November 2, 2009 § 4 Comments
In 2008 I traveled to Berlin as part of exchange program with my University. Prior to this visit, I had never been to Germany- nor did I have any particular reservations about going or not going, but it seemed everyone else had their own opinion on the matter.
“Germany, how can you go there as a Jew?” “There are Jews in Germany? I thought they were all dead?” “You are so brave to go to Germany…”
Ultimately people’s projections as to my intentions for going to Germany became the filter through which I experienced Berlin.
While I was in Berlin I conducted interviews with members of the community concerning the highly visible presence of the monuments and memorials commemorating Jewish life (death) have impacted their individual and communal Jewish identities. Other topics included: the notion of German Jews vs Jews living in Germany and how this differs from an American Jewish identity, their status as diaspora Jews and their relationship to Israel, their thoughts on the European Union, anti-semitism and the widespread use of facebook as a mode of connection.
The title of the piece Berlin’s Eruv is a play on the fact that there is not actually an eruv in Berlin. An eruv is a rabbinically sanctioned demarcation of space that transforms public space into private space for the purposes of the Sabbath, allowing Orthodox Jews to carry in public places, a practice which is otherwise prohibited. Modern eruvs are often made of wire strung between utility poles, a gesture towards a “walled courtyard,” indicating an enclosed, private space.
Just as the eruv exists in the minds of the people who abide by it, Berlin’s Eruv manifests itself through the conversations surrounding the idea of the piece. The interviews I conducted in Berlin relied on the presence of institutionalized markers of Jewish identity, to give weight to the idea non-presence of the living Jewish community.
Berlin’s Eruv Talk
11/8/09 @ 10:30 am
KAM Isaiah Israel
1100 E Hyde Park Blvd
Chicago, IL 60615-2810
November 16, 2007 § 1 Comment
Below are selected excerpts from a grant proposal that I recently submitted to Washington University, for a cultural identity dialog exchange between Guatemalan Youth living within the diaspora and those living in Guatemala.
Please contact me if you are interested in collaborating, participating (either yourself or your child) and funders.
Within most North American contexts I am inevitably the only Guatemalan representative. As a child I yearned for this paternal classification. I wanted desperately to be a Guatemalan. However, upon entering academia I immediately became the Guatemalan. As an artist, this categorization places me in the awkward position of being unable to produce work without feeling and seeming inauthentic, voyeuristic, and exploitative.
In order to directly confront these insecurities and consequential perceptions, I will expose myself to the very environment where I feel most uncomfortable: Guatemala. I will present myself exactly as I do in the United States with the self-imposed title: Guatemalan Jewish Interdisciplinary Artist and Educator. Working as a researcher, artist, educator, student, performer and public speaker I will interact with all of the communities represented by the aforementioned title.
[...]In this lesson, students will critically analyze the ways in which Guatemalans have been depicted both historically and presently. They will look at national and international examples of these depictions, produced by: historians, anthropologists, sociologists, the media, and artists. Considering the mediums that have been utilized in these depictions (newspapers, magazines, history books, movies, paintings, the internet, etc.), and their availability to the general public, students will evaluate the impact of these depictions on the formation of their personal identity.
Students will then discuss their feelings towards Guatemalan youth living in the US, who have inevitably been equally (in not more so) effected by these depictions. They will then analyze the specific elements these depictions falsely portray or leave unsaid, thus identifying the important things they want Guatemalan youth living in the US to know about their culture. [...]
• What role does an individual play in defining their identity?
• How is identity affected by: surrounding community, geographic location, socio-economic background, religious beliefs, political affiliation, gender, sexuality, level of education, access to technology?
• What responsibilities accompany self-imposed cultural allegiance?
• What responsibilities accompany societal-imposed cultural allegiance?
student work from Cuyotenango, Guatemala
June 8, 2007 § 17 Comments
On an almost daily basis, I receive emails from people asking if I am in fact actually Jewish. Although I do find it somewhat bizarre that they find satisfaction in my acknowledgment of what I have already stated numerous times, I usually respond. Come to think of it, the occasions where I have been accepted as a Jew (without further questioning) have been few and far between.
