Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Politically Correct Transparency: Ben Affleck and Finding Your Roots

One of the most disappointing things in the genealogy field lately is the whole Ben Affleck debacle with Finding Your Roots. It is one of the most publicly talked about genealogy related discussions since the article about 'every president but one descends from John Lackland'. For those who are unaware of what happened Ben Affleck was a guest on the 2nd season of Finding Your Roots, a show hosted by Henry Louis Gates Jr. featuring the ancestry of all types of celebrities. During Affleck's segment he discovered he descends from slave owning ancestors. After the filming Affleck contacted Gates and asked that the slave owning ancestors be left out of the final cut, which was the final result. Fast forward a few months later when a massive leak of emails brought this to light and people began to cry foul over the decision to omit the information about Affleck's slave owning ancestors from the episode. After an internal investigation on the matter PBS decided to postpone airing the 3rd season, initially set to air in September, citing Affleck's 'improper influence' and would not reschedule the airing until the show did staffing changes including the addition of another fact-checker and an 'independent' genealogist. As well a possible 4th season is up in the air and PBS will yank the episode with Affleck from future airing. 

Now for my opinion...

It is such a shame as Finding Your Roots is the best genealogy show out there. Much better than any of the Who Do You Think You Are programs, most especially the US version. And for it to all be knocked-down in the name of politically correct transparency because one guest out of the 30+ asked to keep his slave-ancestor out of the program. I'd be curious to see how many people who are so up-in-arms about this who have actually watched this show, let alone this specific episode. One girl I know posted a very berating post about the subject, claiming that had it not been omitted from the show it could have started a discussion about the history of slavery in the United States. To me this shows she has never seen the show because not only has Finding My Roots discussed the history of slavery in the United States at length but every Henry Louis Gates Jr. program has investigated the history of slavery in America more than any other historical or genealogical subject. As well it was a good episode and now they are yanking the episode without consideration (as far as I can tell) to Ben Jealous or Khandi Alexander, the other guests featured in the episode with Affleck. The shows lack of inclusion about his slave-owning ancestors took away nothing from the episode as it was full of interesting information. 

Anyone doing genealogy also knows that there is an absolute abundance of information learned when doing a tree, especially starting from scratch, and to cut all that down into 1/3 of an hour long program leaves a lot out. Not only do they have to condense all this information into 20 minutes but they have to also include the introduction of the guests, talk about their childhood and immediate family, and discuss the DNA of each guest (although some episodes have left out the DNA for some guests), leaving less time to discuss each guest's ancestors. Knowing there is such a small amount of time in each episode, how do we know Affleck's slave owning ancestor wouldn't have been left out without his request? Maybe it wasn't that interesting of a section other than the fact that the ancestor owned slaves and being Affleck requested this info to be out they figured it wasn't a big deal to leave it out (I would do the exact same thing had this been the case).

Seems to me that all these people jumping on the 'hate band-wagon' are hurting the potential this show gives genealogy. Programs like this can actually inspire people to look into their family histories and become interested in genealogy. And as a young man who enjoys genealogy a bit too much I know first-hand how few people my age - and younger - show an interest in the subject. With that said, I'm curious as to what is to be gained by this witch-hunt against Ben Affleck and Henry Louis Gates Jr.? I understand the show should be held to a high standard, especially being a show that prides itself in uncovering historical information, but they never falsified any information so I don't see what is to be gained from this. What are people looking for other than the sheer drama of calling people out on supposedly 'not doing the right thing'? And another question, would people have cared so much if a guest had requested to leave information out on an ancestor being connected to something else such as the Donner party or descending from a tory family? 

In the end I think most of the people complaining really don't care about the show and just want to be part of an angry mob. Today PBS announced the 3rd season would now be aired in January but didn't mention a possible 4th season. One thing I've found interesting is the lack of input from other guests from the show. After two seasons with two to three guests a show as well as a myriad of other famous guests on Faces of America and African American Lives 1+2, it's surprising no one has spoken up for Henry Louis Gates Jr. Especially when you are talking about celebrities like Oprah, Chris Rock, Stephen Colbert, Corey Booker, Ben Jealous, Anderson Cooper, and so many other people who make a living talking and discussing topics of race and politics. Maybe they are scared of the politically correct social media machine which seems to have made such an impact in our society today that it destroys careers and families within mere hours of post. But in the end that's what this seems to be about, politically correct transparency. 

Saturday, July 4, 2015

The Consideration 3: Spain and Portugal Pass Sephardic Right To Return

Spain finally passed the law of return for Sephardic Jews this past June. The law goes into effect in October 2015 but expires after three years, although it can be extended for another year if deemed necessary. Candidates must apply to the Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain (FCJE) and they must hire a Spanish Notary and pass tests on the Spanish language and history. The law has many different hurdles the candidate must get over and has been defined as some as a bit excessive. Most of these hurdles are in the second section of the law, stating;
Spanish Parliament applauds after approving law
to grant citizenship to Sephardic Jews

"2. The condition of Sephardic jews originally from Spain will be attested through the following means of proof, evaluated as a whole:
a) Certificate issued by the President of the Permanent Commision of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain.

b) Certificate issued by the president or similar position of the jewish community of the area of residence or birthplace of the applicant.

c) Certificate of the competent rabbinic authority, legally recognised in the country of residence of the applicant.

