Ilan Stavans: Celebrate

November 18, 2013

Jews in Spanish Lands

¡Celébrate! The Jewish Experience in Spanish-Speaking Countries, ADL New Mexico’s unprecedented Jewish-Hispanic program exploring centuries of overlap between the two cultures, was the impetus for Ilan Stavans' new graphic novel El llumiando. Mr. Stavans spoke at the first ¡Celébrate! program in 2009. His Jewish family immigrated to Mexico from Poland.

My participation in ADL’s ¡Celébrate! was an opportunity to meet countless people and learn their life stories. One of those encounters brought me close to a family torn apart by the question of their hidden Jewish ancestry. As I got acquainted with the details, it dawned on me that the story was about much more than the individual ordeal of its participants: it was about our historical understanding of Jewish life in the colonial Southwest from the 16th century onward, about Latino-Jewish relations past, present and future, and about the American obsession with genealogy and personal identity. I soon began to visualize that story in fictional terms. In collaboration with Steve Sheinkin, I turned it into the graphic novel El Ilumiando (Basic Books, 2012). The plot begins right as I’m delivering my ¡Celébrate! lecture at the Museum of New Mexico in Santa Fe.

—Ilan Stavans, Lewis-Sebring Professor of Latin American and Latino Culture at Amherst College