- “ No you can’t be Jewish you are Hispanic”
- “You don’t look Jewish”
- “Escobar… is that a Sephardic name?”
Recently I discovered that without our knowledge, the validity of my own and my brother Gonzalo’s Jewishness has come into question (to the point where documentation has been requested) from people that we are now very close with.
Below are some of the examples of comments (not emails, I do not share the content of emails without permission) from youtube:
roundedwhtcollar Am I the only one who thinks this reprobate Turd is NOT in fact a Jew?
Rafaelpicc But is her las name jewish? or converted?
ReptorY her last name isnt jewish.
xruchy you are not jewish i guess… tus videos= cero aporte
raquelita40 she’s half Jewish/ half Guatemalan.
nakedjanet i am also suspicious. for one thing, escobar is not a typical Jewish name. For another, Jewish girls are usually a whole lot smarter, and have a whole lot more substance, than this girl has
(from chaptzem blogspot) There is no way she is Jewish- there may be a small chance her family are anusim or something.
But what gets even more bizarre is that interspersed with in those comments are horrible anti-semitic statements:
johnnycastle86xx all the jews have to die, stupid jewish puta de mierda. Que mierda que Hitler no mato a tu familia, asi tu no hubieras nacido. muerte a los judios y muerte a israel.
mocrostyle3600 AnotherJewish nasty bitch
mrrimfire She’s an ugly cockroach
filet there’s a nice Jewishcrew- club… Its re-open and called Auschwitz. the drinks are on the house!!! but only for jewish people
roshanpinto13 i want to put you in a concentration camp bitch if your people want israel so bad why don’t you go there and rid the world from your hideous jewish ways
So in light of my sarcasric sense of humor I entitled this post : Maya Escobar isn’t even Jewish I wonder what will come of that statement… From Judaism 101: Who Is a Jew?
First, traditional Judaism maintains that a person is a Jew if his mother is a Jew, regardless of who his father is. The liberal movements, on the other hand, consider a person to be Jewish if either of his parents was Jewish and the child was raised Jewish. Thus, if the child of a Jewish father and a Christian mother is raised Jewish, the child is a Jew according to the Reform movement, but not according to the Orthodox movement. On the other hand, if the child of a Christian father and a Jewish mother is not raised Jewish, the child is a Jew according to the Orthodox movement, but not according to the Reform movement! The matter becomes even more complicated, because the status of that children’s children also comes into question.
In my case my mother is Jewish and my father is not. Yet it is my father that pushed me to go to Hebrew school until I was 16. Rain or shine my parents have been attending Shabbat services at JRC for almost 20 years. I remember being so mad as a child that my friends got to go out on Friday nights, and I was stuck with my family not even allowed to watch TV when we got home from services. Vickie Korey left the nicest comment on my Rabbi Brant Rosen’s blog:
I remember Maya at Friday night services at JRC, sometimes listening intently, sometimes reading, but always being present. When one of the children of our extended spiritual family grows to be such a fine, thoughtful and accomplished young woman we are all proud. Gonzolo and Tina have worked hard to set a strong foundation for Maya and I am so pleased for her and her family.
A few months ago I met with my Rabbi to discuss my (art) work. During our discussion I mentioned to him how my father is feeling really nervous about me having an orthodox wedding where he will not be included in the ceremony. Brant said something to me that really touched my heart. Your father is the essence of what a Jew is, he is a stranger in a strange land. I agree with him whole-heartedly, and if you ask most JRC members I am sure they would agree as well. However that does not change the fact that he is not considered to be Jewish by our neighbors, and even if he converted, to them it would not be halakhic unless he went through orthodox conversion.
So who is a Jew? Who determines this?
As I stated in a previous post I will be working as the art director this summer for Camp JRF. I am in the process of creating this summer’s curriculum that will be geared towards answering these very questions and challenging notions of Jewish Identity. Below is a very rough sketch of my plan…. (Please let me know if you have any suggestions, or would be interested in contributing any resources)
The Changing Face of Jewish Identity: an exploration of self and what it means to be a Jew in our contemporary society
To introduce the concept of a changing Jewish Identity will discuss the following:
- How do we define ourselves/ how do others define us?
