Tuesday, November 6, 2007

passing notes in class

"I kind of hate the individual...

in that I don't believe it can exist on its own and it's most often talked about as an autonomous entity."

Thursday, October 25, 2007

thoughts from Santa Fe

This week I have been spending time visiting with friends in Santa Fe, NM. I was thinking about the first article we read in class about the origins of mole. I also got to thinking that I had heard that there had been a Jewish presence in Santa Fe at some point, but I couldn't really remember where I had heard that. So I got to researching, figuring there must be some link between the land where I am sitting now, and that of Andalusia.

Though I didn't some across much, there are definitely histories being compiled about the "hidden Jewish presence in the South West." People have been looking into Hispanic ancestry that traces itself back to "crypto-Jews" or "conversos" in the Americas.

Though the expulsion of the Jews from Spain was in 1492, the first synagogue in New Mexico did not appear until the mid-late 1800s. (this was the first visible, publicly acknowledged Jewish place of worship, though there may have been places where people had worshiped in secret). But it is very plausible that conversos came to New Spain earlier than that. Part of what may have kept the Jewish heritage in New Spain underground is that the Jews were not only kept out of Spain, but were not allowed to settle in New Spain either. This made me think about what it might have been like in 1492 and if I was a cryto-jew who had the option to find a way to New Spain, where there might be a way to find more freedom with new territory.

In my brief research, I came across the Bloom Southwest Jewish Archives. There I read some excerpts from interviews that have been conducted by the archives. Here is some of what has been recorded there.

An administrator on the University of Arizona campus recalls that when he grew up in Tucson "there was a kid who spoke a funny Spanish. We used to kid him. One day when I was in the University library I ran across a Ladino dictionary. I finally realized that kid had been speaking Ladino. I asked myself: `Was he a descendant of conversos from Spain?' Then I began to think about my own family and I puzzled as to why we always had a menorah in our Catholic home!"

A young man from a small, ingrained community in New Mexico, described the different feelings within families. He told interviewers that he remembered seeing his grandfather carve menorahs and place them in the window of their house at Chanukah. "My grandmother," he said, "would take them out quickly and insist we have a Christmas tree." He also remembered that in the spring his grandfather would hang a lamb, cut the jugular vein (according to Jewish tradition) and let the blood run into the ground. "He would cover the blood with soil," the young man said, "but my grandmother would get angry because she wanted the blood to make sausage. I also remember my grandfather going to a secret house to pray. I think he prayed there in Hebrew, although we were raised Catholic."

Ruth Ruiz Reed also recalled that her grandfather told her that his father used to take candles "and do certain ceremonies" at night in his room and also read the Old Testament. She said, "My mother never served pork or shell fish in our home."

one other quote I found on the Bloom site reads, "...scratch a New Mexican and his Indian blood will flow. Scratch a little deeper and his Jewish or Moorish blood will flow. Scratch no deeper 'cause that's all you need to know. Can you believe, 500 years and we're still looking for our identity?"

I have found some other more lengthier articles that I will hopefully get a chance to read later today, but I wanted to get something posted while it was on my mind.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


I didn't mean for it to take so long for me to update this blog. I have actually started a few posts, only to abandon them in frustration. I feel like I've backed myself into a corner with my second post being so theoretical and distanced from real life stuff. I am feeling like I need to continue down that path, even if I don't have anything much to say. Or something like that.

Of the many things that have been on my mind in this class, I will try to at least bring up a few today.

Last Friday at my study group we talked about finding/taking a place to speak from amid all of the complexity and ambiguity. How do we find ways to say anything, make any firm statement with the knowledge that things are fluid and subjective. Where does that authority come from?

Something else troubling has come up recently for me. It is again influenced by my postcolonial theologies course. If we are attempting to use hybridity that comes from a postcolonial state of being as a challenge to fictions/narratives of purity, what does it mean to us to learn that there has always been mixity and hybridity (Andalusia being the big example here). I don't think that the potential disruptive power of hybridity must necessarily result from a colonized position, but knowing that, in some ways, such mixing has always existed, does that lessen its potential challenge to imperialist thinking? What I'm trying to get at here is that hybridity is not a new thing. And since it is not, we can see that it existed at the same time as colonialism, imperialism, etc. So my question is, if the two were able to co-exist, than does that mean that hybridity is not actually an effective tool for deconstruction of binaries? Or, is it the ability to think in "hybrids" rather than in binaries that is important?

Something else we talked about in my study group last week was "Columbus Day." That exciting holiday where we celebrate the "discovery of the new world." This class has opened up some new ways of seeing this day for me. My study group was talking about who the people with Columbus might have been. 1492 being the both the year Columbus sailed the ocean blue, and the year the Muslims and Jews were expelled from Spain. We also talked about the treatment of the holiday, at least in the Berkeley area school system. One of my group mates shared that her daughter doesn't even know who Columbus is, and that she sees that as a problem. It is as if we have decided instead of "Columbus the Hero" we now have "Columbus the Bad Guy" and in some ways he has simply been essentialized in the opposite manner. Now instead of celebration, the story is not told. The first instance erased a history of peoples who lived in "the Americas" prior to Columbus' "discovery," but if we ignore the story all together we are erasing another part of history. Just as we have been learning in class so far, that things need to be looked at through many lenses, and connections need to be drawn, and boundaries blurred, Columbus needs some complexifying himself. It is not ok to say that he is an ultimate hero, but neither is it ok to write him off as a bad guy who no longer gets a hearing at all. I'm not saying that Columbus is a good guy, I am saying that leaving out a story because it is ugly, or makes "us" look bad, isn't useful. What can be useful to the study of history, is looking critically at such stories, instead of ignoring them.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

On knowledge, history and disruption

I want to give a little background on what we have been studying so far this semester, and then explore some larger ideas that have been kicking around between this class and my other classes (and specifically my postcolonial theologies class). I hope to look at knowledge and history - applying some of the ideas in Said's "Orientalism". Then I would like to ask the question, "how can the study of Al-Andalus disrupt Imperialist/Orientalist discourse and fictions of purity?"

