Jewish Studies Latin American Jewish Literature
Ilan Stavans
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 August 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0009


Jewish writing in Latin America is a centuries-old tradition dating back to the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Americas. During the colonial period, it manifested itself among crypto-Jews who hid their religious identity for fear of being persecuted by the Holy Office of the Inquisition. Assimilation mostly decimated this chapter, which is often seen as connected with Sephardic literature after the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492. New waves of Jews arrived in the last third of the 19th century from two geographic locations: the Ottoman Empire (this wave is described as Levantine and its languages as Ladino, French, Spanish, and Arabic) and eastern Europe (or Ashkenazi with Yiddish, German, and central European tongues). Jewish life thrived in Latin America throughout the 20th century. The largest, most artistically productive communities were in Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, and Mexico, and smaller ones existed in Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Guatemala, Panama, and Uruguay. Identity as a theme permeates everything written by Latin American Jewish writers. Central issues defining this literary tradition are immigration, anti-Semitism, World War II, Zionism, and the Middle Eastern conflict. The Jewish literary tradition in Latin America has undergone crossovers as a result of translations, global marketing, and the polyglot nature of several of its practitioners. This field of study is still in its infancy. Some important studies on Latin American Jewish history, either continental in scope or by country, appeared in the late 20th century and serve as context for the analysis. The literature has received less attention (some periods, such as the 19th century, are entirely forgotten), although, as this article attests, things are changing. The foundation for daring, in-depth literary explorations as well as interdisciplinary analysis is already in place. When possible this article showcases available monographs, although important research material remains scattered in periodicals and edited volumes.

General Overviews

Several monographic books, articles, dictionaries, and electronic resources offer a broad view and theoretical analysis of Latin American Jewish literature as a hemispheric phenomenon, analyzing it in historical, social, and aesthetic contexts. Their objective is to create connections between different national and aesthetic trends. As a result of the immigration patterns of Latin American Jewish writers (a large number live abroad, in the United States, in Israel, and in Spain), in the late 20th and early 21st centuries attempts have also been made to find connection between this literature and others, such as the US Latino tradition. The recurrent themes are the politics of exile, magical realism and experimentation in literature, and individual and minority (religious, ethnic, cultural) identity. Goldberg 2000 offers a thematic overview. Wassner 2013 offers a large panorama of Jewish life in the Hispanic world from an interdisciplinary perspective. Zivin 2008 establishes a theoretical framework through which to appreciate Latin American Jewish writing. Sheinin and Barr 1996 explores the intersections of literature and history. Gil 2007 and Lindstrom 2007 reflect on Latin American Jewish literature in the United States, where many writers have relocated for a variety of reasons, including to escape religious intolerance and political repression. Ran and Morad 2016 is an important collection of essays on Latin, Jewish, and American music. While it doesn’t address literature directly, it depicts a valuable picture of the cross-fertilizing strategies encountered by Jewish Latin American writers. Lockhart 1997 is a valuable biographical dictionary, although it needs updating. Elkin and Sater 1990 includes Latin American Jewish literature but also contemplates the Latin American Jews’ experience in all its facets, with an emphasis on history. It also needs updating, as it reflects the status of Jews in the region until the 1980s. The Jewish Virtual Library, which features entries about global themes, includes entries on select Latin American Jewish writers.

  • Elkin, Judith Laikin, and Ana Lya Sater, eds. Latin American Jewish Studies: An Annotated Guide to the Literature. Bibliographies and Indexes in Ethnic Studies 4. New York: Greenwood, 1990.

    Covering material up until the late 1980s, this resource is not only about literature. It contains a subject index and organizes the material by category.

  • Gil, Lydia M. “A Balancing Act: Latin American Jewish Literature in the United States (or towards a Jewish-Latino Literature).” In A Companion to US Latino Literatures. Edited by Carlota Caulfield and Darién J. Davis, 177–190. Rochester, NY: Tamesis, 2007.

    A provocative discussion of the diasporic presence of Latin American Jewish literature in the United States and its profile as a wing of US Latino literature.

  • Goldberg, Florinda F. “Literatura judía latinoamericana: Modelos para armar.” Revista Iberoamericana 66.191 (2000): 309–324.

    DOI: 10.5195/reviberoamer.2000.5771

    Attempts to offer a theoretical framework through which to understand the many sides that constitute Latin American Jewish literature.

  • Jewish Virtual Library.

    An online resource offering portraits of individual authors as well as countries and artistic and intellectual traditions.

  • Lindstrom, Naomi. “Latin American Jewish Writing in the U.S.: An Examination of Categories.” Modern Jewish Studies/Yiddish 15.1–2 (2007): 60–69.

    A discussion of authors from Latin American writing in the English language, their views on identity, and the reception of their work.

  • Lockhart, Darrell B., ed. Jewish Writers of Latin America: A Dictionary. New York: Garland, 1997.

    An authoritative, encyclopedic compendium of authors and trends. Its useful bibliographies reach to the early 1990s.

  • Ran, Amalia, with Momshe Morad, eds. Mazal tov, amigos! Jews and Popular Music in the Americas. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2016.

    A collection of essays on Jewish music in the United States and Latin America. Although the volume is not about literature, it offers important contributions on the fusion of Yiddish, Ladino, Caribbean, and popular rhythms in culture north and south of the Rio Grande.

  • Sheinin, David, and Lois Baer Barr, eds. The Jewish Diaspora in Latin America: New Studies on History and Literature. Latin American Studies 8. New York: Garland, 1996.

    A collection of scholarly articles concentrating on the most populated countries and important literary figures, presented in historical context.

  • Stavans, Ilan. “Mapping the World of Jewish Latin American Literature.” Literary Hub, 28 February 2018.

    A reflection, originally published in the magazine Paper Brigade, that uses a map to locate crucial writers like Clarice Lispector and Alejandro Jodorowsky.

  • Wassner, Dalia. “Harbingers of Modernity: Jews in the Hispanic World; A Conversation with Ilan Stavans.” Journal of Modern Jewish Studies 12.2 (2013): 313–327.

    DOI: 10.1080/14725886.2013.796152

    A look at Jews in the Hispanic world from a large perspective, juxtaposing political, religious, social, cultural, and literary aspects.

  • Zivin, Erin Graff. The Wandering Signifier: Rhetoric of Jewishness in the Latin American Imaginary. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008.

    DOI: 10.1215/9780822390039

    This theoretical study explores the symbolic presence of Jewish people in Latin America during the 19th and 20th centuries, discussing the anxiety they felt as a result of their difference.

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