DiversifYA: Mirta Ines Trupp
|September 20, 2013||Posted by DiversifYA under Cultural and Ethnic, DiversifYA|
Today, Mirta Ines Trupp joins us on DiversifYA! Mirta is the author of WITH LOVE, THE ARGENTINA FAMILY ~ Memories of Tango and Kugel; Mate with Knishes. WITH LOVE is a memoir about growing up as a Jewish, Russian, Argentine American immigrant, and I’m so excited to have Mirta here as she shares some of those experiences with us!
1. How do you identify yourself?
You’d think that at this stage of the game – at 51 years of age, I’d have an answer for you right at the tip of my tongue. But when you posed the question, “How do you identify yourself,” I once again had to stop and think! And I truly thought about it for several days. I deliberated on each one of my “labels”; I evaluated the pros and cons of every answer. I even thought about your audience; what would they consider a stimulating response? And then, the Jewish High Holidays or High Holy Days came upon us. The holiday of Rosh ha Shanah began last night and I found myself on the bimah, the dais, in front of a thousand congregants. You see, I sing in the Holiday Choir. In fact, this year, I allowed myself the luxury of taking the entire week off so that I could fully participate and enjoy the holiday. I vacillated on whether or not I should take a whole week off; was it right to use up my vacation days- was it necessary? And then, I had my answer and by default, your answer. It came at one of my favorite moments in the High Holy Days liturgy when we, as a community, pray to be “inscribed into the Book of Life.” When the congregation began singing along with the choir, Zochreinu L’Chaim, I realized, Yes, it was necessary to take off the whole week. Why? Because I am a Jew and I want to stand up and be counted among these people. I identify as a Jew from the stand point of faith and values. In addition – and here is where it gets complicated, I recognize my Russian ancestry, acknowledge my Argentine culture and take great pride in my American allegiance. So, I’m a Jewish Russian, Argentine American immigrant.
2. What did it feel like growing up as a Jewish Russian, Argentine American immigrant?
With regards to being an immigrant, the hardest thing for me was dealing with my parent’s issues; my mother in particular exuded anxiety and melancholy. Although leaving Argentina was probably the wisest decision my parents ever made, dealing with the loss of family was a lifelong struggle. Because of my father’s employment with the airlines, we were able to fly back and forth to Argentina quite often. Rather than this being a positive factor, for me -as a child, it proved to be a very unsettling matter. Being an immigrant, but never truly completing the journey was disconcerting to say the least.
As Jews in Argentina, we were called Rusos, a generalization denoting that all Jewish, Eastern Europeans were Russian. At times, due to the raging Anti-Semitism, this was not a term widely appreciated in the Jewish community as it implied Rusos were all trouble-makers, communist, revolutionaries. As Americans in Argentina, we were called Janquis (Yankees) and in many circles, this was not necessarily a term of endearment. The ties between Argentina and the United States were strained and would be tested again and again. Here at home, I struggled to find myself within the American tapestry. I was acutely aware of how different we seemed to be from others. Not only were we immigrants, but we didn’t quite fit the mold. We were from Argentina, but we were Caucasian- Eastern Europeans, rather than “Latinos.” We were Jewish, but we spoke Spanish; California locals thought our Castilian dialect sounded more like Italian. We were Jewish, but secular and uneducated on many levels. I couldn’t find my niche. I recall a particularly brash classmate stating, “She is too white to be Latina and to Latina to be Jewish!” In my junior high school, the self-proclaimed Latinas alienated the huera (white girl) and the main-stream, “popular” set, with their tight fitting, Ditto jeans and their straight, silky hair ostracized the curly-hair girl wearing loose, gaucho pants and a fringed, llama poncho.
3. What are the biggest challenges? Conversely, what are the quirks/perks?
My parents and the others in our group were adamant about integrating themselves into American life. The need to assimilate was a priority, especially for my father, but the challenge was finding the balance of becoming American without forgetting our customs and traditions. My father did not believe in the “hyphen.” We were not Argentine-Americans. He always said that he owed his allegiance to the country that allowed him to live his life in peace. My mother, however, was adamant that we cling to our Argentine traditions and to our Jewish heritage. My sister and I were watched liked hawks; the old-fashioned ways of my family’s culture restricted our every move. Every step was viewed through the lens of “what would The Argentina Family say.” It was difficult explaining to my “American” friends why the answer was so often “no.”
