For Ariela Ronay-Jinich, a Jewish Mexican American researcher trained in educational leadership, becoming a mother offered her new insights to Jewish community-building that centered Latino Jews. “It became very clear to me that I had reached my limit of how long and how far I had compromised my Latino, Mexican identity as a Jewish professional,” Ronay-Jinich shared. With 15 years of experience in the Jewish professional world, Ronay-Jinich has created innovative and engaging Jewish community programming for the San Francisco Bay Area. But as a Latina Jewish parent, she now felt a heightened awareness that rarely—if ever—was Jewish programming intended for her or her family, given both her cultural and language identity.
“There have never been events for Latino Jewish families, there’s no Jewish programming in Spanish, there’s no programming that does solidarity work with the larger Latino community,” Ronay-Jinich explained. “So, it really hit me that I had to create it for my family.” And she had the academic and activist background to do it.
In 2020, Ronay-Jinich took part in the Jewish Early Childhood Education Leadership Institute (JECELI). This program invited her to create an “action research project,” which employs a research method focused on generating change. “I decided to pilot a playgroup for Latino Jewish families with young children. It was my way of using my professional background and organizational connections to build community,” she said. Following the success of the playgroup, and with support from the Rodan Family Foundation and fiscal sponsorship from Be’chol Lashon, Ronay-Jinich partnered with community members to create a monthly havurah (family group) and other culturally specific programming through an initiative called Olamim: Latinx Jewish Belonging for Families.
Around the same time, Ronay-Jinich was ready to complete her master’s degree in educational leadership at Mills College, in which she focused on early childhood education. Merging her academic training with her community-building among Latino Jews, Ronay-Jinich developed a research study that explores how Latino Jewish parents navigate the process of transmitting culture, language, and values to their children. Responding to a Request for Proposals from the Jews of Color Initiative for amplifying Jewish scholars of Color and Jews of Color-focused research, Ronay-Jinich received funding to expand this research.
In her study, Ronay-Jinich considers how and where participants experience a strong sense of Jewishness and Latinidad, whether they are made to feel their identities are at odds with one another, and how they feel about Spanish language learning for their children, which is often of paramount importance to diasporic Latinxs. She asks them what their goals are for transmitting culture and language and how that process is playing out in their family units. She also asks what resources they have found and what they wish the community offered.
In these interviews, participants share personal reflections around themes such as intergenerational trauma, immigration, language loss, disconnection from the Jewish community, and more. Ronay-Jinich asks interviewees how they navigated their multifaceted identity prior to having children and how that has changed since having kids.
“There’s a lot of identity navigation going on for these families. My study really tries to get to the heart of how they navigate, but I think most importantly it asks what is most dear to them about being parents with these intersectional identities.” For many participants, concerns about cultural erasure fuel their motivation to pass traditions, culture, and language down with intentionality. Many express grief about things that aren’t available in the community, such as Spanish-language Jewish programming. “The stakes feel very high in terms of what they transmit and how,” Ronay-Jinich explains. “People are handing me their heart. They’re talking about their children, their identities, their families. It’s so personal. It’s really el corazón—the heart—of who they are. As a Latina, it makes me feel so good to be able to do this work from the center and create research that centers the wholeness of who we are.”
“This work is about our self-understanding,” Ronay-Jinich proclaimed. Knowing it is not easy to find culturally relevant Jewish programming as Latino Jews, she is both eager to work alongside institutions dedicated to changing this reality and exploring the possibilities of liberation when community-building is developed naturally through establishing trusting, authentic relationships. “We’re happy to share this work with others, and I’m very interested in making an impact in the Jewish institutional context; my hope is to find out who our allies are. But our sense of community is not dependent on that. That makes it feel possible…We can have programming and spaces where we generate what we’re hoping for.”
In the intimate conversations with her participants, Ronay-Jinich gets a close look at how varied experiences are among this specific demographic. “Yeah, we’re Latino Jews with children, but our experiences are so different. Our positionality comes up around race, around class, around sexuality. It’s a treasure trove for understanding the depth of our cultural experience.” Ronay-Jinich has also partnered with Jewtina y Co. to reach an even broader and more diverse community of Latino Jews.
Engaging in this research has had a profound impact on Ronay-Jinich, her local Latino Jewish community, and beyond. “It’s amazing to be not just a parent and an activist and a community-builder, but to have a platform to speak about my experience and to advocate for and mobilize my community in collective efforts. And it’s healing actually. It’s healing for all of us to get to process these experiences and build new possibilities together.”
Now Ronay-Jinich is eager to focus on disseminating her findings to create an impact for Latino Jews, and in the Jewish and Latinx communities more broadly, and for Jewish families navigating intersecting identities in general. “This is an opportunity for institutions to learn and reflect. I’m excited that this work is really about people because that’s an element that’s often missing from racial justice work. This work is dynamic because I get to be in the heart not just of their grief, or strategies or behaviors for coping, but in the heart of peoples’ empowerment. My hope is that this work can help Latino Jewish families enjoy who they are—together!”