Yiddish Literary Community of Mexico City: A Bridge
Yiddish literature began to blossom in Mexico City at the end of the nineteenth century, and continued to do so until the end of WWII. Soon, “a solid Jewish literary tradition” in Yiddish arose as immigrants who spoke the language found their way to Mexico, many in an attempt to go to America, which didn’t go as planned. In Mexico City, “Yiddish poetry flourished… in the early decades of the twentieth century,” and was complimented by several daily Yiddish newspapers and publishing houses. Some organizations actually functioned as both, including Der Veg, which was an instrumental institution of Yiddish publishing in Mexico City.
Much of Mexican Yiddish literature can be discussed in terms of the negotiation of identity, as is true of a wide variety of Jewish literature in general. In her book Ashkenazi Jews in Mexico: Ideologies in the Structuring of a Community, Adina Cimet offers some insight to this process by articulating that the goal of “a literature that bridges the worlds” of immigrant Jewry and the Mexican citizens they encountered became the center of the literary community in Mexico City. Two of the most impactful Yiddish writers in Mexico City, Jacobo Glantz and Solomon Kahan, both articulated their thoughts on this goal. In Passion, Memory, and Identity, Marjorie Agosin explains that Glantz and Kahan interacted with a pressure to complete the “chief task” of Mexican Yiddish literature, which she argues is that “articulation of an identity that would alleviate the shock” experienced by the Jews, whom she calls “strangers in an exotic land.” Solomon Kahan, an important part of the Yiddish Press as editor of Der Veg and a frequent commentator on big Yiddish literary personalities, envisioned a Jewish integration without assimilation. He expressed this through his writings, as Jacobo Glantz articulated his own negotiation of his role in this connective literature. “Dissatisfied with the use of the Jewish past as the centralizing thought” for immigrant experiences in Mexico City, Glantz wrote on his visions of the Jew in his new landscape. In his poem “Holiday in the Streets,” Glantz bluntly describes a Jew in the street:
“The Jew – submissive, silent – reads the screeching posters
And looks at me as though I were a stranger,
Tired eyes, like two exclamation points, stand out:
‘Each generation seeks to wipe us out!’”
Jacob Glantz, 1931
Much of Yiddish literature written in Mexico city reflects a similar exploration of majority to minority relations like Glantzs’ and Kahan’s.
The Encyclopedia of Latin American Literature compiled by Verity Smith includes a section on Mexican Jewish writing, in which she states that small numbers of both readers and writers meant that “literature among members of this community remained a local affair,” however it is true that Glantz managed to establish Mexico City on the “intellectual map” by being the bridge (like his literature was between identities) between Mexico City and other Yiddish cultural centers throughout the world, notably connecting himself to Di Yunge, a Yiddish intellectual group in New York City. And just as Smith argues “there is little indication that Jewish writers from Latin America as a whole have read and influenced each other,” it is also true that the Yiddish authors in Mexico City were responding to each other, as Glantz did to Yitzhok Berliner when he argued against the central importance of the Jewish past in Jewish, Mexican, immigrant literature. Ultimately, publishing in Mexico City would allow for a community of Yiddish Mexican authors, and the literary culture established as a result has been recognized as an important part of Yiddish literary culture on a more global scale.
There was also an active Yiddish press in Mexico City. The first Yiddish newspaper in Mexico was Di Tsayt [The Time], founded in part by Jacob Glantz. The most popular and longstanding Yiddish newspaper was the daily Der Veg [The Path], founded by journalist Moyshe Rosenberg in 1029. From 1936 to 1946 Jacob Glantz was the editor of Der Veg‘s literary supplement, which printed literary commentary and serialized work.
Mexico City is also notable for its history with Yiddish education, which began in the Yiddish School, which eventually dissolved due to politics. Its legacy was continued by Vele Zobludowsky, who founded the Neye Idish Shul and continued the tradition of secular Yiddish education.
Agosín, Marjorie. Passion, Memory, and Identity. Albuquerque: U of New Mexico, 1999. Print.
Astro, Alan. Yiddish South of the Border: An Anthology of Latin American Yiddish Writing. Albuquerque: U of New Mexico, 2003. Print.
Cimet, Adina. Ashkenazi Jews in Mexico: Ideologies in the Structuring of a Community. Albany, NY: State U of New York, 1997. Print.
Leksikon fun der Nayer Yidisher Literatur. 8 vols. New York: Altveltlekhn Yidish Kultur-Kongres, 1981. Print.
Smith, Verity. Encyclopedia of Latin American Literature. London: Fitzroy Dearborn, 1997. Print.
Mexico City boasted a fair number of small Yiddish presses and publishing houses. Yiddish publishers in Mexico City included The Yiddish Culture Club, Der Veg (The Path), Makor, The Shloime Mendelson Fund and the Yiddish Culture Center. There was some Yiddish publishing in Mexico City in the 1920s, but most books were published in the 1940s and 50s after waves of immigrants fled Eastern Europe to South America. Many of these publications deal with the war, refugees, and the Holocaust. There was an increasing awareness that Yiddish was in danger. There is a sense of urgency in Yiddish publications of this time, as the Jewish community in Mexico City began to see Yiddish publishing as a way to promote, protect, and save Yiddish. Later publishers are more likely to refer to Yiddish in their name, and explicitly state the promotion of Yiddish as one of their goals. Large committees formed to print Yiddish books and school books for the Yiddish schools.
