Underneath the Surface

by Noa Racin, Opinions writer

by anonymous

graphic by Julie Wang

The pig — a large, vaguely hairy animal not meant for consumption that is often covered in mud. 

Well, at least that’s how it has long been viewed in my family.

My family is Jewish, but we’re not particularly religious by nature. We observe the High Holidays, and that’s pretty much it. We eat cheeseburgers and use electricity on Saturdays. 

While my family doesn’t keep kosher, most of my family had always avoided pork at all costs, mostly out of tradition. Pigs aren’t kosher animals. To be considered kosher, an animal needs cloven hooves and the ability to chew their cud. Pigs, though they have cloven hooves, don’t chew their cud, and for thousands of years, Jewish people avoided eating them. 

I have never, to this day, eaten pork. 

My mother grew up in a conservative home, and while she did not keep kosher, she never ate pork. Her side of the family has always viewed pigs as off-limits and unhealthy — eating one was always out of the question. 

My father, on the other hand, is Jewish in name only. He grew up in a “kibbutz,” a farming community in Israel. His community—like a majority of Kibbutzim— put little emphasis on Judaism, causing him to not want to observe the same traditions my mother’s side practices. His upbringing makes him the least religious out of all of us.  In fact, the closest thing he had to a Bar Mitzvah was jumping through a hoop of fire (I’m being serious). He has also eaten pork his whole life. And personally, pork just wasn’t something I ever really considered eating. 

One day, around three years ago, my family was eating at a restaurant. My brother tentatively asked if he could order bacon. My mother has always let us make choices about what we do with our bodies and our lives, so she hesitantly agreed. And while I felt discomfort rise inside me, I said nothing. As the months passed, my brother and father became more comfortable eating pork at restaurants.

I don’t remember the first time I woke up to the odor of crackling bacon, but I do remember the horror I felt. Later, I would watch my dad and brother eat bacon with relish, cringing every time I saw pork on their plates.

Outwardly, I had no idea how to react to this new turn of events. Internally, I felt guilty and ashamed. None of my Jewish friends ate pork, so why should my family? We already weren’t religious. There wasn’t much left of Judaism to surrender. To me, bringing bacon into our house felt like we were giving up a part of our identity. 

I felt like my family was giving up on our Jewish identity.

Much to my horror, my mother began to buy bacon for the family. What started as an occasional treat for my brothers and dad became a weekly occurrence. I woke up on many mornings with the familiar, confused, frozen feeling in my stomach.

While my family might not keep Kosher, I have fallen in love time and time again with the traditions and values of Jewish culture. As the months went on, though, I realized that everyone has their own way of practicing religion, and everyone has the right to make their own choices. 

My family is not religious, yet we are proudly Jewish. It isn’t fair to judge another person for practicing religion differently. And while I still don’t like the smell of bacon, I understand that eating pork may not be a choice I make, but it is a choice that I have come to accept.

Family visits to Cape Verde often consist of at least one of my grandparents saying something controversial about current societal topics, like race, sexism, sexuality or the current WWIII scare. My parents will justify such comments with a “Well, that’s just how it was back then, sweetie.” But does that make what my grandparents said okay? Shouldn’t they be evolving alongside society? This is a dilemma I have often faced, especially within my own cultural roots. 

I take a lot of pride in the fact that I am biracial. My dad’s side of the family came to the United States in 1970, bringing along their vibrant music, captivating dances, Creole language, delicious Cape Verdean dishes and fierce family loyalty. The older I get, the more fascinated I become to learn more about where I come from.

In Cape Verde, 93% of the population practices Christianity, my family included. I do believe that many aspects of the religion are beautiful. I remember when I used to say grace with my family before eating meals as a way to come together and express our gratitude. However, I have seen Christian beliefs be construed into a discriminatory system. 

The most unforgettable experience I had was when my cousin on my mother’s side was thrown out of church for being gay, even though the Bible preaches love and acceptance. Anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination is prominent in Cape Verdean culture as well. 

As my siblings and I grew up, my little brother stayed relatively small with short, skinny arms and legs and a torso so thin you could see his ribs. He loved parting his hair to the side, making sure it was always neatly gelled down. Having two sisters put him at a disadvantage because he was constantly compared to our physical strength and size. 

At the time, I never thought anything of it, but at every family gathering, it became a topic of discussion. He was constantly called “gay” and told to “dress like a real man” or “grow some muscles to look manly” and that “his hair made him gay.” I always stood up for him, even when the rest of my family acted as if it wasn’t a problem. 

Although he tried to pretend that it didn’t phase him, I knew it did. I watched him as he slowly started to dress differently and asked my mom to buy some new clothes. He began to ask me and my sister for opinions on his outfits and he started to grow out his hair. Whenever he went to get a haircut, he would hate it when it was cut too short. 

Witnessing this at a young age, I didn’t fully grasp the idea of the normalized homophobia that my family didn’t think twice about. I will never understand the homophobic actions of my family, especially because they understand what it’s like to be discriminated against about something that isn’t under their control. After watching my brother feel uncomfortable about his appearance in front of his own family, I can’t begin to imagine the discrimination LGBTQ+ people face. 

Now that I am older, I can proudly say that I speak out about fundamental human rights. I know how difficult it can be to stand up against your own family, especially when your family values trust and respect, but I encourage everyone to put a stop to the discrimination within your own culture. It’s time to bring light to this issue, look within your family’s values and be an active part of the generation that finally creates change.