We have witnessed with alarm the hateful rhetoric overwhelming our national conversation about immigrants. This rhetoric falsely paints Latinos as rapists and criminals and calls for the repeal of the 14th Amendment, which grants citizenship to children born in the United States.
Many of these same groups blame undocumented immigrants for the country’s economic ills and propose expelling 11 million undocumented immigrants from the United States. Not only is this logistically unachievable, it would heartlessly break up families who contribute to our economy and work in jobs that many Americans refuse to do. But facts and simple human decency matter little to those engaging in this angry anti-immigrant rhetoric.
Several months ago, concerned members of Sacramento’s Jewish and Latino communities came together with the shared vision of building cross-cultural understanding, helping the underserved and strengthening our region through community service. The two groups formed the Latino-Jewish Forum and we quickly found common ground.
We began our gatherings by sharing our histories through food and stories about our families and our cultures. We identified issues of importance to our communities so we could work together to address them.
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It was our common experience of hatred and bigotry, past and present, that strengthened our resolve and fueled our sense of urgency to speak out against those who pontificate in an ugly and dehumanizing way about Latino immigrants.
The Jewish community is intimately familiar with discrimination and how it can become accepted as the norm. We know too well what happens when good people do nothing to speak out against hate. We know that in failing to raise one’s voice, a door is opened and license is given for prejudice and bigotry to flourish.
In Sacramento, we have lived through violence and hate crimes in our recent history. In the summer of 1999, white supremacists firebombed three synagogues, set fire to a women’s health clinic and murdered a gay couple. The community held a rally of more than 5,000 people who filled the Convention Center.
It is Sacramento’s diversity and the cooperation of people from differing ethnic and racial backgrounds and faiths that has established our dynamic and innovative identity. We saw the best of Sacramento shine in 1999 as we joined together to fight hate.
The Latino-Jewish Forum is committed to finding avenues for education and community service. As we work to determine the forum and venues for our growing relationship, we welcome others to join us. We ask others of good conscience to add their voices and demand a national conversation that overcomes bigotry, hatred and violence and instead reaffirms our commitment to equal opportunity, diversity and unity through mutual understanding and respect.
It starts here, one conversation at a time, in homes and neighborhoods across our community.
Deborah Ortiz is a former member of the Sacramento City Council and current trustee of the Los Rios Community College District. Hellan Roth Dowden is a member of the Jewish Community Relations Council.