- Who is a Jew?
- Can someone be more or less Jewish/ who decides this?
- What is our role in society?
- What characteristics make up a Jew?
Mediums Mixed media sculpture
Campers will produce mixed media sculptures that reflect their perception of what it means to be a Jew
- We will begin as an ice breaker/ intro to project identifying the characteristics that make up Jews.
- Followed by a discussion on contemporary representations of Jews in Popular culture
Project Campers working in groups of 3-4 will have the option of creating either abstract or representational mixed media sculptures that to them represent Jewish identity. Prior to the construction of their piece students will need to create a (flexible) proposal that outlines their piece.
- Will it be site specific (interact with a certain location)?
- What form will it take?
- Will it have a function?
- What materials will be used based on the above?
If they end up going with more representational sculptures I thought it would be really cool to photograph the sculptures and to place them in various Jewish settings and non-Jewish settings (baseball stadium, temple, Shabbat dinner, work, school….)
May 23, 2007 § 19 Comments
In her essay The Myth of the Latina Woman/ Just Met a Girl Named Maria, Judith Ortiz Cofer describes her Puerto Rican upbringing in a strict Catholic home in New Jersey, where she was taught to behave like a proper señorita. Cofer explains that the conflicting messages she received as a child, were those commonly propagated by Puerto Rican mothers. “They encourage their daughters to look and act like women and to dress in clothes that our Anglo friends and their mothers found to mature for our age.”
When the mere notion of latinidad equates passion and sexuality to gringos, why is it that Latino men are the first ones to point finger and to call these same women suelta (loose) or facil (easy)? Wouldn’t they understand? Have they not been subjected to the same treatment? Perhaps it is comes down to the way they were raised.
In the Latino culture ideas of masculinity and femininity are delineated very early on. Author Evelyn P. Stevens, first introduced this concept know as machismo and marianismo in 1973. Machismo grants supreme authority of the man over the woman. Under this doctrine women, who are considered to be morally and spiritually superior to men are able to endure abuse. They grow up expected to follow the sexual code of marianismo, and are submissive to the man’s authority.
Puerto Rican culture places women into one of two categories the virgin or the whore; mujeres de la casa (women of the home) or mujeres de la calle (women of the street). Una mujer de la casa, is expected to be pure, giving and compassionate. While, una mujer de la calle is considered to be sluty, wild, and dangerous.
In Honor and the American Dream: Culture and Identity in a Chicano Community, author Ruth Horowitz says the following:
The very presence of a woman outside the household implicates them in promiscuity and/or sexual misconduct. Puerto Rican girls learn this good girl/bad girl dichotomy most clearly in the recruitment into reproductive labor… A good girl cooks, cleans, takes care of younger siblings, and helps her parents. In contrast una muchacha de la calle is a transgressive women who has gone beyond patriarchal control whose sexuality is unbounded and therefore dangerous.
While in Puerto Rico this January, I had the privilege of meeting the incredibly talented video artist, Tamara Liz Rivera Boria. Tamara and I instantly bonded, finding similarity in the content of our work, and decided that we needed to collaborate.
I conducted a short series of interviews with her (documented with the camera from my laptop), where she describes her work as it plays on the screen behind her…
Interview with Puerto Rican Artist Tamara Liz Rivera Boria
Maya: Tamara, what can you tell me about muchachas de la calle and muchachas de las casa?
Tamara: De la casa and de la calle girls might as well be related. They exchange roles sometimes, de la casa girl wanting to be de la calle, and vice versa.
Maya: How has this affected you?
Tamara: I was raised in a catholic home, in a catholic school. I can tell you, I have been fucked up. I didn’t want to be told what to do, or what to believe in.How can you tell someone that using a condom is a sin? I had many issues over the years being raised like that. Even though my parents are not Catholic extremists. They were pretty easy going that’s how they could understand me or deal with me. Deep inside it made a mark, no matter how much I tried to live and understand the world. I became insane trying to understand other people lifestyle because indeed I might have been raised inside a bubble. I still am kind of in there, don’t wanting to look at how things really are.
