July 15, 2019

Ocasio-Cortez and the Complexity of Jewish Ancestry

“It happens at least once every semester: a student learns that I teach courses in Jewish studies at my university here in southeast Texas and comes to visit me during my office hours.

In most cases, I have never met this student before, and at first, the conversation is hesitant, as if the student lacks the language to even speak about what she has come to talk to discuss. Inevitably, we get down to the heart of the matter, and the student confesses the reason for her visit: “There are Jews in my family ancestry and I wonder what that means.

I thought of my students when I heard the news that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a newly minted congresswoman from New York, revealed her own Sephardic Jewish heritage through her Puerto Rican ancestors while at a Hanukkah celebration in the Queens congressional district she will soon represent.”

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