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July 08, 1994 - Image 44

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1994-07-08

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Chata a block away and gave
her "siete punalaci2s en el mero
corazon" (seven knife stabs in
the very heart). I accepted
Clara's story on faith, not at all
concerned that her description
matched word for word the ti-
tle of a popular song.
The full import of Chata's
death did not dawn on me un-
til the following day, when I was
taken to school by her older sis-
ter, Elvira, whose braids were
neither as long nor as glossy as
Chata's, and whose skirts did
not smell half as good.
In the days that followed,
Chata's violent death and Ar-
turo's hard questions got mixed
together in my dreams, and my
apprehension grew that Chata
had been murdered because of
me, and because I was a Jew.
Unlike her younger sister,

Perpetual Outsider


Ii ril/id

When I asked Father in the
One afternoon, Chata failed
evening, he said the Romans to pick me up at school. That
did it and that was that.
morning, Ramiro had followed
Several days passed, and Ar- us to school, as usual, although
turo did not mention the Jews they had quarreled in the park
and Christ. I dared hope the the day before when he caught
whole subject had been forgot- her flirting with a young chauf-
ten. In the meantime, my feur.
friendship with Michel grew.
"He's following us. Don't turn
He let me call him "Coco," around," I recall Chata saying.
which was his nickname, be- They were the last words of
cause his head was round and Chata's I would ever hear.
hard like a coconut. Coco was
It had grown dark and my
as much a foreigner in the knees were cold when Father
school as I was. He was Protes- finally came for me, after clos-
tant, and the bigger boys ing the store.
mocked his French accent and
"Chata has gone away," was
played catch with his cap.
all he would say.
Grace Samayoa was a little
After dinner, I went into the
shy of me, but now and again, kitchen and wormed the truth
she gave me an approving smile out of Clara, the cook. She said
when I answered Miss Hale's Chata and I had been followed
questions correctly — and once by Ramiro. After she deposited
she let me stroke her hair.
me at the school, he waylaid

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atin American Jews have a sense of
Diaspora that's far more palpable than
that of Jews living in the United States.
It's even more pronounced for Latin
American Jewish writers, who have little hope of
gaining in their homelands the broad acceptance
achieved in the United Sates by such writers as
Saul Bellow and Philip Roth.
One of the choices open to Jewish writers in
Latin America is to remain in the cultural --- and
literary -- fringe that generally reflects the con
dition of Jews in Latin America. But by doing this
they abandon any hope of wider readership. Oth-
er choices are to assimilate into gentile society
or to emigrate, usually to the U.S., Is-
rael or Europe.
Ilan Stavans, editor of Tropical Syn-

agogues: Short Stories By Jewish-
Latin American Writers (which

includes Victor Perera's short story
"Kindergarten" ), chose the latter. Born
in Mexico of parents whose families
had left Russia and Poland (his father
was Mexico's first Yiddish actor) in the
early 20th century, Mr. Stavans teach-
es literature and Hispanic culture at
Amherst College in western Massa
chusetts. He came here in 1985, he
said after concluding that he had no chance to
succeed as a "Jewish writer" in Mexico.
Once here, Mr. Stavans, 33, married an Amer-
ican Jewish woman, sent his son to a Jewish
school and joined a synagogue. Still, he thinks of
himself as an outsider, even in relation to U.S.
Jewish life. It's a condition he attributes to "the
psychology of the immigrant' so instilled in Latin
American Jews.
This sense of being the perpetual outsider is

evident in the 23 short stories in Tropical Syna-
gogues, the first anthology of Latin American writ-

ers published in English. Recurrent themes in the
stories are assimilation, the struggle to maintain
tradition, social and political anti-Semitism, and
Although some authors in Tropical Synagogues
write in English, most are unknown to English-
speaking readers. The best-known are the late
Alberto Gerchunoff (The Jewish Gauchos of the
Pampas") and the satirist Moacyr Scliar ("The
Centaur in the Garden").
But not all the authors in Tropical Synagogues
are Jews. The collection includes three stories
by the late, celebrated
Argentinean writer Jorge
Luis Borges, who may
have descended from
marranos on his moth-
ers side, and who often
included Jewish charac-
ters and mystical refer-
ences in his work.
"I wanted to show that
at least something of the
Jew has been absorbed
c), into the gentile Latin
°- American psyche," Mr.
Stavans said of his decision to include Mr. Borges'
Tropical Synagogues also includes a long in-
troduction that covers the history of Latin Amer-
ican Jewish literature, from the late 19th century
to today.
And the future?
Mr. Stavans believes that Latin American Jew-
ish fiction is about to gain wider acceptance.

— Ira Rifkin

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