By CAMERA fellow David Enav
Last week, Houston Hillel and Cougars for Israel, an EMET for Israel group, teamed up with the Latin Fraternities Sigma Lambda Beta, Alpha Psi Lambda, and the Mexican American Studies Student Organization to screen the movie Project Puente. The movie is a documentary following the formation of a Latin-Jewish student coalition at the University of Texas at Austin. The coalition was formed due to commonalities in histories between the two groups and in the mutual interests in the cultures of the other. Latin and Jewish students, as well as politicians and professionals, were interviewed for this movie.
At the formation of the coalition, both Jews and Latinos did not know very much about each other. Many of these students grew up in separate communities with little contact with each other. Through the coalition, however, they joined together to stand up for common causes that they believe in. Today at UT, the two groups who barely knew each other at first share a very strong bond.
Both Jews and Latinos come from immigrant communities seeking a better life in the USA. Many Latinos came to the USA seeking refuge as well as better educational and economic opportunities. Many Latin Americans are emigrating due to worsening conditions stemming from drug cartel violence. Many Jews came to the United States fleeing anti-Semitic discrimination and violence in Europe and the Middle East. Both groups see their new home in the United States as a place of freedom and tolerance: a nation of opportunities and mobility.
The Latin-Jewish coalition served as a base of support for the issues each group finds important. For Latinos, they were concerned about immigration reform and harmful legislation against minority communities. Legislation such as Arizona SB 1070 was one that many Latinos found to be discriminatory. This legislation enabled police officers to check someone’s immigration papers as long as there was “reasonable suspicion” that they were not there legally. Racist legislation like this alienates Latinos, whether they live in the US legally or not.
Jewish students were concerned about the BDS movement and the anti-Semitism that accompanies it. The BDS movement is short for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions, and it seeks to delegitimize and demonize the state of Israel. As this movement spreads through many college campuses, many Jews find this to be not only counterproductive to the peace process, but very alienating to them as Jewish students. BDS campaigns have resulted in anti-Semitic acts against Jews on campus as well as a general contempt for Jewish students.
The screening event was a huge success. After the movie ended, many students stayed and talked about the issues they found to be important, and the misconceptions they had about the other side. Walter Garcia, Assistant Associate Member Educator of the Alpha Psi Lambda Latin Fraternity, said that Project Puente was “a good opportunity for Latino and Jewish UH students to communicate concerns of the Houston community and a great way to network. It also has the potential to integrate future generations with more diverse cultures.” The event brought two once-unfamiliar communities into a setting where both group’s history and cultures were embraced.
With Latinos and Jews working side-by-side, they promote the values of diversity that the University of Houston holds dear. As one of the most diverse schools in the nation, UH is a hotbed of unity among various ethnic groups. Project Puente fosters a strong Latin-Jewish connection, which looks to grow even further at the University of Houston.
David Enav is a sophomore studying Marketing. He is also a campus fellow with the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.
Project Puente Trailer from Tracy Frydberg on Vimeo.