The applicant may attach a certificate issued by the President of the Permanent Commision of Spain’s Federation of Jewish Communities that endorses the authority condition of the expeditor. As an alternative, to prove the idoneity of the documents mentioned on b) and c), the applicant must provide:
1st. Copy of the original statute of the foreign religious entity.

2nd. Certificate of the foreign entity containing the names of those designated as legal representatives.

3rd. Certificate or documents proving that the foreign entity is legally recognised in its country of origin.

4th. Certificate issued by the legal representative of the entity which proves that the signatory rabbi currently and effectively holds such condition in accordance with the requirements established in the statutory rules.
In addition, the documents referred to in the previous paragraphs, exception made from the certificate issued by the President of the Permanent Commision of Spain’s Federation of Jewish Communities, will be, when necessary, appropriately authorised, translated into Spanish by a sworn translator and shall contain the Apostille (of the Hague) or the pertinent seal of legalisation.
d) Accreditation of use of Ladino or “Haketia” as family language, or through other evidence that proves they traditionally belong to that community.

e) Birth certificate or “ketubah” or marriage certificate indicating its celebration according to the traditions of Castile.

f) Report issued by a sufficiently competent entity proving that the applicant’s surname belongs to the Spanish sephardic lineage.

g) Any other circumstance that can reliably prove the condition of Sephardic originally from Spain."

Portugal passed a similar law in January which became effective in late February with the first 21 citizenships being given by March 3rd, 2015. The Portuguese law is less strict than the Spanish law, requiring candidates to obtain a document issued by a Portugal-based Portuguese community attesting to their Portuguese Sephardic ancestry as well as providing their criminal record and birth certificate. To obtain the document attesting to Portuguese Sephardic ancestry a candidate must prove 

"the tradition of belonging to a Sephardic community of Portuguese origin, materialised, namely, in the family name of the applicant, native language, ancestry, and family memory."

or they must provide the following evidence;
  1. a)  Certified document, issued by the Jewish community that ther applicant belongs to, proving their usage of Portuguese expressions in Jewish rites, or as a language spoken by them in the heart of that community, the Ladino;
  2. b)  Certified records, such as registers from synagogues and Jewish cemeteries, as well as residence permits, property titles, deeds of will, and other pieces of evidence of family connection from the applicant, through direct ancestry or family relationship in a collateral line of a common parent from the Sephardic community of Portuguese origin. 
Now that both Spain and Portugal have passed laws, it is interesting to look at the history of Sephardic Jews, Spanish Nationality Law, and Portuguese Nationality Law. In 1492 the Alhambra Decree was signed and brought in the Spanish Inquisition, requiring Jews to either convert to Catholicism or leave the country. In 1536 Portugal followed suit and began their own Inquisition against the Jews. It is said that when the Inquisitions happened the leading Rabbis declared a cherem on Spain, or a ban on living in Spain (oddly enough I never heard or read about a cherem being placed on Portugal). The expulsion from Spain was viewed by many leading Jews as a betrayal and even some Jews who converted to Catholicism (or pretended to) - such as Don Abraham Senior Coronel - were considered betrayers of their people. Fast forward about 500 years to 2013 and the first draft bills in both Portugal and Spain are being put forward to "right the wrongs on the Inquisition" by giving descendants of Sephardic Jews "the right to return" by granting fast-tracked citizenship. 

As I spoke about in The Consideration 2, some see this as a political ploy to bring money to their dying economies. A little unknown fact many people miss is that Portugal had already passed a "Jewish Law of Return" in April 2013 which allowed Sephardic Jews to gain a 'fast-tracked' citizenship. The law of return in Portugal was a bit stricter than that proposed in Spain; requiring applicants to have "belong to a Sephardic community of Portuguese origin with ties to Portugal" and to show Sephardic names in their family tree. Interestingly enough this is an amendment to the already established law "Law On Nationality" which was established in 1981 and determined citizenship by whether one or both parents are citizens of the state as opposed to place of birth. This is called Jus Sanguinis, or right of blood, and makes it so someone born in Portugal can't gain citizenship without at least one parent having citizenship or having held residence for at least 6 years in Portugal.

There are still a lot of questions with both laws and it will be interesting to see how many applications are accepted come October. Many are saying that Spain's law is too strict and they should lighten their requirements, similar to Portugal. A lot of people seem skeptical and believe that this is a ploy to just help the Spanish and Portuguese economies out of their recent slumps. I'd be interested to hear from anyone with personal experience applying for the citizenship and any problems they may have encountered. Now it's time to consider if I want to start the process.

Read the Other "Consideration" articles;
The Consideration: Obtaining My Spanish Citizenship As A Sephardi
The Consideration 2: A Step Forward For Obtaining Spanish Citizenship
The Consideration 4: Starting the Process for Portuguese Citizenship