Maya: What role does your cultural upbringing play in your work?
Tamara: Recently I made a video called él, baño de marîa. In this video I present various symbolism about religion, pecados (sins), sexuality, purity, faith among other things. Mainly because our culture has raised us thinking inside the box, controlling us with Christianity, especially Catholicism. Being pure, waiting till marriage although most don’t do it, is deep inside the mind. Like it is wrong to embrace sexuality.
Aglubium, is another video I made in collaboration with Ralph Vazquez and Rebecca Adorno. In this video I am drowning, or trying to kill myself by submerging my head in the water. It’s aggressive, and it’s beautiful. We just want to end, we don’t want to think. We don’t want to face fears. We don’t want to wait, we want to get it over. We want to drown our fears. We don’t want to face reality. Escape its what we do.
Maya: How do you escape?
Tamara: Most people (Puerto Ricans) use drugs. Puerto Ricans that do not use illegal drugs, use legal pills, alcohol or even coffee. Everyone has an addiction. It’s a shame but I have seen most of my friends doing drugs. I been there, I done that but I never had an addiction. My new boyfriend said I was an alcoholic, he didn’t believe me when I said I wasn’t. It wasn’t till he lived with me for over a moth when he saw that I didn’t drink for so long that he believed me, and with the cigarettes the same.
For some weird reason I can try things for as long as I want and not create any addiction. I wish it were the same with those that surround me. But in the arts almost all the people I know use some kind of drugs, are the ones that worry me the most are the most intelligent that keep using. I guess they are not that smart…
Maya: Is there an alternative to escape?
Tamara: I can see clearly that with true art I can make a difference, I can say what I understand to be real and important. I might help somebody. Other people just ignore what is going on (Puerto Rico). So many things had happen here, that demanded the people marching up the streets in protest, because our government is insane. But people don’t, they just “sit quietly”. They don’t want to get involved, they think they cannot change anything. They believe they have no power, when indeed I say, with all your power, what would you do? – I love that flaming lips song-
Maya: How does this affect Puerto Rican girls?
Tamara: Puerto Rican girls have many issues. Not only because of gringos (Americans) our identity issues extend into religion and the ways women are portrayed in the reggaeton culture. Girls want to be thin like gringas (American girls), they don’t like they’re beautiful curves, ass and tits. They always feel fat no matter how thin they are. I bet this happen everywhere, but these are issues we shouldn’t have.
Accepting ourselves, as we are its what we should do. Because we are not gringas! We are not blonde and white! But boys see these girls in TV, and everywhere and they expect girls like that. It’s the gringo media. I’ve forgotten all about this, but I also had these issues. I think I kind of still do, I just ignore most of the time.
Maya: You mentioned Reggaeton, what message do you think Reggaeton is sending to young women?
Tamara: Reggaeton is a part of that movement leads ladies to feeling less than the man, like he has to buy her. Girls learn to use their sexual power way to early with reggaeton. It is a confrontation for some, between what they like (reggaeton movement, lifestyle) and the religious foundation they might have. But since it probably was forced (religion) they escaped thru reggaeton. Ultimately ending in ugly situations.
Maya: Okay , I agree with you. But I am not going to lie, I love reggaeton… are you sure you don’t secretly like it?
Tamara: I don’t dig reggaeton; I see how girls embrace being just a piece of meat, especially high schools girls. How much is this necklace, like a million? Said a girl, the boy answered – no. The girl said – well then, work and buy me this necklace.
Yesterday I heard a senior girl say that to her boyfriend at a hotel, it was their prom. Girls parade in lil’ dresses, easily they could have been mistaken for high-class whores. I won’t even comment on the dancing. It has gotten worse, every time. Since parents are so young they allow they’re children to behave like this. I mean, I see a problem with these situations. Boys catch another boy,looking at their girls, no matter if its sexual or if they just passed and look because its simply there, they get all worked up and want to fight. What is that dumbass looking at? So basically, what, people cant look at each other now? Girls can’t stand if you look at them either. Puerto Rico was not like that; you went to the mall, smiled and people smiled back at you.
