Arielle Levy

CHILE & ISRAEL


When did your family immigrate to the US and where exactly did they move? What made them come?

My father was born to Iraqi parents in Israel. When he was 16 him and his brother decided to move to Los Angeles for more opportunity. He never went to college and instantly started working hard to eventually support his family. My mother was born to Romanian parents in Chile and her whole family moved to Los Angeles when she was 12 years old because of the new socialist party that was taking power in Chile.

What is the first language you learned? Do you speak any other languages?

My first language is English but I speak Spanish and Hebrew.

What language do you primarily speak when with your family?

English with my immediate family.

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Have you ever visited or been back to your family's native country? If so, how often do you visit and for how long? What is that experience like? Do you have relatives there?

I grew up spending my summers in Israel. Some of my best memories are from when we me and all my cousins would play, dance, and sing in my grandparents apartment. We would go to the beaches and play matkot, eat watermelon, and popsicles, and Israeli pickles. So much of the experience often revolves around food. We love eating Israeli food, fruits, and deserts.

I still have half of my dad's family living there and every time I visit it feels like a second home. We visited Chile as a family once, and it was my mom's first time back since leaving when she was a child. It was amazing to see her reconnect with old friends and be able to visit the home and city she grew up in.

Describe your experience growing up in America as someone who is so closely tied to another culture. How did you feel? What things were easy? What did you find difficult?

Growing up, I always went to Jewish schools and was surrounded my friends who were also first generation Americans. It was normal that we all celebrated the holidays, were not allowed out on Friday night shabbat, there was endless amounts of gatherings, singing, Hebrew and Spanish language, and a lot of love. Family was always been number one and our parents gave us unlimited love and support. As I've grown older, I have come to appreciate and sometimes become frustrated by the cultural elements which make me feel that I am walking a tight rope between my American identity and cultural identity. For example, when I got to college and grad school I was the first of my family to leave the state. While other Americans enjoyed independence, made their own decisions, could live wherever they wanted, and travel wherever and whenever they wanted, this was different for me. There has always been an intense obligation to stay close to family, and every decision needs approval and undergoes scrutiny and criticism. Then, comes the many pressures like parents trying to set me up with a Jewish boy, settling down instead of traveling, and fitting the stereotype of a good Jewish woman. I have had many disagreements with my family and have had to hold my tongue many times and remind myself that many of our differences are just cultural. Sometimes I feel like I live in 2 different worlds-an American one where my parents would not fit in, and an Israeli/Chilean/Jewish one.

What type of food do you eat at home? What are some of your favorite dishes?

We eat a lot of middle eastern food. My favorites are Israeli salad with tomatoes and cucumbers, Tbeet which is an Iraqi dish with baked chicken and rice, Kuba Adoomah which is boiled meet in dough poured over rice and beets.

Describe your experience making friends as a kid growing up in the UNITED STATES.

As a child I went to Jewish schools and had friends who were also first generation Americans, so it was easy for me to relate to them. When I went to college and grad school, it was the first time I became close friends with people who were mostly American. I found it difficult to connect on certain things, and remember sometimes being envious at the independence they had from their families. In grad school, I found that I mostly gravitated towards other individuals who were first generation. I felt like they could understand the "craziness" of my family and would be less likely to judge them.

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Do you consider yourself as more of an American or that of your parents' native country?

I consider myself as something in between. While I don't feel completely American, I don't feel completely Middle Eastern or Latin either.

Are you proud to be American? 

Not right now.

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Do you plan to pass along aspects of your parents native culture to your children (if you choose to have them)? What parts of the culture do you want to keep if any? If yes, how important is that to you, and how do you plan on doing so?

It is very important for me to pass down the culture I grew up with. I felt like I had such a rich childhood because of my tradition and culture and now, I feel like it has given me a lot of perspective and understanding of others. I hope to find a partner that values these things and can share in my culture and help pass down my roots to any future children. I would also make an effort to have my children spend as much time with family as possible and engage in the same traditions that I grew up with as a kid.

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Are there aspects of your culture that you don't enjoy, parts that you know you don't want to pass on?

Because I have had the exposure and understanding to certain elements of American culture and know the things that have been a struggle for me, I will try to be more supportive of my children's independence and be more open minded than my parents have been with me.

What's one thing you wish people knew about your culture? 

I wish people had a better understanding of the diversity and deep history of the Jewish people.

Are there any specific thoughts / inspiration behind the way you took your photos and what you took photos of? Feel free to use this space to express your photographic inspiration for this project. 

A lot of my images captured food and traditions that I've grown up with. These are the things that have been so important in shaping my identity and are easy to capture through photograph.