Paul is the son of a Catholic Peruvian immigrant mother and a Jewish father from rural Maryland. For Paul and his sister, their Peruvian heritage was celebrated growing up through traditional foods (like ceviche, arroz con pollo, pescado lo macho, alfajores — the list goes on), trips to visit relatives in Peru, celebrating Peruvian Independence Day, and cheering on Peru’s national soccer team in the Copa América and World Cup. The family equally embraced Judaism and Jewish traditions, finding community at a Reconstructionist synagogue near their home.
As a sixth grader, Paul’s identity as a Hispanic American Jew was often defined by thoughts of “Am I Jewish enough?” and “Am I Latino enough?” But that summer, when he joined the Camp Havaya family, he realized his blended culture was something to be celebrated, embraced, and shared with others. He saw firsthand how being Jewish comes in a diversity of colors, ethnicities, and identities.
One of Paul’s favorite camp memories is from an International Day, when he and his sister (also a counselor at the time) led what he called an “epic operation” to make a very large batch of alfajores peruanos, a quintessential South American pastry made of two buttery cookies with a dulce de leche filling. They used their mom’s recipe and held a hands-on cooking class, where each group of campers made the cookies and also received a crash-course in Peruvian history and culture. Sitting there with flour on his face and surrounded by his Jewish camp family, Paul understood that it wasn’t a coincidence that the bottom of a kiddush cup was the perfect size for cutting alfajores out of the dough. His identity as being both Jewish and Hispanic didn’t make him less of either; rather, it made him someone he proudly came to think of as a “Hebrew Papi.”
Paul had come to camp as a junior high schooler looking to make friends and create memories playing sports and jumping on the blob in the lake. But he gained much more: a lifelong Jewish community that gave him space to connect with, and celebrate, his true identity.