Publishing Yiddish books in Mexico City was an expensive endeavor. The market in Mexico itself was relatively small, and flooded with books published in the large Yiddish centers of New York, Vilna, and Warsaw. Most publishing was done by book committees, which would gather to publish one book or a series of titles. Self-publishing was also very common, and even established authors such as Meir Corona occasionally self-published their books. Below is a selection of Yiddish publishers in Mexico City, and some of their publications:
A branch of the International Yiddish Culture Association. Only one publication is recorded.
Gezangen tsu Stalingrad un Spanye in Hartsn [Songs to Stalingrad and Spain in My Heart], 1949
A book of revolutionary poems by the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, translated by Yeshayahu Austri-Dan. The forward states that the book will “…bring one of the most beautiful pearls of world poetry into modern Yiddish literature.”
Little is known about the publishing house Makor, except that they published several of the works of Mexican Jewish author Meir Corona in the 1940s, 40s, and 60s. It is unknown whether Makor only existed to publish Meir Corona, or if perhaps no records of their other publications survive. Meir Corona was active in Mexico City’s Yiddish culture as a teacher and writer of books and newspaper articles. According to Soloman Cahan, “his strength as an artist was as in short descriptions on Jewish-Mexican themes. There his work was often elevated to the level of mastery.” The Makor publishing house published at least four books of Stein’s work, two are listed below.
In Shtrom Fun Lebn [In the Storm of Life], 1951
A book of 23 short stories by Meir Corona, including the stories Mister Dzshakson [Mister Jackson], A Reyze Keyn Yisroel [A Trip to Israel], Vos iz a Yid? [What is a Jew?], Epes A Modne Sprakh [A Somewhat Unusual Language], Tsores fun Kinder [The Suffering of Children], and Dos Groyse Hitl [The Big Hat].
Eygene Horizontn [Own Horizons], 1965
A book of humorous sketches and essays by Meir Corona.
Shloime Mendelson Fund
This publisher had the name of Shloime Mendelson, the Polish Jewish educator and writer, but it is unclear whether he had any connection to it, or whether it was named after him. The Shloime Mendelson Fund published at least 8 books between the years 1948 and 1973. They published literature, literary criticism, and autobiographies, as well as books of political, linguistic, and cultural commentary.
Di Imperye Yiddish [The Empire of Yiddish], 1958
A collection of essays by the author A. A. Rabak about the survival of the Yiddish language, originally published in the New York journal Freyer Arbeter Shtime [Free Worker’s Voice]. The publishers note that they hope this book will “be an important contribution to the fight against the despairing voices and ignorance which today dominate the conversation about Yiddish.” The Shloime Mendelson Fond also published another book about the survival of Yiddish, Leo Finkelstein’s Loshn Yidish un Yidisher Kiyem Eseyen [Essays on the Yiddish Language and the Survival of Yiddish], 1954.
Di Letste Tkufe In Itsik Mangers Lebn Un Shafn [The last period of the life and work of Itsik Manger], 1973
A book of literary history and analysis by Chaim Sh. Kazdan which covers the last period of Mangers work, 1939 – 1969.
Fun Varshe Biz Shankhai, Notitsn fun a Polet [From Warsaw to Shanghai, Notes of a Refugee], 1948
The memoirs of Yoysef Rotnberg, a Jewish refugee who describes life in the Soviet Union, and then his escape through Japan and eventually to Shanghai. In his introoduction to the book Chaim Sh. Kazan writes “Rotnberg describes the tragic journey of a Jewish refugee from Warsaw to Shanghai with the power of observation, with the talent to see and feel the individual actions and experiences of his fellow refugees.” He also praises Rotnberg’s descriptions of Bundist activity in Warsaw, and his biographical portraits of the Bundist leader Henryk Erlich and the writer Shloime Mendelson.
Yidishe Kultur-Tsenter [Yiddish Culture Center]
Little is known about this publisher, located in Mexico City. Only two books can be attributed to it, both dating to the 1940s.
Lider un Poemen [Songs and Poems], 1949
A book of songs and poetry attributed to Dr. Nokhum Posner. According to a publishers note, “The Yiddish Culture Center in Mexico believes that it has the societal obligation to contribute to the assistance which Jewish society owes Yiddish literature, which today is created in the most difficult conditions.”
H. Leivik – In Stil fun der Epokhe [H. Leivick – in the Style of the Epoch]
A book by Jacob Glantz about the life and works of H. Leivick.
Glantz, Jacob. H. Leivik – In Stil fun der Epokhe. Yidishe Kultur-Tsenter, Mexico City: 1943. Print.
Kazdan, Chaim S.: Di Letste Tkufe In Itsik Mangers Lebn Un Shafn. Shloime Mendelson Fond, 1973. Print.
Leksikon fun der Nayer Yidisher Literatur. 8 vols. New York: Altveltlekhn Yidish Kultur-Kongres, 1981. Print.
Meir, Corona: Eygene Horizontn. Mexico City: Makor, 1965. Print.
Meir, Corona: In Shtrom Fun Lebn. Mexico City: Makor, 1951. Print.
Posner, Nokhum. Lider un Poemen. Yidishe Kultur-Tsenter, Mexico City: 1949. Print.
Rabak, A. A.: Di Imperye Yidish. Mexico City: Shloime Mendelson Fond, 1958. Print.
Rotnberg, Yoysef: Fun Varshe Biz Shankhai, Notitsn fun a Polet. Mexico City: Shloime Mendelson Fond, 1948. Print.