Quite an undertaking for a simple blog post, and I fully acknowledge that I will be just briefly touching on each of these points, in hopes to further expand them as this blog develops. I think (as of this moment) that these will be key ideas running throughout my work this semester.

The last few weeks our course reading has included some extensive readings on Jewish diversities, and the history of Jews in Spain. Much of this reading was a "straight-forward" style history, listing dates and key figures, battles and geographic boundaries. These histories lacked texture and richness. They did not share the intimate stories of the people, but rather the impersonal progressions of power.

knowledge and history -
In my process of thinking about the ideas of knowledge and history, I have become fascinated by the way that history is a production of knowledge often about someone(s) and/or something(s) other than the one who is writing the history. It is becoming a much more common idea that "history is written by the winners" and in this process other stories and histories are misunderstood, distorted and/or erased all together. But in this problematic writing of history, knowledge about the other is created, and created in the language of those writing the history, which can lead to it being inaccurate and destructive. And as we acknowledge it is the "winner" creating this knowledge, we are also acknowledging that there is then power recognized in that knowledge. There is truth attributed to it.

In the past of the "West," the history writers have come from traditions of imperialism and colonialism. Combining the imperialist/colonizing discourse with the ability to produce knowledge about another is a terrifying prospect. This is because one of the important pieces of this discourse is a notion of purity and normalcy that leads the writing of history to have to leave out, marginalize and ignore the parts of history that could be a challenge to this claim of purity. In the imperialist project, the academic study of the other goes hand in hand with the production of histories and knowledge. In Said's "Orientalism" we see that there is danger in that project because it creates "knowledge" that is not congruent with the lived experience of the subjects of the history. In an interview, Said was asked why he became interested in the subjects that would later appear in "Orientalism." He replied that throughout his life he had a felt a constant disparity between his own experience of being an Arab, and the representations of what it meant to be Arab as portrayed in art and other cultural productions. Part of the control over those that would be/are/have been colonized comes in the form of naming, defining and explaining who "they" are, from the mouth of the colonizer. Because the colonizer has the power to create the knowledge that will be seen as "truth," the colonizers are able to then define the other against themselves, simultaneously creating a purified norm for their own, and a lesser, uncivilized, bizarre, exotic, other, furthering justifying the control over their subject.

disruption -
So what can the study of Andalusia do to confront imperialist discourse that relies on fictions of purity? My assertion is that as we uncover histories of mixity - the intimate stories of lives and music and food and art - there is a challenge to the previously produced knowledge/history that remains impersonal, in control and "pure." Through this process we can re-re-create and re-re-present histories in a way that gives voice to, and produces knew knowledge about those previously silenced.

yes and? -
How can it be ensured that new understandings of histories do not continue in the cycle of knowledge production that is oppressive? Is there a way to re-present the past (as people in academia) that does not distort or mis-translate (orientalize) what it is that is trying to be re-presented? How do we talk/write/think about something we do not have language for other than as a comparison to the language we do have? And if we must make those comparisons are they still privileging our own discourse/knowledge base?

Thursday, September 20, 2007


I am a student at the Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley, CA. This semester I am taking a class called, Andalusia: Judaism, Christianity and Islam, taught by Dr. Ibrahim Farajajé. Part of our course work is keep a blog throughout the semester to reflect on the readings and discussions we are having.

To begin, here are some excerpts from our course description.

"This course invites us to a thorough, profound, and exciting interrogation of the ways in which we have traditionally approached the study of the interconnections and intersections between Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. The broad container for doing this will be through looking at the patterns and practices of co-existence in al-Andalus, from the early 8th century until the end of the 15th century...
To put it more simply, we tend to think of the world as being divided into discrete groups which are neatly separated by borders. Of course, the notions of porosity of borders and transnational identities and fluidities come more and more into our consciousness, but when we think of the past, we think of some areas of the world and their populations as being pretty static. For example, that there were transcontinental movements of peoples from the east of Africa to the west of Africa, or from the east of Muslim territories to the west is not something that is usually emphasised in contemporary studies of the histories of religions...
This course invites us to enter a space where ways of being that were based on living-in-the-differences grew creatively. How do food, music, spiritual practice, sacred space/architecture, environmental sciences, gender, class, sexualities,embodiment/disabilities, language, notion of community express the intersectional cultures that grew out of la convivencia, the coexistence of these religions? Come, enter into the space that was al-Andalus !"

As this semester progresses, I will be posting with reflections on the weeks topic. I hope any of you readers out there feeling welcome to respond, ask questions, complexify what I have to say.