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Jewish World Review
Dec. 18, 2007
/ 9 Teves 5768
ˇAsk a Jew!
Dear Jew: Why do you people all the time have to be living in the big houses, driving the fancy cars, and sending your kids to the best schools? Can't you leave anything for the rest of us?
Dear Friend: I'm not sure what's worse: Your assumption that all Jews are well off or your resentment of those who are. As usual when confronted with questions about the Jewish success story, I volley with: "For this I should apologize?"
My shtetl (Old Country) grandparents knew poverty, and believe me, to quote Tevye, it's no great honor, either.
Jews flourished in this country because they worked hard and studied harder. And if that feeds stereotypes, well, consider the alternative. And one last thing, you Mel Gibson wannabe: Shame on you for forgetting the Jews who are struggling in this economy, here and abroad. As for Jews who don't share their good fortune with others, well, shame on us.
Dear Jew: Why does every Jew I know claim to have a relative who is a gangster? I thought you people all come from rabbis and judges?
Dear Chaver: I'll admit it I'm also puzzled about the "tough Jews" phenomenon, in which the grandsons of accountants and deli clerks tell tall tales about Kid Twist and Meyer Lansky and the other principals in Murder Inc. I see the attraction: When you grow up being told that Jews are weak and cowardly and the walk to school is a gauntlet of taunts, it's comforting to think that there are shtarkers out there who inspire fear in the hearts of gentiles. But you don't have to dig very deep in the archives to learn that these guys were thugs and murderers whose hands were stained with the blood of Jews and non-Jews alike.
Dear Jew: What's with the Miss Lonelyhearts format, and why are you bothering to answer these anti-Semites? What have you been reading, ˇAsk a Mexican!?
Dear Buddy: Was I that obvious? Yes, I have been reading ˇAsk a Mexican!, and for those who aren't familiar with it or its author let me catch you up. In his column for the OC Weekly in Orange County, Calif., Gustavo Arellano answers readers' questions about his fellow Hispanics. The only rule is that there are no rules he'll address the most racist, despicable, ill-informed questions, and when he doesn't actually agree with the premise, he'll turn it back around on the questioner. Why do Mexicans park their cars on the front lawn? Why do Mexicans swim with their clothes on? Why don't Mexicans ever drop their Spanish?
Arellano reads like Carlos Mencia with a PhD. If there is a truth behind a stereotype, he'll acknowledge it. More often, however, he'll find the recent university study that refutes the slurs about Hispanic immigrants. In a new book-length compilation of his columns, also titled ˇAsk a Mexican!, Arellana says he hopes to create "the fullest depiction of Mexicans in the land not the same tired cliches of immigrants and mothers but a nuanced, disgusting, fabulous people."
Dear Jew: "Disgusting"? This is a role model?
Dear Buddy: If we're going to boast about all the good qualities of an ethnic group, don't we also have to acknowledge the bad? America has a terrible conversation on race. When it isn't dishonest, it's hysterical. Bill Cosby is excoriated by the black intelligentsia because he suggests quite reasonably that some blacks are making self-destructive choices. Halle Berry fears for her career because she makes a harmless joke about Jewish noses. The nature-nurture debate is paralyzed by specious comparisons between genetics and eugenics.
Maybe the most honest conversation on race is happening in comedy clubs. It's a tradition that goes back to Lenny Bruce. "A lot of people say to me, 'Why did you kill Christ?'" Bruce sphritzed. "'I dunno… It was one of those parties, got out of hand, you know.... We killed him because he didn't want to become a doctor, that's why we killed him.'" Bruce embraced a stereotype to demolish a slur.
And so does Arellano. In answering why many Mexican immigrants park their cars on their lawns, Arellano offers a biting, 100-word indictment of city bureaucracy, minimum wage, and neighborhood vandals. "The lawn is the only spot Mexicans can park their cars without fear of break-ins, drunken crashes, or an unfortunate keying," writes The Mexican. "Besides, what do you think protects us from drive-bys? The cops?"
Dear Jew: But aren't Jews the touchiest ethnic group of them all? I mean, Jews will play the anti-Semitism card faster than you can say "Jimmy Carter."
Dear Pal: First of all, the day Jews begin rioting over an Abraham cartoon is the day you can call us the touchiest ethnic group. Second, I think there's room to lighten up without putting down our guard against the real threats out there. Ahmadinejad? Not funny. Halle Berry? Well, there's this old joke about a Jewish girl who wants a nose job....
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JWR contributor Andrew Silow-Carroll is the editor in chief of the New Jersey Jewish News, where this article first appeared. To comment, please click here.
© 2007, Andrew Silow-Carroll