I cannot speak of challenges without discussing our relationship with Pan American Airlines. Because of my father’s employment, we were able to travel anywhere in the world- practically for free. Anywhere in the world turned out to be only Argentina. I had to learn to deal with never-ending jet lag; dividing my life in between my adopted country and my native land. I struggled with guilt; hating to leave behind my father while we traveled for months at a time. I struggled with anxiety; not understanding my mother’s desperate need to be with The Argentina Family. I struggled with insecurity. I believed that my mother wanted to return. I knew my parents were financially helping some of our relatives in Argentina. If we were to move back, who would help us?
Having said all that, the perks of course, were that I did meet The Argentina Family. Many of my cousins here in the United States have never been able to return and have missed out on the tremendous outpour of love and connection. I also would have never met my husband had we not be continually traveling back and forth. Additionally, I believe being an immigrant child makes you appreciate things that you might not otherwise consider. Traveling to Argentina throughout the 1970’s was almost like traveling back in time. It made me more aware, possibly more appreciative and considerate because I had been exposed to other cultures and other forms of government.
4. What do you wish people knew about being a Jewish Russian, Argentine American immigrant?
It might interest people to know that Argentina is a melting pot of ethnicities and cultures. Argentines, in general, are descendants of Italians, Spaniards, Germans, Russians, Poles and other nations. I would like people to know that although the vast majority of Jews escaping Eastern Europe in the late 1880’s entered the United States, another mass exodus found their “New Jerusalem” in the Pampas of Argentina. These immigrants were pioneers as they worked and settled the land. They were called Jewish Gauchos and in many circles, were widely respected as founders of many important agricultural colonies. Due to the fact that most Jews of previous generations married within their community, there were minimal “interracial” or mixed marriages. This speaks to the fact that while I was born in Argentina, as were my parents, our blood lineage is not indigenous or “Latino.”
I would also like people to know that America has always been die goldene medina, where the streets were paved in gold. My father’s love for this country began in his youth and he wouldn’t settle for anything less than to become a full-fledged citizen of this nation. My father always said that he was a “simple working man” but he lived like a king in America. When I was young, I believed that he was speaking of monetary achievement. As an adult, I realized that my father held peace of mind in higher regard. America allowed us to live in peace and comfort and my parents were eternally grateful and proud to call themselves American.
5. What are the biggest clichés/stereotypes you’ve seen?
There are several outrageous stereotypes still floating about…where does one begin? Hmm… Jewish people are rich. Jewish people speak with a New York accent. Jewish people have big noses. One of the most ridiculous comments is the famous: “You don’t look Jewish.” I’m not sure what Jews are supposed to look like…since Jews live all over the world. Oh! And we are not called “Hebrews”- that sort of went out of style a thousand years ago.
Then of course, there are the “Latino/Hispanic” stereotypes. Firstly, let me just say that those terms, which the United States Census Bureau enjoys using, drive me insane. These umbrella-type terms are inaccurate and more often than not, label and corral people into groups that are simply inaccurate. But that is a subject for another day. Clichés about the color of skin or the choice of foods are, still to this day, floating about in our society. Spanish-speaking peoples are not all “brown.” Not everyone eats tacos or spicy foods. Not everyone can salsa or merengue! Another misconception is that Argentina is part of Brazil. One last thing, I cringe when people start singing, “Don’t Cry for me, Argentina”. All Argentines most certainly do not love Evita Peron or Ernesto “Che” Guevara, a man whom many people idolize but do not truly understand.
BONUS: What is your advice for writers writing diverse characters?
Well, in my case, I’ve written a Creative Non-Fiction. Some people might think that a memoir about a particular culture or faith would only attract a specific group. People like to look at themselves and find the humor or poignancy in their lifestyle or situation; Jews crave yiddishkeit, as Argentines crave their Argentinismos. (Comedians make us laugh at ourselves all the time, and we enjoy it!) But on a deeper level, of course, we are all human beings; we can relate to various universal themes such as tradition, assimilation, acceptance and personal growth. When readers can see beyond the label and see themselves, that’s when the author has truly accomplished something of worth. Once you peel away the labels, whether they are self-inflicted or imposed by society, you end up with the human experience and that makes for interesting reading.