Affairs Director Mariela Romero.

“There are a lot of commonalities between the Jewish and Latin communities,” said Lopez, who is a member of The Temple and a former GALEO board member. “They are both family-oriented, enjoy discussing politics and have moms who know how to dish guilt.”

He added, “Having an affinity towards another country also has a special impact.”

While many Jews have strong ties to Israel, Latinos feel a similar kinship toward the places their families came from, such as Puerto Rico, Venezuela and Mexico.

“It is important for us to take these commonalities and build relationships with other communities in the U.S.,” Lopez said.

Those commonalities include the immigrant experience in America, which remains a beacon of hope for millions of possible immigrants yearning to be free.

Jewish immigrants in the early 20th century sought to live in a country free from persecution. Exclusion policies, however, kept out many before World War II and even prohibited Holocaust survivors from entering America after the war.

Today, immigration restrictions stand in the way for Latin American immigrants who seek new opportunities and a better standard of living in the United States. Various organizations work closely with the Latin community in the belief that Latinos are assets to the U.S. economy.

New Federation CEO Eric Robbins’ vision extends to the possibilities for Atlanta’s position in the Southeast.
New Federation CEO Eric Robbins’ vision extends to the possibilities for Atlanta’s position in the Southeast.

Immigration reform remains a key policy concern in the upcoming elections.

“People have valid concerns, but debates should be based on facts vs. feelings,” Lopez said. “We need leaders to address fairness.”

Passion remains a strong force in the upcoming elections and could influence how Democrats and Republicans appeal to various populations and address immigration reform.

“The most pressing issue for Latin immigrants is attitudinal,” Lopez said. “The world is shifting, and so are their beliefs in holding the other responsible.”

“Opposition among leaders within grass-roots organizations and politicians seeking re-election presents another challenge,” Foltin said. “New reforms passed by the Obama administration have not led to anything new and have had little impact on those who believe we are under siege.”

Lopez discussed his experiences in Georgia as a Puerto Rican Jew. “It was a culture shock for people in the Jewish community, who seldom acknowledge Jews from other cultures. They often approached me and exclaimed, ‘I didn’t know we had brown Jews.’ ”

As Lopez traveled throughout Georgia, he met more people who shared the same sentiment about his ethnicity, often exclaiming, “You’re not like other Latinos.”

“Evolution has led to progress in immigration,” Lopez said, “but it’s still about who you know. The more we interact with each other, the better we get to know one another.”


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