Third Party & Independents Archives

Julia Salazar's Crazed & Desperate Story Telling - Part 2

Julia Salazar’s attempted reconstruction of her life story - as described in Part One - is one that cheapens the older, deeper and far more real narratives that weave together to make up America’s astonishing history. The candidate for New York State Senator is perhaps familiar with some of these older narratives and perhaps even saw them as a perfect opportunity.

Consider the other piece in Tablet, a wonderful story about the black Cohens in America written by Rich Cohen. He traces the fairly common (but far from frequent) appearance of Cohen as a last name among African-Americans to a few possible sources, but perhaps the most likely one involves Jamaica. Here's Rich Cohen:

Most black Cohens probably result from consensual relationships, lived long ago. Many such affairs happened in the Caribbean, especially Jamaica. In the first years of colonial settlement, much of that island's population, described in documents as Portuguese, was in fact Jewish--Sephardim who'd come across the sea, a step ahead of the Inquisition, which the Spanish imposed wherever they ruled. Jews under Spanish rule either converted and followed Jesus--"New Christians"--converted but kept up their old practices in secret--conversos--or fled. Many arrived in Jamaica from Brazil, where they'd been in the sugar trade. They lived in grand houses in Kingston; big porches with sweeping views of the ocean. They worked in every industry on the island. Some in sugar. Some in construction. Others "turned to a more adventurous--and dangerous--life at sea," Gil Stern-Zohar wrote in The Jerusalem Post.

He continues, describing the migration of perhaps hundreds of thousands of Jamaicans to America over the years, and then adds this:

Something similar happened in the United States, contributing to the population of black Cohens--intermarriages and affairs that can be intuited from scant details in family trees. Many black Cohens seemingly descend from a single relationship. Circa 1750, Moses Cohen, an impoverished Portuguese Jew, sailed from London to Charleston, where he became one of the city's religious leaders. (Special thanks to Dale Rosengarten, historian and curator at College of Charleston, for help with the history of the Jews of South Carolina.) Moses had two sons, Abraham and Solomon, who he sent north to Georgetown, South Carolina, which even now looks like a watercolor of pastel shacks, sleepy inlets and sea grass.

And finally, he adds his killer touch to round off his epic tale of America's ability to absorb and renew:

So here, in the way of Adam and Eve, you likely have the mother and father of a great number of modern black Cohens. A generation or so later, an emancipated slave named Jim Robinson--he was himself of mixed parentage, a child of a slave named Melvinia Shields and an unknown white man--had a son named Fraser Robinson, who grew up and married a Georgetown woman named Rose Ella Cohen. Rose Ella is only a name on a tree--we know nothing but her name and city of residence, but those two points suggest she might have descended from Abraham Cohen and Peggy McWharter. Fraser Robinson and Rose Ella Cohen had a son of their own, Fraser Robinson Jr., who moved to Chicago and married LaVaughn Johnson, who had a son named Fraser Robinson III, who, before he retired and returned to Georgetown, had a daughter named Michelle Robinson, who become the first African-American First Lady of the United States.

In other words, the story of the black Cohens is the story of America--it's the sin and the redemption, the good and the bad, it's Abraham and it's Peggy, it's love and inheritance. It's a hodgepodge, a puree, a mess, and a beautiful thing. It's everyone being part of everyone else, all stories mixed together and shook up and poured out.

Not anymore, or at least this type of inspiring narrative must now fit within the alternate reality of constructed truths in which a theatrically outraged defense of one's lies is often enough for political survival. No wonder Julia Salazar decided it would be really awesome for her run for a State Senate seat in New York if she hitched her own reality to the history of Sephardic and other Jewish tribes which have been a part of America's story for far, far longer and in far, far deeper ways, than many people realize.

But let's hope the Cohen's story is the one people celebrate and remember, and not Julia Salazar's crazed, desperate story-telling. As American and therefore as universal as that too might be.

Posted by AllardK at September 12, 2018 1:45 PM
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