My mom is from Nogales, Sonora. My dad is from California. They’re both Latinos. My grandmother was Jewish. After I grew up and got a little older I decided I wanted to go back to my Jewish roots. I started that process with a pastor. I’m still waiting for the day to go to Cananaya and do my own research. My sister served the JewishLatino coalition a few years ago, but I’m the only one who practices the Jewish religion and goes to services. My mom doesn’t go to church anymore, but she has gone with me every once in a while. She grew up Catholic. My mother met my dad at a party in Nogales. She spoke very little English. She was shy and didn’t like to speak it much. After she met my father he brought her over to Tucson. My father doesn’t really speak Spanish.
My parents have always been very open, so they are always encouraging us to explore and learn about different cultures. My mom always stresses that we should be proud of our Latino heritage. I always tell people that I am Latino. I think it is important so we can encourage other people to be proud of where they come from, to know that there are always opportunities out there. Even though growing up, we didn’t have those opportunities, we always encourage kids to go to school, graduate and help their community. I am graduating in 24 days from University of Arizona. I am a Sociology major and part of Global Brigades. We travel to underprivileged countries that do not have optimal medical equipment. I am also the chair of the college of Young Democrats of Arizona. I’m also the president of the proIsrael group on campus. I am always volunteering as well, always busy throughout the year.
I am Mexican American. My father’s side of the family is from California. They have been there for a very long time. My mom’s side of the family is from Nogales, Sonora in Mexico. Her family is still in Mexico. She is actually not a citizen; she is a resident alien. She keeps saying she is going to do it, every year she says, “This is the year!”
Almost three years ago I was invited to speak at a Habhad, which is a Jewish synagogue in New York. It was an event for students who had done good work in their community. As I was getting ready to leave, one of my family members on my mom’s side let me know that one of her aunts had died, she was in her 90s. As they were going through her things, they found something indicating that we went from being Cohens to Quinones. Cohen is, of course, a traditional Jewish last name. It is one of the traditional eleven Jewish tribes. Our family must have gone to Mexico and then, wanting to fit into the culture, changed their last name but kept a lot of the traditional cultural life.
Preserving the language has been a really big thing that my mother has tried to do, especially because of the way things have changed in Arizona. The educational system limited bilingual education in the early 2000s. I actually stopped speaking it for a long time. So my mom would always remind me to retain that element of our background, not only for me. but for future generations. We see speaking both languages as a bonus and not a negative, it has greatly benefited the work that I do. I am the president of the Sunnyside School Board here in Tucson. I also do a lot of work with the Arizona School Board Association advocating for the K12 level. I was on the board of the Jobs for Arizona Graduates a few years ago.
We have 13 brothers and sisters, so we have a huge family. On my dad’s side of the family there are only five. So his family is small, and my mom’s family is loud and big and crazy. My mom always thought it was really important to learn Spanish so she put us in the Mariachi Officion Academy. We were there for a few years. We both played the violin, I sang. I still sing. When I have kids I will definitely be putting them in Mariachi. We also played soccer. I am learning Hebrew right now, it is very difficult. So when I have kids I hope they will be able to speak Hebrew, English, and Spanish. My father didn’t know anything about the culture really, he had to take classes to learn the dance so he could marry my mom.