One of my fondest memories of childhood is attending Christmas Midnight Mass at my family’s Catholic Church. My cousins and I would bask in the glittering pageantry, well aware that as soon as we got home, all the presents beneath the tree would be vanquished under our attacking hands.
I’m about to become a father. Naturally, I should look forward to taking my own son to Midnight Mass.
Well, I’m not. Because he will not be raised Catholic. In fact, he will not be raised with any religion at all.
Recently, I received some hate mail from a white supremacist (see previous post). It’s a rare, but not unprecedented occurrence.
Her sentiments were ignorant and bizarre, of course. And clearly, they in no way reflect the opinion of most Americans. I wondered, however, how many individuals would agree with one of her statements, which was that white people are being oppressed.
Here’s a quick shout out to Frankie, Ankhesen, Ulises, and Chris for their comments on my recent posts. Thank you all, and thanks to everyone who shares his or her thoughts here.
But now let me backtrack a little.
Recently, I used my cyber bully pulpit to disparage comedian George Lopez and, by extension, anyone who thinks that he’s funny. I’m not backing down on my criticism, but I need to qualify it.
You see, I’ve written much about the positive aspects of Latino culture, such as our strong familial ties and powerful work ethic and openness to share emotions and many other good and true characteristics.
But I’ve also written about some less uplifting traits. And to that list, I have to add one more item:
We’re not particularly funny people.
I realize this is a gross generalization. I’m sure that plenty of Latinos are hilarious. It’s just that I haven’t met them or seen them on television or watched their stand-up routines.
We have to be honest and say that no Hispanic has ever really made America laugh, except maybe Cheech Marin, and he put the low in low-brow.
Indeed, the first Hispanic sitcom, back in the 1980s, was “Aka Pablo,” starring Paul Rodriguez. It was such a monumental flop that Latinos have been rare on comedies ever since (by the way, my hatred for this short-lived show is so intense that it demands a full post sometime).
The first Hispanic comedian to receive any kind of mainstream success in America was Cantinflas, a star from the 1950s. You are forgiven if you don’t know who he is. The guy seems to be more of poor man’s Charlie Chaplin than anything else.
One could argue that Latino culture’s history of death, destruction, and poverty does not lend itself to big laughs. That may be true, but then what do we make of the fact that some of the most insightful and cutting comedians of the last few decades have been black? Think of the line from Richard Pryor to Chris Rock and beyond. African Americans, of course, have just as much, if not more, misery in their collective backgrounds. They have apparently been better able to mine this history to create cutting-edge observations.
As a result, black people have Dave Chappelle. We have Carlos Mencia. That contrast is just depressing.
Similarly, a look at Jewish comedy reveals such heavy hitters as Woody Allen, Jerry Seinfeld, Judd Apatow, and others too numerous to mention. We’re talking about decades of mainstream success across a wide range of styles. And of course, Jews have endured one or two negative developments over the course of their cultural history. It hasn’t stopped them from coming up with a witty line now and then.
So why aren’t we funnier? I haven’t the slightest idea. But with this blog, I’ve tried to avoid becoming a writer who is, in the words of the great humorist Spalding Gray, so very “earnest, earnest, earnest.” That seems to be the default setting for many Latinos (and many bloggers, while we’re at it). By the way, Spalding Gray was a white guy.
In any case, the situation for Latino humor is grim… hey, I guess that was a joke, given the subject matter.
Yes, as you can see, you don’t want me to accept the challenge to be the comedic Latino. I’m just not that funny.
A few years ago, I took one of those internet quizzes that pinpoints your real religion, based on your actual beliefs and not the lip service that you espouse. Like all internet quizzes, I’m sure it was of dubious validity and reliability, and it probably had a questionable theological basis on top of that.
Still, I couldn’t argue with the result, which said that I was, in reality, a Reform Jew. By the way, the religion of my childhood, Roman Catholicism, ranked around twenty-eighth or so on my personal scale, which sounded about right (but I’ll refrain from picking on Catholicism just now).
These days, I consider myself more of secular Buddhist agnostic. But the Jewish angle isn’t that far off.
I’m not sure why I relate to Judaism. It’s not like I had a lot of Jewish friends growing up. My neighborhood was primarily Hispanic (and therefore, incredibly Catholic) while my home state is overwhelmingly Midwestern white (mostly Protestant). So not a lot of Goldbergs and Silvermans appeared on the scene.
Perhaps I picked it up when I lived in New York City, where Jewish culture is everywhere. Within just a few years of arriving in NYC, I was ordering bagels with lox and talking about people’s chutzpah and obsessing about death. So maybe that’s why I came up Jewish on the test.
But I think there’s a larger issue. It seems that Hispanics and Jews have always gotten along pretty well. Perhaps both groups know what it’s like to pass for white, but not really. Maybe our mutual focus on family lines up nicely. Or perhaps we just admire each culture’s long history of suffering.
Regardless, I was intrigued to read about a group of Hasidim Jews in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood. A small but thriving population traces its ancestry to Spain and Latin America, and as such, members of this group consider themselves Hispanics.
Spare me your jokes about Juan Epstein, the NYC Puerto Rican Jew from “Welcome Back, Kotter.”
There’s a man in Crown Heights with a real-life cross-cultural headspinner of a name, Moshe Nunez, and he says that “There are a lot of Latin American Jews here…. Many non-Jewish Latinos are surprised to see Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn who speak Spanish and carry on their Hispanic traditions.”
I suppose that would be an attention-getting sight. But still, I’m not really shocked that some people would adopt both cultures. The overlap goes back decades.
For example, when my mother moved to America, back in the 1960s, her first job was helping out an old Jewish woman on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. The woman was a Holocaust survivor, and she brought that horrific period to life for my mother by rolling up her sleeve and showing the number branded into her arm. This simple display provided quite the education for a young woman from Latin America.
The old woman was very kind to my mother, and she introduced her to the opera and nice restaurants and the finer things in life. According to my mother, the old woman was adamant that bigotry against any group was evil. She said that anyone who would discriminate against a Latino would bash Jews as well.
In the old woman’s mind, we’re all one and the same.