The reggaeton anger and sexual damage can be easily identified. Even kindergarten boys are sexually harassing little girls. My mom is a teacher and I have heard some stories. I haven’t analyzed reggaeton issues deeply; this is just for what I have seen.
Maya: Thank you for your insight Tamara, I can’t wait to see what you produce next. I hope we can collaborate together in the future.
Tamara: I know I could make more sense out of my ideas, since they’re not organized very well, but it doesn’t matter. This is just the beginning of many wonderful works to come, ideas to flow… I’m glad that I can collaborate with you.
“Everything that surrounds me, mi entorno, makes a part of who I am and what I say in my videos. Little by little its somehow implicated.”
As I begrudgingly stated in my interview with Tamara, I am a fan of reggaeton. Like most, I don’t even acknowledge the lyrics or really think too much beyond the beat of the music. Yet now I find myself wondering, are most girls conscious of the message? I guess to some extent they must be, after all as Tamara shared many sing the lyrics as they grind (rub up) on men.
In my research I found extensive commentary regarding the direction of Salsa and its implications on women in the Puerto Rican community. However, as it is relatively new form of music, the writing concerning Reggaeton seems to be incredibly limited.
So I turned to a more contemporary source and found a blog entitled REGGAETONICA, written by Raquel Z. Rivera; author of New York Ricans from the Hip Hop Zone. In a recent post: From White to Mulata: The Darkening Powers of Reggaetón, she shares an email addressing this very issue:
I think reggaeton has been raunchy & explicitly all along, but I think the lyrics have reverted back to the “Reggeaton Sex” days of Underground. I think that “raunchiness” & degradation have become more mainstream & therefore are seen as less scandalous & more acceptable to society, so I think it has questioned our value as a community. The fact that Reggaeton outright refers to sexual references & acts & is accepted as mainstream Puerto Rican culture posing an interesting cultural issue for me. Now you can go to Puerto Rico and see young girls singing “dame con el palo, ” & they’re parents paying no mind to it, which I think is crazy. In the beginning of Reggaeton I found the lyrics to be much more raunchy, violent, & drug-related. Then mainstream Reggaeton came along, switched the “sexo” to “amor” & the “nenas” to “gatas.” I think these subtle changes in language allowed Reggaeton to be more successful in the mainstream, but now a lot of artists are moving back to the original lyrics because they already have a stable fan base. I mean, look at someone like Tony Dize, if you translated some of his songs into English, they could put even 50 Cent to shame with the blatant sexual references & degradation of women.
Perhaps reggaeton is so widely accepted by mainstream and popular culture, because it provides a free ticket to promote these concepts in a non-threatening form. If Puerto Rican women and other Latinas are fine dancing to this music, then what harm is there in gringos doing the same.
This then becomes representative of Puerto Rican culture. When a gringa dances to reggaeton she can purse her lips and grind on men, but without an attached stigma. She is just acting like a Latina girl. The Puerto Rican girls participating in this scene are aiding in the further perpetuation of the stereotype of Latina’s being easy.
However, as Tamara explained a lot of this has to do with a search for independence. Wanting to rebel against the forced restrictions of being una mucha de la casa, girls go to the furthest extreme to break down those barriers. But to what cost?
I myself am unable to provide a concrete solution. Yet I do think that one of the primary steps to forward progress is conversation. Tamara and myself have opted to publish the text on the web so that others may join in the dialog…
April 11, 2007 § 21 Comments
obsessed with frida kahlo, 2007
el es frida kahlo, 2007
auto retrato, 2003
frida painting, 2007
frida puppets, 2007
In search of the #1 Frida Kahlo fan in the World
PROVE IT answer the following questions:
When did you fall in love with Frida?
Why do you admire her?
What trivia do you know about Frida Kahlo?
How many and what Frida objects do you own? (prints of her work, t-shirts, mugs, wall hangings, toothbrushes, etc…)