Cuban-Jewish Journeys
Searching for Identity, Home, and History in Miami

First-time Author Bettinger-Lopez '03
Explores Cuban-Jewish Life in Miami

by Rabecca Cross

Columbia University Law School News
December 2000

Unaware that there is a vibrant Cuban-Jewish community in Miami, Florida? So was Caroline Bettinger-Lopez '01, despite growing up Jewish in a Miami suburb.

Bettinger-Lopez was as surprised as anyone else to learn about the community she didn't know existed. "I thought 'Wow-this is fascinating,'" she said, "Who would've thought?"

Now she's an expert on the subject.

More than sixty people gathered at Columbia Bookstore this past Thursday, December 30, to listen to Bettinger-Lopez discuss her newly published book, Cuban-Jewish Journeys: Searching for Identity, Home, and History in Miami.

The book, the author's first, was published this fall by the University of Tennessee Press. Bettinger-Lopez spent more than an hour speaking about the book, showing slides and answering questions from a largely enthusiastic, supportive group of listeners.Caroline Bettinger Lopez

The presentation and book signing focused on various diverse elements of Cuban-Jewish identity in Miami, from architectural similarities of Cuban-Jewish synagogues in Miami and Havana, to interracial dating among Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews, to the term "Jewban"-a word embraced by the Cuban Jews to describe their heritage.

" 'Jewban' represents a new notion of community selfhood, a confident group identity," Bettinger-Lopez said. "The term shows Cuban Jews becoming more confident with themselves." A number of the themes that Bettinger-Lopez writes about in Cuban-Jewish Journeys, such as political activities among the Cuban-Jewish community, and machismo culture among Cuban-Jewish males, were brought to life at the book signing by Cuban-Jewish members of the audience, who extemporaneously and passionately voiced their own experiences and viewpoints. Bettinger-Lopez, who was an anthropology major and honors student at the University of Michigan, began the book as her senior thesis. "I stumbled upon the Cuban-Jewish community while I was looking at issues of identity when I was studying anthropology at Michigan," she says.

"I was becoming really interested in identity with an on-the-ground focus-not just theory," Bettinger-Lopez said, "and I decided to go back home because I never knew this community existed."

Bettinger-Lopez has received positive feedback from readers. "The most popular chapters," she says, "are the personal ones where I talk about my relationships and experiences with the community."

She describes writing the book as "wonderful," and possibly the most important experience of her life.

Bettinger-Lopez says the most difficult aspect of writing the book was listening to recent Cuban-Jewish arrivals talk about their immigration difficulties. She felt guilty when interviewees asked for legal assistance that she wasn't able to provide-and those feelings played an important part in Bettinger-Lopez's decision to attend law school.

For that reason, Bettinger-Lopez hopes that publishing the words of the Cuban-Jewish immigrants will have a positive effect. "Disseminating the information is important," she said.

For Bettinger-Lopez, and those who read her book, those words can be an inspiration on many levels. "I keep remembering these people's voices," Bettinger-Lopez says, "and that helps me put everything in perspective."