...except for me and my monkey! "Everything we see hides another thing. We always want to see what is hidden by what we see." -Rene Magritte

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

An open letter to Nabisco Co., and more Religious Studies nerdiness

Dear Reduced Fat Wheat Thins,

Why you gotta be so tasty?

Faithfully yours,
J.

I learned something in Intro to Judaism this morning that once again highlighted the glorious convergence between Religious Studies and Hispanic Studies. Now, the two main groups of world Jewry, distinguished by ethnicity, language, variations in religious practice, and nation of origin, are the Ashkenazic and the Sephardic Jews. Ashkenazic Jews tend to be from, or are descended from, countries in Central and Eastern Europe, while Sephardic Jews are more Mediterranean. The language Yiddish, derived from German, was spoken by Ashkenazic Jews, while Sephardic Jews and crypto-Jews living in Spain during the time of the Inquisition developed the language Ladino, which derives from Castillian Spanish.

"Interesting," you might say, "But what does this have to do with Hispanic Studies?"

Let me tell you. If you've read I, Rigoberta Menchú, or have studied Central American social movements, the word ladino immediately jumps out. At least in Guatemala, ladino signifies an indigenous person who has been assimilated into mestizo culture--that is, the mixed indigenous/white Spanish culture. Rigoberta Menchú, the indigenous Guatemalan Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, used the term ladino as a kind of derogatory name for the middle-class assimilated Mayan Indians who participated in the oppression of the poor indigenous people.

So, in Central America ladino means an assimilated indigenous person. In Spanish Judaic history, Ladino was the language spoken by Jews who had converted to Catholicism under duress to try to avoid persecution. Same idea, same language, different place and time. I asked my Judaism professor if she knew of any etymological connection between the two concepts, but she had never heard of the Central American meaning of ladino. I'm really curious now, and I think this merits further research. I'll tell y'all what I find out!