Title

Self-exiled in the earthly paradise: One hundred years of solitude for the "Jewish Mestizos" of Iquitos, 1890s-1990s

Date of Award

1997

Availability

Article

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

First Committee Member

Robert M. Levine, Committee Chair

Abstract

This ethno-historical study of a unique group of Jews in a remote region of Peru who consider themselves Jewish despite isolation from--and even neglect by--mainstream Jews in Peru and Brazil, raises crucial questions about the identity of what I argue are Marrano communities living on a borderline between Judaism and other religious and cultural systems.The Mestizo Jews of Iquitos, in the Peruvian Amazon, are descendants of Sephardic Jews, who immigrated there during the nineteenth-century rubber boom, and fathered children with native Amazonian woman. My inquiry, the first scholarly study of this community, traces the ways this group has forged a syncretic religious and cultural identity by combining elements from Judaism, Christianity, and Amazonian beliefs. My study raises crucial questions about the identity of what I argue are Marrano communities living on a borderline between Judaism and other religious and cultural systems. Underlying this case, is the question of what is mainstream and what is peripheral in an age of global syncretism and multiculturalism.The case of Iquitos "Jewish Mestizos" sheds light on syncretic groups in the context of Peruvian historical, socioeconomic, and racial frameworks, which are similar to those of other countries in Latin America where white elites hold most of the political and economic power, in contrast with the vast majority of underprivileged Mestizo populations. But this story also presents the unique relationship between the "Jewish Mestizos" and the mainstream Jewish community or the capital city, Lima. Jews everywhere immersed in the complex dilemma of what it is to be a Jew in our times, will encounter startling parallels between their own questions of identity and those of a remote Amazonian community, within the framework of the "Who Is a Jew?" controversy.Another aspect discussed in this book is the predicament of the researcher/protagonist. Working with oral history leads to ethical questions to social scientists of all disciplines.

Keywords

History, Latin American; Sociology, Ethnic and Racial Studies

Link to Full Text

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