Summoning the Strengths of My Many Cultures: A Story of Coming Out
My fondest memories of childhood existed within the confines of my grandmother's kitchen. I'd enter her apartment to the smells of traditional Argentine and Jewish cuisine, and it is through her empanadas and knishes that I first grasped the concept of deep family bonds. It was important to my parents to instill in me a sense of pride for my Hispanic and spiritual heritage, happily supplemented by my grandmother's constant display of love through food. Family trips to Argentina and my first journey to Israel last year furthered my appreciation for the lands I come from: nations full of flavor, passion, and unmistakable zest for life.
Growing up, my connection to Judaism wasn't a surprise, and my blood has always run thick with dulce de leche, even with a skin pigment the color of a Siberian winter. My homosexuality, however, was an unexpected development. Well, hardly. I did, after all, explain to my family how lucky Kate Winslet was to have nabbed Leonardo DiCaprio as a charming suitor in Titanic. She floated on the door; he floated on my mind. I was 5 years old.
Thus began my love affair with not only Jack Dawson but also cinema itself. We went to the megaplex every weekend. I would write movie reviews and recite them to my relatives as if they were performance pieces. I explored the many facets of my identity through film representations. Evita provided a glitzy interpretation of Argentine politics; I learned from my parents that the history was far more grim, that during the Dirty War, some members of our family were thrown out of airplanes into the Atlantic Ocean for their dissidence, that they were los desaparecidos – the “disappeared ones.” I wept openly through Schindler’s List but was then floored to learn from my grandfather that no reel of celluloid would ever be able to recreate the horrors faced by his murdered cousins and aunts and uncles, lineage I could never meet. My family taught me about reality.
But I saw Brokeback Mountain alone. I saw Boys Don’t Cry alone. I saw Latter Days, Edge of Seventeen, Were the World Mine, Save Me, and But I’m a Cheerleader alone. I was too ashamed to share that other minority of mine with the people I loved the most.
But one day the movie of the week was Milk. And we all climbed into the car. And as Dan White gunned down Mayor Moscone and Harvey Milk, I was inconsolable. I expelled the tears I had been saving up privately, and I finally let them breathe. I let them witness oxygen. And as my grandmother – a woman who crossed national borders and fought societal stigmas and gave everything just to keep me satiated with kneidlach and carne escaveche – asked me if anything was wrong, I summoned the strength of my many cultures, and I finally told the truth. And she replied, “I love you just the same. Te quiero igual.”
Jordan Rodnizki is the current Programming Vice President of NFTY, the North American Federation of Temple Youth. He is an an incoming sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania and is originally from Clearwater, FL, where he is a member of Temple B'nai Israel.